Friday, October 19, 2018
Opinion

Column: Rehabilitate felons like me or pay the price later

I am your neighbor. I’ve also been convicted of five felonies and was previously designated a career criminal. I have served more than 25 years in prison. Whether people like me are good or bad neighbors when we leave prison depends largely on whether we have access to rehabilitation programs during our incarceration.

I, for one, benefited from the programs offered by the Florida Department of Corrections. I am deeply grateful for the people who run these programs and helped me make the changes necessary to live a full, productive life outside prison walls. If we take away programs that give people like me the tools we need to succeed, not everyone will have the chance I did.

I am deeply concerned that the Florida Department of Corrections has decided to cut rehabilitation programs to make up for its budget shortfall. Substance-abuse treatment, community-based re-entry programs and mental health services are critical to helping incarcerated people successfully transition from prison home to our communities.

Substance abuse was not the cause of my criminal conduct, but it set the stage for a life that was susceptible to crime and helped to facilitate my criminal behavior. I was not arrested each time I got drunk, but I was drunk each time I was arrested.

I started getting in trouble in my teens as my abuse of alcohol and drugs began. This addictive behavior escalated during my enlistment in the Air Force and eventually led me to prison at the age of 22. I served 4˝ years without addressing my substance-abuse issue. Prison was hard and violent, and I came out with an attitude of anger and resentment and a firm resolution to never, ever go back to prison.

Despite being "scared straight," I continued to drink and use drugs. That was until Aug. 27, 1991, when I came out of an alcohol-induced blackout in a jail cell and had to ask the jailer why I was there — what had I done this time? Burglary of a conveyance with assault earned me a 35-year career-criminal prison sentence.

Fortunately for me, the Florida Department of Corrections offered substance-abuse treatment. I volunteered for and completed several substance-abuse programs during my final prison stint. I changed. If I had not changed, I would not have earned my release and I might have died in prison.

Today I am a loving husband, successful business owner and a good neighbor. I am rehabilitated and mentor others in a long-term recovery lifestyle.

These programs work. I am where I am today because of them. People like me need these programs so we can go home, find jobs, provide stability for our families and become good neighbors. People like you need these programs, too, because people like me are your neighbors.

Cutting programs that are proven to reduce recidivism and lower long-term costs to the state is not the way to pay for our expensive prison system. Taking away resources that help prepare people for productive and healthy lives outside of prison is counter-productive.

It is time for our state officials to step up and start fixing our bloated, costly, and ineffective criminal justice system. Lawmakers must adopt smart policies that will reduce our prison population, save our tax dollars and keep us safer, and that includes funding rehabilitation programs.

I recently read that about 33,000 people are released from prison each year. Some of these people will certainly become our neighbors. This is not somebody else’s problem. It is all of ours.

We as a society are going to pay. The questions we must confront are how, and how much, do we want to pay? We can pay a smaller amount to rehabilitate people like me or pay much more to re-incarcerate people if they are released without rehabilitation.

Ron Baker is president and CEO of Prisoner Connections LLC, which works with attorneys in post-conviction and appellate litigation to serve Florida prisoners’ legal needs and to protect their constitutional rights.. He lives in Riverview.

Comments
Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Sharing memories of the “wish book,” shopping on Saturday nights and many memorable purchases
Updated: 3 hours ago

Editorial: FBI should take a hard look at CareerSource

The scrutiny now extends to the state agency that oversees the local jobs centers
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Experts are right that Hurricane Michael should force a review of Florida’s building standards. While newer homes generally fared better than older ones, the state needs to reassess the risks posed by high winds and storm surge.
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

You wouldn't skip a trip to the gas pump, would you?Then don't miss the chance to cast your general election ballot, either, when Hillsborough County opens its many early voting sites Monday morning for a two-week engagement.If you do your homework a...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Editorial: Glazer Children’s Museum quickly regained its step

Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum.
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Editorial: Housecleaning was necessary at Clearwater parks department

The theft of money and a hostile atmosphere show a city department out of control
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Updated: 8 hours ago