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Day Reporting Center grads told to set new goals

May 22, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Blue and white balloons bobbed in the breeze earlier this month as Franklin County (Pa.) Day Reporting Center (DRC) clients and their loved ones entered a stone building for graduation.

Some graduates had worked for months, others for years, to reach the culmination of classes, therapies, drug and alcohol testing, and good behavior. Most had not chosen to enroll in the behavior modification and life skills programs, but had been assigned to them by a judge.

In exchange for participation, they earned release from jail two-thirds through their sentence.

"This gave you an opportunity to get out early, see your family and see your kids, instead of talking through glass," said Adam Schlager, program manager through BI Incorporated.

Franklin County government contracts with BI Incorporated to run the DRC programs.

The center has graduated 457 people since it opened in 2006, program director Kim Eaton said. About 60 percent of clients finish the programs, she said.

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More than half of this month's 31 graduates turned out for the ceremony, where DRC staff members distributed plaques, special awards and gift bags. Among them was Stacy Spoonhour, a 29-year-old whose arrest for selling cocaine launched a period of jail time, joblessness, homelessness and frustration.

But Spoonhour, who not long ago found a job and apartment, said the only tears she would be shedding at DRC graduation would be tears of joy. She was recognized with special awards for encouragement and positive attitude.

"You are not finished. Now is the time to set new goals," said Brent Smiley, a probation officer who served as the keynote speaker.

Matthew Shifflett, 23, addressed his classmates to talk about how the DRC affected him.

"At first, I didn't want to change," he said.

People in jail said the DRC would be a setup, Shifflett said, but he realized the employees want to help.

"I like the way my life is now than before I came here," he said.

Mark Thomas, 39, mused that taking drugs often is referred to as a "fix," when in fact it's something that breaks you.

"I gave up on myself repeatedly, used again and again," he said.

Thomas said the DRC staff treated him "like a human" and helped him become confident for rehabilitation.

"Even when I left them down, they still believed in me," he said.

Mark Ricks, 25, thanked everyone at the ceremony and congratulated his fellow graduates. Ricks said he got off to a rough start at the DRC for missing intake sessions.

However, he found moral recognition therapy and drug and alcohol classes to be eye-opening experiences. He realized the criminal justice officials saw something within him that they believed he could change.

The front desk staff treated Ricks as an individual, "not a villain or a criminal," he said. The tall, soft-spoken man also credited Eaton for his transformation.

"Without her, I don't know where I'd be -- in jail or six feet under," he said.

Ricks said he gave up on life for the past four years and would pray at night not to wake up the next day.

"I stand here and say I wake up each morning now and praise God for the sunrise," he said to the crowd. "Whatever I do in my life, it'll be in a big part because of you."

Al Guastafeste, 48, graduated from the DRC two years ago and now volunteers as a client mentor.

"I got a lot out of the program," he said. "Since graduation, life got a lot better."

Guastafeste reminded the graduates that each day will present a new step in their lives, although not all of the steps will be as big as the one they were celebrating that evening.

"Everybody is here because you did it," he said. "It's all about pride, commitment and integrity."

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