WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A handful of inmates at the Sedgwick County jail will graduate Friday after completing a 12 week program called the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office Inmate Mentoring Program.
The program is a partnership between the Sheriff’s Office and Nu Heart Nu Ministries Inc.
It’s voluntary for the inmates but they’re nominated by program leaders when they’re 90 days out from serving their time.
KSN spoke with event leader, Larcena Gilmore-Williams, who goes by Pastor Tina.
The goal is to guide inmates to a more positive path through different classes, Gilmore-Williams said.
At Friday’s ceremony, seven inmates will get certificates for the classes they’ve completed and their families will have the chance to witness their graduation.
“For many of the inmates, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to complete something,” Gilmore-Williams said. “Jail was supposed to be, or prison, a rehabilitation. It hasn’t been. It’s taught them to be better criminals. But with these programs, these mentoring programs. It’s helping them to be a better person,” she said.
The program is taught by community volunteers like Gilmore-Williams, making it completely free and at no cost to taxpayer money.
The curriculum they follow is called, Thinking for a Change, which is based on a program for the National Institute of Corrections.
Sedgwick is one of the only counties using the program, but Gilmore-Williams says they’d like to have an impact on inmates’ lives before it gets to the state prison level.
“Talk is cheap but if you show them a way in the program, I see miracle after miracle,” she said.
The courses they take throughout the 90 days cover subjects like anger management, employment and drugs, and child support.
They use a lot of role-play exercises, putting the inmates in a position to figure out situations on their own. Then they play it back and work through different decisions they could have made.
It doesn’t just end after the graduation ceremony either.
When the inmates are done with the Sheriff’s Office Inmate Mentoring Program, they’ll meet for monthly group sessions and are given mentors to lean on if they need help down the road.
“Those relationships often last a lifetime,” Gilmore-Williams said.
Because of the program, Gilmore-Williams says they see more people who don’t return to jail than people who do.
If the program doesn’t work then it’s because they didn’t work with it, she said.
“I also hold them to a higher standard,” Gilmore-Williams said. “It’s important to me that each of them be successful and we don’t want to lose anyone in the cracks.”
But the inmates aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program.
The reason they specifically work with men who are on their way out of jail is to reach them right before they head back into their neighborhoods, Gilmore-Williams said.
The biggest change she sees in the men who complete the program is that the inmates start taking ownership of what they’re supposed to do and what’s expected of them.
It’s through that change that they can return to their families and communities with a fresh approach to life.
The same program is offered separately to women at the Sedgwick County jail in January. The big difference between the men and women is that the women don’t start to see a change until the program is just ending, Gilmore-Williams said.
For her, these programs are part of a greater calling.
“I see people in a different set of eyes than most people see them,” Gilmore-Williams said. “I used to think like that. If they were in jail, they deserved to be there. But when God called me to be a pastor I asked him one thing; ‘let me see what you see.’