Event helps Rock County offenders make better lives

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, June 5, 2014

JANESVILLE—Ryan Schulz got out of jail Tuesday.

He said he has chosen Janesville to be his new home because he has found positive people and support here.

That support includes a Salvation Army program that gives him counseling, food, clothing and a place to stay. It also includes the sixth annual Community Resource Fair for former criminals held at the Rock County Job Center on Thursday.

The fair featured organizations that included churches, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and colleges. The organizations offered help with health, education, job searches, counseling, housing, veterans' issues, food, domestic violence and mental health.

There was even a bank offering accounts and financial advice.

Elizabeth Pohlman McQuillen, Rock County criminal justice planner and analyst, said about 50 agencies and community organizations were represented, and more than 100 attended.

“I'm trying to make positive steps to where I can re-integrate into society,” said Schulz, 34, who served time in Florida on a drug conviction and then was extradited to serve time at the Rock County Jail.

Schulz was selected for the jail's RECAP program, which gives offenders a start in turning their lives around.

Schulz was effusive in his praise of the Salvation Army program, which is helping him learn about finances and other things he will need once he moves out on his own.

“These people are more than willing to help,” he said.

Schulz, who has worked as a cook, said he is looking forward to being able to support a family, but first he has to develop good habits and stay away from making “bonehead” decisions.

“I know this is what I need to do in order to succeed. … It all comes down to your choices, and hard work pays off,” he said.

Mike Ekedahl was among the probation and parole agents who greeted their clients at the event. He said the big challenge coming out of jail or prison is to find new friends.

Old friends and even family members can lead offenders back to the lives that got them in trouble, Ekedahl said.

Getting a job is a special challenge for someone with a felony record, Ekedahl noted.

Some offenders have spotty work records, and some fear that going to work will mean losing Social Security, disability or other benefits, Ekedahl said. But some do find work.

“It seems less impossible now than it was a few years ago,” Ekedahl said of the jobs situation.

Ekedahl noted it's not easy trying to change ways of thinking and living.

“Some of them can, and some of them can't, and it's back to that cycle,” he said.

Some might ask whether convicted criminals should be offered help, but probation agent Jan Jordan said the alternative could be costly.

If they succeed, “they're going to be responsible citizens and take the burden off the community, while adding to the tax base,” Jordan said.

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