October 1, 2015
Story and photos by Brandon Steinert
Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility (LCMHF) has been home to Xavier Rodriguez for more than two years. Like more than 90 percent of offenders, Rodriguez will eventually be released back into society. Questions then remain, “Is he changed? Can he ‘make it’ without resorting to criminal activity?” According to Justice.gov, he would have a 30 percent chance of landing back in prison within six months.
That’s the cycle the Kansas Department of Corrections and Barton Community College are breaking, one student-inmate at a time.
LCMHF and Barton cut the ribbon on a new vocational education building on the prison grounds Thursday morning. Barton provided the building kit while LCMHF provided labor and furnishings.
The new facility expands the educational programming already available at LCMHF to include the ability for inmates to attain national craft skills certification, training in manufacturing skills, carpentry training and more. These programs are intended to reduce the rate at which inmates return to prison after release.
Rodriguez, who helped with the construction of the building from the very beginning, and is taking classes Barton already has in place at LCMHF, said the efforts to provide educational programming will not be in vain.
“I plan on being able to say I did all this while in prison to help me get a job when I get out,” he said. “I don’t want to sit dormant. I don’t want to be asked what I did and have to say I just sat around. I want to say I tried to better myself while I was here.”
Many of the inmates who helped construct the facility attended the ribbon cutting and witnessed first-hand the genuine helpful intent of the individuals working behind the scenes to make it happen, of which there are many.
“This is what it’s all about, helping one another,” Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman said during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We will work as cooperatively as we can with corrections to be here, at Ellsworth or other facilities because we believe strongly that everybody should be given the opportunity to reach their pinnacle in life.”
LCMHF Warden Doug Waddington echoed Dr. Heilman’s comments, explaining that the new facility is the result of a long term vision and goal to have vocational training options available to inmates.
Kansas Secretary of Corrections Ray Roberts also offered a few comments, highlighting education as the key to helping inmates find success after release. He said statistics show having a job, a place to live and control over any addictions or criminal thinking are the three key ingredients to a successful re-introduction to society, and education is the foundation to accomplish all three.
“Barton Community College is very focused on helping people improve their lot in life, and I certainly appreciate that,” Roberts said.
Now stands the vocational education building, a functional monument to the collaborative efforts to improve the state’s corrections efforts and, in turn, society.
“I’m proud to be a part of this,” Rodriguez added. “We’ve built something that will last.”