Life is about Transitions

Lino Lakes program helps inmates re-enter society

  • Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 4, 2011 – 2:19 PM

The Transitions Program at Lino Lakes prison aims to get inmates ready for life outside and prevent a return to the inside.

Joe McCoy knows all about transitions and how difficult they can be.

McCoy is Transitions Program coordinator at the state prison in Lino Lakes, and making it easier for prisoners who have served their time to move back into society is what his program is all about.

“The reentry program started around 15 years ago,” McCoy said. “We now have it in all our facilities. We’re looking at getting these guys reintegrated into the community. It’s definitely a good thing.”

The program is part of the Department of Corrections’ efforts to cut down on a state recidivism rate of about 50 percent.

“The day they come into prison, we want them to start thinking about getting out,” McCoy said. “We want them to focus on making the best use of their time and the various program options.”

He explained that prisoners are able to get help with legal documents, learning processes they’ll need to know, and work on getting a photo ID or driver’s license.

When prisoners have one year left on their sentence, they are encouraged to attend a Transition Fair at the prison. The fairs are held at all the Corrections Department sites throughout the year.

At Lino Lakes, about 40 vendors from across the state took part at a recent fair. They included local business and support groups, such as the Minnesota Public Library, Alcoholics Anonymous, government agencies, public safety representatives, various housing vendors, and different faith-based programs.

“Events like the transition fairs are so important,” McCoy said. “It shows the guys that despite the rumors that they hear — that no one is going to help you — there’s lot of folks in the community that want you to succeed. The vendors come to spend the day with them, and that’s huge for the guys to see that.”

It was important for Herbert Hubbard. Hubbard was a union concrete worker; now he’s serving a sentence for a sex offense. He is due for release on Oct. 27 and attended the transition fair. “I was nervous at first, but after I talked to a couple of vendors, it made things easier. It’s definitely helpful,” he said.

He was trying to find information on the legal and economic challenges that ex-offenders face, and he hopes to get back into concrete work. “The program has been really helpful in my recovery also,” Hubbard said. “I’ve been doing treatment for the last two-and-a-half years. I’m in debt to them.”

McCoy said he has seen his share of success stories, as well as not-so-successful stories, over his 13 years with the Department of Corrections.

He recalled the time that he was at a local gas station and an ex-offender recognized him. He was working there and took pride in showing McCoy his driver’s license.

“It’s nice to see,” said McCoy.

“You like to see the guys out there being successful. But we also see the guys that come back. That’s why the program and the fairs are so important.

“Our goal is that [prisoners] become productive, taxpaying citizens. And stay out of here.”

Kelly Jo McDonnell is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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