The Next Step Program

 
"The transition from prison to the community for ex-offenders is a time of fear and self-doubt.  Many have little support.  Some are far from home in an unfamiliar city. A few may even be in dire need without an immediate roof over their heads."

The Next Step Program so far:

 
   Sr Carol Peloquin, a Sister of the Holy Names, and four newly released offenders founded Next Step in August, 2001. The purpose of the program was to provide personal, peer and practical support for parolees. Inmates’ involvement began when they were inmates, several months before their release into the community and gained momentum from the time they stepped out of prison.
  
  During the 13 years of its existence, over 60 offenders have participated for time periods ranging from 3 months to 2 years. Results are difficult to measure with any precision since some participants have moved away and lost contact over the years. However, with the information available, it is reasonable to estimate that ¾ of those who participated in Next Step have become employed and otherwise productive members of society. Several take pride in alumni status, maintaining a loose connection and/or attending special celebrations.
 

How does one become a Next Step member?


1. Stony Mountain personnel, such as chaplains, parole officers, program managers refer inmates who they believe could benefit from this support group because they will  have little support upon their release and have cooperated with prison programming.  On occasion, inmates have self-referred because they know someone who has benefited from participation.

2. The Next Step coordinator meets with each applicant to develop a relationship of trust and  learn about his goals for the future and how he hopes to achieve these goals. The Next Step agreement is presented to the inmate and time is spent with the Enneagram, a psycho-spiritual tool for personal growth that is used extensively in Next Step programming.

3. After a few of these interviews a meeting is scheduled with both the inmate and his parole officer to ascertain whether Next Step would seem to be a good fit. If so,  escorted temporary absence passes are requested so that the inmate can attend a number of Next Step sessions and thereby come to feel comfortable in Group before his release.  And ideal timefor these passes to occur is six months before a statutory release or parole hearing date.

4. Each Thursday evening, the Next Step coordinator or a volunteer drives any Rockwood participants to the Next Step meeting, and later back to the prison. 

 

5. Upon release from prison, the parolee formally becomes a member of Next Step by signing the Agreement previously reviewed.  One agreement is that he make attendance at Next Step meetings a priority and will promise to attend for at least 6 months.

6. The one-to-one meetings with each participant continue after his release, usually becoming less frequent as the parolee adjusts to life in the community.  As time passes, the participant and coordinator discern together when the time is right to “graduate”.  At the “goodbye” celebration there is a time for roasting and toasting.  Alumni members are welcome to return as guests and to attend the annual Next Step Christmas celebration.

 

What does a meeting look like?

 

   We meet every Thursday night.  Our meetings are two hours. The first part of the meeting is an opportunity for personal development.  Group leaders present on various topics such as the Enneagram, Non-violent Communication, and various religious teachings/bible readings.  All members and volunteers take turns presenting a subject of their choosing and then lead the discussion. This occurs about twice per year for each person.

 

   Community groups have also played an important role in the growth of our members. Many of the men have not learned some basic life skills, such as money management, or proper nutrition. Based on the members’ requests or needs, Next Step has drawn upon the expertise of different individuals or groups in the community to help increase their knowledge on such issues.  Some of the organizations that have come to present have been Mediation Services, Community Financial Counseling Services, and a local herbalist.


   After the first hour, there is a break which offers an opportunity for fellowship and refreshments. The second hour is all about sharing what has happened in the week. Members talk about those things they are celebrating and have a chance to debrief the challenges they are facing. This is where the ‘peer’ part is so important.  Because it is a mix of men who are in prison and already on the street, they can learn from each other. They are able to support each other and hold each other accountable. They know each other well enough to know when there may be a stretching of the truth or when a member may be nearing a crisis point.

   Generally in our meetings, there is a quality of humbleness and vulnerability that these men bring, which creates a unique space for us all to be ourselves. Even the volunteers have remarked how healing and sacred the time feels during a meeting.  
 

Financial Resources:


   Over the years, Next Step continues to support parolees and is grateful to over 12 faith communities, individuals and programs that provide financial support over the course of each year.  We provide a  newsletter in which we keep our supporters aware of our program efforts in general, provide updates on individuals’ accomplishments that their donations are assisting, and the ongoing challenges that we face. Each offers a biography of our newest member in group. Fictitious names are used to protect the privacy of each member. 
 

   Financial statements are sent out twice a year. Our budget is extremely limited but totally accounted for and maximized! The money that Next Step receives goes towards everything from coffee and snack expenses in group and when one-on-one meetings occur in the community to when we celebrate birthdays with small gifts and cake. More directly, when men are released they often need clothing and personal effects, we will offer to cover 50% of the cost. We pay for other things like bus tickets and other practical items.  We offer honorariums to our guest speakers. Annually we have a family Christmas party for immediate family members of members and volunteers.  There is a Christmas program, light refreshments and Santa brings gifts for the children.  It is the largest expense of the year but is extremely important for our members and a way to thank our volunteers.

 

   In addition, we also pay for some expenses related to health challenges or schooling, depending on our financial ability at that time.  As an expression of their gratitude, Next Step participants are happy to be called on to speak of their struggles and successes along the way to reintegration to groups who find it meaningful to invite them to do so.

The Next Step Newsletter

To really understand the impact of the Next Step Program, read the accounts of the participants themselves!  Each Newsletter contains the life experiences of members willing to share their struggles in group to build a better life.