March 2, 2017 (Lincoln, Neb.) – Reentering society after years spent in prison can be a daunting task. That’s why incarcerated men at the Lincoln Correctional Center (LCC) have teamed up to inspire, motivate and educate their peers.
The Inner Circle, started in December 2016, is comprised of eight to 12 core members who help others create working plans to lead healthier lives during their time in Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) facilities – ultimately leading to successful reentry.
“The main goal of the program is to get incarcerated individuals to use their time effectively,” said Rowan Taylor, LCC unit manager and Inner Circle facilitator. “A lot of members are doing quite a bit of time. Some guys have 20 years left and they’re thinking about reentry, which shows that it’s never too soon to start planning.”
The Inner Circle unites those who are serious about reentry by holding intentional conversations on the units, bringing in speakers and hosting reentry fairs. Many of the core members have taken a proactive attitude in affecting change, attending parole board meetings with newer members and offering encouragement whenever they can.
“I used to sit back and wait for people to ask for help,” one core member said. “We can’t sit back and wait. I want people to start thinking about their plans.”
Two of Inner Circle’s current core members have been in prison since their late teens. It’s easy to feel bitter, to feel like they have nothing to look forward to, they said. But it’s much more rewarding to look towards the future – both for themselves and their peers.
“This program has helped me grow, helped me mature,” one core member said. “I see that I can help others through my words, actions and behaviors. I look forward to building a career someday.”
Core members help introduce newer Inner Circle members to community resources that they may not be familiar with. There are a number of Vocational and Life Skills (VLS) organizations that partner with NDCS, in addition to other educational opportunities, housing options, substance abuse treatment centers and mental health resources. While the program has not been around long enough to offer post-release statistics yet, members are hopeful.
“It does help, you just have to have guys that want to take in knowledge,” one core member said. “Success stories will come.”
A similar group called Inner Circle/Winner Circle operates at the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility (NCYF). The goal of Inner Circle/Winner Circle is to have individuals share their journey through the NDCS system with younger population at NCYF. The speakers, who are now either on parole or work release at another NDCS facility, speak about steps they’ve taken and are currently taking to prepare themselves for release.
“The speakers are sharing some honest feedback with them in terms of what to do while they’re here,” NCYF Assistant Warden Trish Brockman said. “When they’re hearing that information first hand from their peers, the guys seem to be a lot more encouraged.”
While Inner Circle core members at LCC said some incarcerated men aren’t willing to ask for help, they continue pushing forward. One member said he’d like to see the program in every NDCS facility someday.
“I’m thinking about somebody other than myself right now,” he said. “It’s about community.”