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Every year I receive dozens of invitations to attend or speak at events across Nebraska and in the District I represent. I try to get to as many things as possible and interact with a wide array of groups that represent various interests across our state. I was pleased to speak last week with a group of prisoners at the State Penitentiary in Lincoln. I was invited by Seward resident Kathy Miller who is a sponsor for a program called “7th Step”. This program is made up of prisoners, former prisoners, and non-offenders with the common goal of reducing recidivism for safer communities through mental fitness and transitional services. The goal of the program is to help prisoners change while they are in prison and successfully become law abiding citizens upon their release.
Upon entering the prison, my daughter Jessica and I were greeted by Kathy and several guards. After the clearance procedures, we were escorted to a building across the prison yard where we met with a group of approximately 20 prisoners who are members of the 7th Step program. They were all very friendly, and they introduced themselves and made us feel at ease and at home. As part of their program, I was invited to share my story of getting involved in public service.
Before we did that, however, they opened the meeting by reciting goals of the 7th Step program, after which I shared with them my background, how I came to serve today, and talked about my decision-making processes. Then I opened it up for questions.
One of the things that struck me about these individuals, in addition to how respectful and attentive they were, is how interested they were in the legislative process. They asked thoughtful questions about the legislation and were very aware of the many issues the state is facing. The topics they asked about ranged from retirement issues, to judicial issues, to community betterment issues. They had clearly taken a great deal of interest in legislation and had prepared thoughtful questions.
One of the prisoners who indicated he had been there for quite some time asked if people on the outside of the system realize the benefit of programs like 7th Step as well as some of the other betterment programs offered through corrections. I indicated that I wasn’t sure if the general public understood or recognized the benefit of such programs, but that I would try to take this opportunity to share with my constituents my thoughts on the importance of such programs.
As State Senators we are faced every day with decisions that impact a lot of individuals in our state. These are not easy decisions. When it comes to decisions regarding corrections, I generally think back to the first time I visited a prison, which was back when I was working on bachelor’s degree as a young adult. One thing I remember about that visit was how scary it was to have a door slam shut behind you, if even for a visit, knowing that the only way I was going to leave is if someone let me out. I think about what that must be like to prisoners. Obviously, the prisoners are there for a different reason than for visitors. But ultimately, many of those prisoners are going to eventually be released, and I believe it makes the most sense for us as a society to help them work through some of their issues while they are there and provide them with the tools they need to become successful once released. After all, penitentiaries should be places that help to develop penitent men and women.
Programs such as 7th Step are critical in making our society better because ultimately, when these fellow citizens re-enter our society, their success in becoming productive and thoughtful members, rather than re-offenders, is important to Nebraska’s wellbeing. Not only are these programs valuable from a practical standpoint, they make sense from a fiscal standpoint as well. Last year the Nebraska Legislature passed LB605, a bill to address Nebraska’s prison over-crowding. The law was based on a data-driven approach designed to reduce corrections spending and reinvent a portion of savings in strategies that reduce recidivism and increase public safety. The goal of the legislation was to avert construction of a new facility, reduce the amount of people in prison by around 1000, and provide more supervision to those released in hopes that, with increased supervision and assistance, they are more likely to be successful.
As we finished our time with the group, we joined in their 7th Step pledge, which reads, “Knowing that my freedom depends on my thoughts and actions, I hereby pledge: To face and accept the truth about myself, to maintain my freedom, to become a useful member of society, and to help others as I am now being helped.” I hope those 7th Step members continue to follow that pledge, and as a State Senator I will continue to do my best to support programs that provide tools for prisoners to be successful in their future endeavors, whether inside or outside prison walls.
As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. Joe and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address your concerns, thoughts, and needs. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman for Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.