Released and Restored: classes prepare incarcerated for release into community

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It's a quiet meeting room in St. James United Methodist Church where 6 grown men learn life skills. Money management, anger management, critical thinking skills, how to interview for a job. The list can go on.

The 100th Cohort of the Life Skills/Re-Entry Prep program pose for a picture from the program director, Angie Harvey.

These men in the 100th Cohort of the Life Skills/Re-Entry Prep program put on by Released and Restored. They are all incarcerated at Lincoln's Community Corrections Center.

Friday, August 2nd, these 6 men graduated. Program Director Angie Harvey said this class gives them the skills to succeed after being released.

"After being incarcerated many of them believe life is over," said Harvey. "Life is not over. Being incarcerated is what you make it."

For the last two weeks, they have learned basic skills to prepare them for getting out of prison, getting and keeping a job, and overall learning to be a productive member of society. Program topics can include: learning to recognize thinking errors that lead to destructive choices; teaching how to think through choices before simply reacting; recognizing the connection between thinking errors and loss of employment; learning new decision-making skills; teaching positive problem-solving skills; learning the connection between impulsivity and over-spending, as well as its connection to poor-decision making.

"We don't just teach women and men how to develop a monthly budget, we discuss new and constructive ways of thinking," said the founder of Released and Restored, Ruth Karlsson. "We also recognize their innate dignity and worth as human beings who possess many skills and abilities that are sought after by prospective employers."

Being in prison means oftentimes, these men have not had a chance to pay rent, apply for jobs or build their resumes. Life Skills/Re-Entry Prep is the perfect crash course.

"What they've gained the most is self-confidence and letting go of the shame of their past and learning there is life after prison and how to stay out," said Harvey.

Graduate Nathaniel Valdillez is dreaming of an office job that pushes him to be the best version of himself, every day. He said the course has definitely helped him.

"For anybody who wants to make a change, anybody who wants to better themselves before they get out, I'd recommend it," said Valdillez.

535 men and women have gone through the Life Skills/Re-Entry Prep program and graduated. Today, 316 of them are employed. Harvey and Valdillez alike hope that number will climb to 322. Said Valdillez:

"Regardless of your history, your past, whether you're a felon, whatever your felon was for, it's not going to hold you back from becoming successful and making that change."

Harvey said it is more than just giving them a second chance; it's also about decreasing tax-payer costs. Per year, it costs nearly $30,000 for just one inmate. NDCS data shows there are nearly 5,400 men and women in various facilities throughout Nebraska.