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Rock County RECAP program celebrates 20 years

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AMES, ANN MARIE
October 14, 2012

It was 1987, and a new sort of inmate was tearing apart the old Rock County Jail in downtown Janesville.

The inmate's needs weren't met with the dependable three hot meals and a cot. He was full of energy and anger, and he often was sick as a dog from lack of the drugs he so badly craved.

Sometimes, it looked to then-correctional officer Ron Loveland as if the bars of the jail were swinging doors. Inmates were released and back in before you knew it.

Over the next few years, Loveland moved up the ranks at the sheriff's office as he followed his calling in what he saw as the "humane side of law enforcement."

One day, he called together probation agents from Beloit and Janesville along with Blackhawk Technical College instructors who worked with Rock County inmates. He told them of an idea that in the early 1990s was almost unheard of. Maybe, he said, education and addiction recovery programs would close the swinging doors.

At the end of his pitch, he went over the highlights.

"And so, to recap ... ," Loveland said.

He paused, and the bells started ringing.

***

In that moment, then-Cmdr. Loveland named what is still known as the Rock County Education and Criminal Addiction Program. The program was innovative when it formally started in 1992.

Twenty years later, Rock County remains one of the few counties in the state to run such a program, Sheriff Robert Spoden said. Agencies come from around the country to observe Rock County, he said.

RECAP has evolved, but the nuts and bolts remain the same: providing education and addiction recovery as a means to reduce recidivism.

The program is for some inmates "the first time he or she has ever successfully completed anything," Spoden said.

***

The baby wakes up at 4 a.m. Her cries rattle the metal bunk bed where her dad sleeps.

He gets up and quiets the baby before she wakes everybody in the mens Huber dorm. She and the other babies are unwelcome guests, and Dad doesn't want to hear about it again.

At this point, he might as well stay up. His day starts at 4:30 anyway.

***

The "baby" is one of a number of lifelike electronic dolls used as part of a parenting class taught by a Blackhawk Technical College instructor in a tiny classroom just off the Huber dorm at the jail. RECAP inmates are assigned to carry the dolls, which are about the size of 9-month-old babies and are nestled in car seat carriers.

Some inmates look forward to their turns with the dolls. Others don't, instructor Mark Flottum said.

At a recent RECAP parenting class about listening skills, the four male participants performed role-playing and talked about listening.

Their homework for the week was to listen to conversations around them. The goal is NOT—Flottum emphasized this point—to report what other inmates are talking about. Rather, RECAP'ers are to observe body language and write a two-page paper about what they see.

"Tell me," Flottum said. "Can you tell the difference between a time-killing conversation or an actual conversation?"

Later, Flottum read a childrens picture book to the men. He wants them to know what kinds of books to look for and how to use them when they return to their families.

"I want them to know they have resources," Flottum said.

The book is about emotions and how children might express them with their imaginations. Expressing emotion is a difficult but important skill, Flottum said.

"One of the reasons you are here is because you didn't know how to express your own emotions," Flottum said.

One inmate asks Flottum if it's OK to stuff anger rather than express it in front of his daughter.

Flottum suggested saying, "I'm angry," without losing one's temper.

"Our displeasure is of the action, not the child," Flottum said. "You always love the child. You don't always like the actions."

Many inmates have no concept of talking to a child as a means of discipline, Flottum said. They grew up in homes where physical punishment was the only response to bad behavior.

Discipline can be a "discussable point," Flottum said. "You can talk to your kids about that."

***

The young man stood at the podium in front of 34 of his peers at the start of their weekly alcohol or drug addition meeting. He held sheets of loose-leaf paper on which he had written an apology for losing his temper during the prior week's group meeting.

The argument was about his daughter, a touchy subject, he read.

"I thought I was the best dad in the world," he read. "I spent every waking minute possible with my daughter. I gave her everything she wanted."

In his letter, he explained that before joining RECAP, he had convinced himself that his drug use wouldn't harm his daughter as long as she didn't see him use. If he was high while he was with her, it wouldn't matter because she wouldn't know the difference, he read.

The week before, he had lost his temper when a classmate disagreed with that reasoning, he read. After fuming for a while, he realized he was so mad because the classmate was right.

"The truth hurts, and that's the truth," he read.

In RECAP, he is learning to see his mistakes and be honest with himself about them.

"Thanks for helping me do so," he read, addressing the classmate with whom he had argued.

He finished reading, and the room burst into applause.

***

Just as in 1992, RECAP inmates attend groups to learn how to manage their anger, change their criminal thinking and understand how addiction has ruled their lives.

They also attend academic classes. Many work toward high school degrees. Classes include math, reading and financial literacy classes.

One recent addition to the curriculum is health, said Sgt. Jason Harding, a former patrol deputy who now oversees RECAP.

"It's basic sixth- and seventh-grade stuff that we all took for granted," Harding said.

Even the 4:30 a.m. wake-up time is meant to be educational, Harding said. Many jail inmates sleep until the afternoon, just as they did at home.

"They don't take care of themselves," Harding said.

RECAP inmates are expected to make their beds and be showered and dressed for breakfast by 6:30 a.m. They are expected to keep their hair cut neatly and keep themselves presentable.

They are expected to be positive representatives of the sheriff's office on community work days. More important, they are learning how to feel good, Harding said.

"It's a reflection of the sheriff's office, but more than that it's a reflection of themselves," he said.

***

It was just a Kool-Aid packet.

It was sitting on the snack cart not getting mixed into a drink. It likely would have been thrown away.

Chelsea Kosier nabbed it. When a jail staff member asked her about it, she said she didn't take it.

That was enough to get her suspended from RECAP for a second time.

Angry, she started believing all the bad things she'd heard about RECAP from friends and inmates.

"Snitches get stitches," she thought. "I don't want to be in this stupid snitch program."

In a flash of insight, Kosier realized the jail staff made a big deal about the Kool-Aid packet because theft is a big deal.

" ... I didn't start out by burglarizing people's houses," Kosier said. "I started out stealing Gummi Bears from the grocery store. We all start somewhere."

***

Kosier first talked to The Gazette in late July during a workday at the RECAP garden.

Some people—mostly those who have failed RECAP—make fun of the program or roll their eyes about something as benign as the theft of a Kool-Aid packet, said Kosier's friend and RECAP classmate Ellen Gravert, 26, of Janesville.

The lives of the participants depend on their success in the program, Gravert said.

"For me and Chelsea, this is the last stop before prison," Gravert said. "If we screw up, it's all over.

"This isn't a joke to us."

Kosier started RECAP in January, two months after being charged with party to burglary and party to theft. She was accused of driving her then-boyfriend and another man to a salvage yard in Edgerton where the men stole catalytic converters. The group sold the parts for cash to buy heroin, according to court documents.

It took nine months for Kosier to finish the five-month RECAP program. In early October, she spoke to The Gazette again during a class at the jail. She remained adamant that RECAP has changed her life.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever done," Kosier said.

Kosier was released from jail in early October. She had been heroin-free for nine months. She is expected to return on Halloween for a graduation ceremony with her class.

The day before her release, Kosier was invited to speak to her classmates during their alcohol or drug addiction class.

"Take this very seriously, because it can really change your life if you allow it to," Kosier said. "But if you fight it, you're going to end up back here or somewhere worse."


 
 

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