By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
BELDEN – Nine young people under supervision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections are on the path to a new way of thinking after graduating from Thinking for a Change.
The course is a joint effort between MDOC and Itawamba Community College to help teach pro-social problem solving and conflict resolution skills to former MDOC inmates.
Marcus Cherry, 22, said he was incarcerated in 2009 for burglary of a dwelling and is now about to get his GED.
“I got in trouble – I was smoking marijuana and getting in pretty deep – and (Thinking for a Change) guided me in the right direction,” Cherry said. “It had me around a positive crowd of people.”
Cherry said, in addition to soft skills, he learn about forklift operation and welding. “We learned job skills that can help us get a job and get moving in the right direction,” he said.
The course started with 23 MDOC offenders and only nine graduated.
James Johnson, community corrections associate director with MDOT, said this group is the second and largest group to graduate from the program.
Johnson started the program after MDOC Commissioner Christopher Epps talked to him about the recidivism rates for offenders coming out of the Regimental Inmate Discipline program – a boot camp for offenders.
“We recognized that recidivism rates for offenders coming out of RID was still quite a bit higher than our overall recidivism rate for inmates as a whole,” he said. “A large part of that is because they tend to be young first time offenders and that population historically has a higher recidivism rate but we still thought it unacceptable.”
Johnson took the national Thinking for a Change program to Epps and now the 25-week program is being implemented through MDOC.
He said it has been hit or miss throughout the state but the partnership with ICC could serve as a model for the program.
Jartavious Jones said the program was a real help.
“It really is a good thing MDOC did for us,” he said. “We were doing all kinds of things from art to working with video and computers. Whatever we want to do in life, they had in the classroom for us.”
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson also challenged the graduates not to, “let go of the rope,” the way the class instructors didn’t, “let go of their rope.” He encouraged them to reach out and help someone the way the people in this program reached out to them.
The program is for graduates of MDOC’s RID program who are still under MDOC supervision or probation.
This was the first Thinking for a Change class to be offered at ICC and instructors and say they hope to continue the program.