Programs help inmates focus on life after prison

Jeff Stehle, supervisory chaplain for FCI Three Rivers, outlines programs available at the prison which help inmates to change their lives and prepare for the future.

THREE RIVERS – Offering inmates hope for the future, a way to change the bad habits that led to their imprisonment and a road map to a better future are the goals of a trio of re-entry programs offered at the Federal Correctional Institute at Three Rivers.

These programs — with particular emphasis on the Threshold program — were outlined for community members at the prison’s Community Relations Board meeting on Dec. 18.

Financial Peace University teaches money management principles from a faith-based perspective, Inside-Out Dad parenting helps inmates to recognize their roles and responsibilities as fathers with an aim toward developing healthy relationships with their children, and the Threshold program is an offshoot of the federal Bureau of Prisons Life Connections course.

The Threshold program focuses on setting goals, managing mental, emotional and spiritual health, making good decisions, personal growth and repairing relationships.

Jeffery Stehle, the supervisory chaplain for FCI Three Rivers, provided details on the programs for inmates.

“Financial Peace University is something I swear by — it has worked for me personally,” Stehle said.

“With Inside-Out Dad Parenting, the emphasis is on how to be a good father. Many of the inmates had poor relationships or no relationships with their fathers, and we hope to change that for the inmates and their children.”

Stehle said FCI Three Rivers needs faith group volunteers, teachers and mentors for the Threshold program and a group facilitator for the Inside-Out Dad Parenting group.

“We are looking for good volunteers and someone who can facilitate the program,” Stehle said. “The Bible says you get not because you ask not, so we want to plant that seed.”

The Threshold program helps inmates to overcome learned traits that got them into trouble in the first place, and to adapt to a new outlook and pattern for their lives.

One of the adjustments that inmates must make when they leave the prison system is how to fit back into their family situation.

“Families get used to life without them, and they get used to life without their family,” Stehle said. “This helps them turn things around and deal with the behaviors that got them here in the first place.”

Three recent graduates of the Threshold program who are inmates at FCI Three Rivers offered their perspectives on what the program has done to help them.

The first inmate said he was 14 years into a 25-year sentence and is adjusting to the changes that have taken place while he has been in prison.

“My children were 3, 5 and 9 when I went to prison and now they are 17, 19 and 23,” he said. “My parents were in their 50s and self-sufficient and now they are in their 70s and having to deal with life on a fixed income.”

He said he has been absent from their lives during important years.

“I caused this mess, and I accept responsibility,” the inmate said.

He added that the goal now is to do the best he can to connect with his family, and do the best he can to be a positive part of their lives.

The program has helped him to deal with self-destructive behavior, along with guilt, he said. He added that a focus on faith is vital to enable him to make changes.

“You cannot overcome the flesh with flesh,” he said. “The spiritual aspect is important. I need to draw on my faith.”

The inmate said he has also learned not to make assumptions about what other people are feeling, but to have open communication.

“When I was communicating with each of my children, I found I was wrong in each of my presumptions,” he said. “Yes, there was anger, disappointment and abandonment and I knew this, but my perspective was flawed. Why? Because it was my perspective and not theirs.”

The inmate said he takes to heart the story of Joseph from the Bible, in that the wrongs and hardships that were suffered, God used for good.

A second inmate who has a wife of 30 years, three daughters and a son also talked about how the Threshold program has helped him.

“I really appreciate the faith based approach,” he said. “It helps me to answer the question, ‘What is next.’”

He cited statistics, saying that 80 percent of inmates get into legal trouble again when they are released from prison because they fall back into the habits, or “comfort zone,” with which they are familiar.

“Threshold helps us to envision what life can be like when we get out of prison and gives us hope,” he said. “My hope is in Christ Jesus.”

The program has also helped him understand the importance of his personal relationships and making them a priority, he said.

“I know I need to repair those relationships,” he said. “When I leave this place I need to re-woo my wife and let my family know that they can trust me again.”

The inmate said he plans to follow his passion when he is released, with an emphasis on music and helping people understand, rebuild and repair their relationships.

“I pray God can give me the words to encourage folks,” he said,.

A third inmate who has been through the Threshold program is 31 and has a daughter and wife.

“I thank God for giving me the opportunity to enroll in this class,” he said. “It has helped me to change the way I live and to prepare me for life in the future.”

He said Threshold has helped him to focus on the areas he needs to work on and to build a foundation for support.

“It has helped me to focus on emotional health, decision making, personal relationships, continuing education, leisure time, personal responsibility and spiritual growth,” he said. 

“I will work hard so that my family and I can have the strong foundation we need.”

Anyone who is interested in helping with the programs by becoming a religious services volunteer can contact Stehle or Vickie Zamzow, reentry affairs coordinator, at 361-786-3576.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or theprogress@mysoutex.com.