The Van Wert County Courthouse

Thursday, Jun. 4, 2020

Program provides inmates life skills info

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Inmates at the Van Wert County Correctional Facility can now learn basic living and workplace skills while serving their time, thanks to a new program created by Van Wert Municipal Court intern Claire White.

Summer bailiff intern Claire White (right) works on life skills with a Van Wert County Correctional Facility inmate. (photo submitted)
Van Wert Municipal Court bailiff intern Claire White (right) works on life skills with a Van Wert County Correctional Facility inmate. (photo submitted)

White, daughter of Mark and Michelle White, who developed the Back to Reality program late last year as part of an advocacy project she was working on as a student at Ohio Northern University, said she noticed some jail inmates were having trouble dealing with basic life skills.

“A lot of people were struggling with getting jobs and just some of the basic stuff they didn’t know,” White said.

The Back to Reality program, which is voluntary for inmates, includes four sections, with the first being one on hygiene and childcare. The section provides personal hygiene basics, as well as information on keeping homes and family members clean and providing adequate healthcare to children. It also talks about developing organizational skills, including creating schedules and meeting goals.

A Life Skills section includes information on how to plan a healthy diet, including information on the basic food groups, what not to eat — including decreasing the amount of fast food in a diet — as well as preparation of easy meals that are both simple and nutritious. The section also provides information on developing good communication skills.

The program also has a Finance section that provides basic financial information, such as how to open checking and savings accounts, what each is for, how to balance a checkbook and write checks and how to develop, and follow, a budget. The section also includes information on credit cards, how to maintain good credit and steps people can take to control debt.

A Workforce section helps inmates determine their strengths and how to find jobs that use those strengths, as well as how to write a strong resume, how to apply and interview for a job and the importance of professionalism in the workplace. The section also talks about obtaining a dependable ride to work for those without vehicles or a license and the importance of good work attendance.

In addition, White said feedback from inmates who complete a survey following the program, led her to add a section on drug relapse prevention taught by new Drug Court coordinator Ashley Schaadt. The section provides information on how to get one’s driver’s license back after a suspension and a seven-step decision-making process to help with relapse prevention, as well as information on parenting for those experiencing substance abuse and addiction.

Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman said she was pleased and impressed with White’s program when the ONU student presented it to her.

“What impressed me the most, immediately, was how incredibly insightful she was in developing the program,” Judge Leatherman said of White, noting that White being young was also a plus for the program.

“It became clear that having someone closer to their age demographic made the information easier to accept,” the judge said, noting that often it isn’t what message is given, but having the proper messenger to present it, that makes a program successful. “She was younger than everybody in the class but they respected her as a peer.

“She’s willing to say ‘here’s something you can do to help yourself and here’s how you can do it’,” Judge Leatherman said. “Coming from someone closer to their age demographic, it’s more readily accepted.”

Part of the willingness to trust a younger person over an older one comes from the dynamics of drug addiction, Judge Leatherman said, noting that those who abuse drugs and alcohol often stop maturing, with addicts and alcoholics in their 20s and 30s still behaving as if they were in their teens.

“It was definitely eye-opening to me,” the judge said, adding that the maturity level of a substance abuser is not that of someone the same age who was not an addict.

The judge, who said she plans to continue using a young person to teach the classes after White returns to school, added that she also attends some of the classes, but stresses she’s there in a personal role, not a professional one.

“I tell them, ‘I’m just here as support, I’m not here as a judge; I’m not here making judgments about you; I’m not here to criticize you; you’re not going to be ridiculed and not going to be made fun of’,” Judge Leatherman explained.

The judge said being involved in the Back to Reality program has been a great personal experience for her, and noted she plans to expand the program in the future to provide even more helpful information to jail inmates.

POSTED: 05/30/15 at 8:29 am. FILED UNDER: News