Repeat Offenders Talk About Why They Keep Going Back - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Repeat Offenders Talk About Why They Keep Going Back

Repeat offenders. They are the people who get in trouble with the law and end up in jail, time and time again. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the return rate within this country's prison population is 62.8 percent. Harrison County Detention Center warden Don Cabana says in Mississippi the trend is somewhere around 60 percent. 

In a special report, Danielle Thomas looks at why so many people seem to be caught up in "The Revolving Door."

The feel of an inmate uniform is nothing new to Don Bogart. The 49-year-old says he served time twice in his home state of Colorado for DUI.

"I struggled a lot with drinking in my young age," said Boggart.

Boggart's third time behind bars is in the Harrison County Detention Center on a robbery charge. He came to Mississippi looking for work after the hurricane and ended up homeless. Boggart believes many homeless people end up in jail at some point.

"There's no more shelters for the homeless," he said. "You're out there. You've got to find a place to live, whether it's being in a tent or just sleeping on the street. Sure that creates a lot of problems. My part, that's what brought me back was that right there. "

Boggart added, "Evidently there's something wrong with the system somewhere."

Fellow inmate Lionel Antoine also blames the system for his repeated trips to jail, but for different reasons.

"I've violated my probation three times," said Antoine. "I'm a grown man. I've got 16 grandchildren and it's very hard to me to have somebody dictate to me what to do, what to do. The rules and regulations, to me I think, are too steep. That's why I keep coming back. "

Antoine says he thinks it's impossible to complete probation successfully in Mississippi.

"We rebel because the system tries to tell me what to do. What time to go to bed. I can't drink a beer even in the confinements of my own home. Who to associate with," he said. "I'm 56 years old. I like to drink a beer periodically. You're going to tell me I can't drink a beer for three years. It's ridiculous. "

For years, the Good News Life Skills program has been on a mission to stop the revolving door at the Harrison County Jail. Inmates learn everything from how to balance a check book to how to build healthy relationships using Bible-based teachings. Chaplain Joe Collins says he's learned prisoners will not change their behavior until there's a change in how they think about themselves and the world around them.

"There's just a lack of understanding," said the chaplain. "'This is the way I was taught to do things and this is the way I do it, without any thought that this is going to bring me in conflict with the law on a regular basis.' Some just say, 'I want this lifestyle regardless of the cost.'"

Chaplain Collins says Life Skills has produced a drop in the number of repeat offenders here. Since 2003, about 300 inmates have graduated from the program, 65 have returned to jail. Shannon Miller is one of them. She's back in jail for a fourth time.

Miller said, "I definitely thought last time was going to be my last time because of the program, the Life Skills program. I wouldn't have known that I would be back, but here I am again."

Miller said she had been unable to avoid the pitfalls once she was released from jail.

"It's easier to be up in here and do the right thing than when you get out. You've got all that temptation and stuff that you're going to do. You say in your mind that you won't. But it ends up coming around and you end up doing it again."

Credit Card Fraud and shoplifting got Miller in trouble. She now realizes she's not the only one paying for her mistakes, so is her family.

"It makes me sad and that's why I'm crying because I shouldn't put them through this," she said with tears streaming down her face. "I'm constantly hurting them every time I come up in here and I shouldn't. They've been good to me. But some things we have no control over. Drugs got a part of me and I had no control over it, so I did what I had to do and I'm paying for it now."

Rev. Joe Collins said the support for the inmates needs to extend past the jail walls.

"The need for someone to help them is tremendous out there. I read something last year that said if every Bible believing church in America would commit to mentoring one ex-offender and their family, crime as we know it would disappear and it's right," said Chaplain Collins.

"If people would take on these ex-offenders and their families and walk along side those who want to. There's going to be those who don't want it and who still want to go back and have the fun and do the things that brought them to jail. But for those who are struggling like Shannon and who say, 'I really want to, but when I get out there, I don't have that support group.' It would make a tremendous difference in the lives of some of these men and women."

Shannon Miller knows she will again be released and have to face some tough choices once on the outside.

"What's going to be different?" she asked herself. "I can't go out and steal. I've to got out and know I can't touch everything. I can't have everything that I want. That's how I've always been. When I wanted something, if I couldn't buy it, I had to steal it. I can't do that. I can't do that."

Miller said, "Somehow, I just keep praying that the last time be the last time. And I'm praying that this be the last time, because I can't keep doing this. I can't.  It's not worth it."

by Danielle Thomas

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