Jail to Jobs: Finding family at Dismas House - Part 2

Do you believe in second chances, or sometimes even third chances?

Some say ex-offenders go back to what they know, such as their old friends, drug addictions and easy ways of making money. Sometimes there's no support system or family waiting for them when they get out of prison or jail.

For example, when Dayshawn Brown of South Bend was released from prison, he came straight to the Dismas House in South Bend. It’s a half-way house for ex-offenders. He had no place and no family to turn to when he was dropped off in South Bend after leaving prison.

“It was kind of hard,” Brown admits. “I really didn't know at first where I was going to go because, while in Westville, my case manager never contacted Maria (the Dismas House director) to see if I would be accepted or not.”

Now six months later he's getting a college degree online and helping out around the house, trying to turn his life around after mistakes in the past.

“A total of four years, two times for each,” he explains, about the time he served.

The first time he was in prison was in Michigan City for resisting law enforcement, and the second time, two years later, he was incarcerated for receiving stolen property.

He recalls the second time he was sentenced. His family members told him there was a warrant out for his arrest. “My mom called and was like, 'What did you do this time?' I was like, nothing, I'm at home.”

Within two years, he recidivated.

In Indiana, the definition for recidivism is when an offender returns to incarceration within three years of their release to a state correctional institution.

The definition applies to Dismas House resident Carrie Lawson too.

“This was my third time being in prison," she explains. "It was the same charge, but I violated probation and parole, which is dealing cocaine, a class A felony.”

Only five weeks out, Lawson is fighting a cocaine addiction, but she's doing things she never thought she could. “Just me… working alone helps me believe in myself. I never thought I would work 7:30 to 4:00 for $7.25 a day.”

She's designing jewelry through a program set up to raise money for the House.

“I never knew I was so good with crafts until I had to actually sit down and do Dismas Designs,” she says.

Dismas House Executive Director Maria Kaczmarek says, “I feel the role of the staff here is to be coaches, to build them up and say 'Yes you can.'”

Designing jewelry and working full-time keeps Carrie away from her old habits.

“Before I knew it I was back to my old ways again. I would have to say that for the second time too,” she recalls looking back on why she recidivated. “It's a lot easier than living a responsible life, going to work every day. As soon as I had a downfall or something would go wrong, I resorted back to that.”

It seems that's the house's key to success: structure.

“They have to learn to make those decisions that will keep them from going back to prison, and it’s so easy to fall into old habits,” Kaczmarek acknowledges.

One big difference for house residents is meal time. Everyone is required to sit down for dinner together as a family.

“I had structure in prison, but here you have a little bit more freedom, but you have to do certain things,” Brown explains.

Lawson agrees. “Just the rules, period. Just having responsibility.”

It's a place where people can turn for a second or third chance after everyone else has given up.

“My mom believes in second chances, but my dad doesn't,” says Lawson. She says she’ll have to learn to believe in herself if others don’t.

Meanwhile, Brown strongly believes he won’t be going back to prison. “That's old news, this is a new beginning for me. I'm starting a new life to better myself and the people I have around me.”

Dismas House can only fit 16 people at a time.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough programs to help every ex-offender that is released.

Most of them end up just going back home to live with family, if they can. That's when there is a strong possibility they'll fall back into those old habits.

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