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Bridge Aftercare - life beyond prison

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By The Staff

By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

It's a number Vincent Ingabrand won't forget anytime soon - 165580.

The number is the designation he earned during the first of his stints in the state penitentiary. Ingabrand has been a resident of eight county jails, two penitentiaries and five institutions in nine years.

Just 23 days after leaving the penitentiary in 2006, he found himself back in jail because of a DUI.

But now, Ingabrand is trying to walk the straight and narrow.

He's turning his life around. While in prison, Ingabrand earned his GED and associate's degree. He let God into his life. He's trying to repair broken relationships. He's got a good job, a fiancee and a stable home. His eyes well with tears when he talks about the damage he's done to his family, his ex-wife, his children.

And he'll always remember 165580 - Ingabrand still carries his inmate identification cards as a reminder of where he's been.

"That's all you are, you're not seen as a human being," he said of his time in the correctional system. "You're seen as a piece of trash because you made a mistake in your life. You're a bad person."

Ingabrand's story is one that's all too common in the American penal system. In and out of the correctional facilities since 1996, after being picked up for his first DUI."Then I got probation, and it didn't stop," Ingabrand said. "It got progressively worse over the years."

In prison on and off since that first DUI, Ingabrand said he became institutionalized.

When I got sent back, it didnt bother me," he said. "In all honestly, I thought, "I'm comfortable there. Got some good friends there. Mom and dad send me money there.'"

When he returned to prison in 2006, Ingabrand realized, he said, what life was all about. And it wasn't about being comfortable in prison.

Upon release in 2007, Ingabrand said he did everything opposite of what he'd done before.

"I stayed away from the people I ran with," he said. "It really helped. And I think the biggest part that helped me (was my) support group. Family. That was all I had. They supported me."

Unlike many inmates leaving prison, Ingabrand had a job lined up upon his release, and his family was there. A lot of inmates have only the few resources the state provides for them.

There's little support to help them stay out.

Recidivism

According to the recent Pew Center for the States report, "1 in 100," the United States houses more prisoners than any other nation. In fact, with 2,245,189 inmates, the U.S. has a higher prison population than the 26 largest European nations combined - 1,845,115. Of those nations, the former Soviet Union has the lion's share of inmates. The Russian Federation alone has 889,598 inmates.

The Pew Center reported that Kentucky's prison population grew 12 percent in 2007, from 20,000 inmates from Dec. 31, 2006, to 22,402 by Jan. 1, 2008. The U.S. inmate population grew 1.6 percent in the same time period, from 1.57 million to 1.6 million. The number of federal prisoners grew three percent from little more than 193,000 to almost 199,000 last year.

In the state of Kentucky, the most recent data shows that the recidivism rate was 32.44 percent, according to Ruth Thompson, a research specialist with the Kentucky Department of Corrections. That statistic, she said, is monitored by the overall rate for inmates originally incarcerated in one year and returning to prison within two years.

In 2004, 10,725 inmates were released in Kentucky. Of those, Thompson said, 3,479 returned to the correctional system within 24-months.

Ingabrand believes part of the problem is the lack of resources upon release. Though there is a "Prison to the Streets" program, which Ingabrand said teaches inmates basic life skills, the system has little to offer.

"They give you your papers, and there you go," he said. "It's hard for an individual to succeed ... when they're not given the proper information to get where they need to get. A lot of people dont have family."

That leaves many inmates frustrated, and they head back down the path that sent them to prison in the first place according to Ingabrand.

At least one local group hopes to ease the transition from incarceration to release.

The men, from several churches in the region, recently formed the Bridge Aftercare Ministry. Until recently, the group simply met with inmates at the Roederer Correctional Complex in LaGrange. That group, member Earl Higgins Jr., said, felt compelled to do more than just meet with the inmates once a week.

"We wanted to do something more than just have these men go through the program and come back," Higgins said.

Bridging the transition

For 18 years, the group of men have met on Sunday mornings. After some time, Higgins said, the group felt encouraged to do more. In May 2007, they organized the Bridge Aftercare ministry. After working on the idea, Higgins said the group did some research on reentry after incarceration. After looking at various models, Higgins said the group settled on Bridge Aftercare.

"It's bridging the game in their transition, bridging the gap from their release back into the community," he said. "That's where they have the most problems. The support system after their release is slim to none."

For now, the program is working solely with male prisoners, and those who are in Roederer's substance abuse program. Bridge Aftercare volunteers are working with 12 men over the course of six months. The program includes, among other things, mentoring inmates. According to group member Vernon Hodges, the group hopes to expand to working with women at some point.

"Our (volunteers) will develop a relationship with the men during this six-month program," Higgins said. That relationship will last from 12 to 24 months to help them build a support system after they leave the correctional facility."

Those mentors will help the inmates prepare for life post-incarceration, in part by developing a 30-day survival plan. Higgins said the mentors also will work with the inmate to develop a five-year life plan.

"The reason for five years is that if they're out for five years, there's a 96 percent chance they'll remain arrest free," he said.

The volunteers of the Bridge Aftercare program come from varied backgrounds, Higgins said, noting that a few members once were incarcerated themselves. "They are excellent for this program, and many have been out for more than 10 years," he said. The men also come from a variety of backgrounds and denominations.

"The majority of our men are just ordinary men, everyday men," Higgins said. "They're husbands and businessmen. Some of them are farmers, some are professionals. Some are businessmen."

They all come together to help others in Christ's name, Higgins said. "We believe that a transformed life is what makes a person change," he said. "We believe that Jesus is what changes a persons life."

Making a difference

Magistrate David Brown said when he first learned the statistic, he was surprised - as much as 85 percent of prisoners are incarcerated for drug-related crimes. Many law enforcement officials say that in addition to possession or distribution offenses, many thefts, assaults and some violent crimes can be linked to drug use.

Brown said that if he can help an inmate stay out of prison once released, his participation in the program is worthwhile.

"I feel like if there's something that I can do to help keep these people from re-entering into prison, that's why I'm doing it," he said.

Ingabrand hopes to share in that mission, not just by sharing his story with others, but working with inmates. In four months, he will be able to apply to work in the prisons with the ministry group.

"If I am approved, that's what I will do, go back in with them, and carry the message," he said.

For Ingabrand, it's now about giving back what he feels he's been given through God, including a repaired relationship with his family and children.

"Anything I can do to promote the kingdom of God, I'm going to do it. It's not about me," he said. "It's about what he has done for me and to me. It has nothing to do with me. As I've said, I couldn't do it on my own. If it was up to me, most likely, I'd be in prison."

Ingabrand said a program like Bridge Aftercare could help inmates.

Upon release, he said, inmates might receive what little money they've earned while imprisoned, which amounts to little more than $8-15 each month.

"Eight dollars aint gonna get you far," he said. "It's hard on some of those guys. I think that's basically what Bridge Aftercare ministries is wanting to do ... help them now, give them a good foundation to integrate themselves back into society."

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.