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CSS classes teach inmates how to

build/re-build relationships

By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register

When the doors open and an inmate of the Finney County Jail steps into freedom, they may suddenly find themselves rebuilding a relationship with someone they left behind weeks, months, or even years before.
Thanks to Catholic Social Services, inmates now have the opportunity of taking classes prior to their release in building positive relationships.
Taught by Brooke Hamlin-Lopez since September, 2009, and more recently with the help of Susan Hendershot – both of whom work for Catholic Social Service in Garden City -- the class is presented to up to eight single male inmates at a time for a period of five weeks. “What I started out with was teaching a hodge-podge of relationship-building skills in general, taken from different programs,” Hamlin-Lopez said. “There was no particular curriculum.”
Soon after she began teaching the class, the Center for Children and Families in Garden City offered her funding to train with a program entitled, “Within My Reach,” which offers specific outlines and lesson plans for teaching relationship-building. The organization also purchased workbooks for the inmates.
The program, she said, allows inmates to “look at their own morals and goals in order to help them find a good mate. But it also works well with people in relationships, because we talk about expectations, the danger signs of relationships, and problem behaviors.”
Hamlin-Lopez and Hendershot have five men in their current class, for which there is always a long waiting list.
“Many of these men may have several children from different relationships,” Hamlin-Lopez explained. “Eventually these men get out and have a relationship with the mother of their children, and with the children in some way. They may have been incarcerated for very long time. It’s very important to teach them these skills.”
Hamlin-Lopez, who is teaching her ninth class, described one lesson that includes having the men draw their image of what marriage is like.
“Some of them draw tornadoes, while others may draw a rainbow on one side and a thunderstorm on the other. Then we talk about their vision and about what they want in their relationship.”
Hendershot noted that the program asks tough questions of the inmates, such as how they would feel if their child wound up in jail.
“They answer, ‘Oh, no. I wouldn’t want them to go through what I want through,’” Hendershot said. “We tell them, ‘You have to be there for your kids even if things aren’t perfect.’
“The class is very interactive,” Hendershot said. “They ask a lot of questions. The hour goes by very fast.”
Once they are released from jail, CSS networks with enough other agencies that they can refer them to the proper organization should they show up at the door seeking help in finding a job or other financial assistance.
“I’ve had several wives come in who need help getting food assistance, or they need help with the electric bill,” Hamlin-Lopez said. “We help navigate them where to go to get that help. I may help them get on SRS (Social Rehabilitation Service) assistance.  We help them look for employment. Several have wanted to sign up for Marriage for Keeps program offered by CSS.”
The feedback from the inmates has been positive. When asked what he had learned from the program, one inmate answered, “How to handle situations the right way. How to go about making my relationships work.”
Hamlin-Lopez said she wanted to “thank the jail administrator, Mark Welch, for giving us the opportunity to go in and do this. He worked very well with our agency. We’re very appreciative of him.”

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