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A Force for Good

It was a warm and humid afternoon, and Felton Almond was waiting in the shade for the rest of his group to arrive. Every week, Almond and other probationers meet with Agent Brianne McGill for an hour-long walk at Palmer Park in Detroit that aims to help them improve their well-being and maintain a positive attitude. It has become part of Almond’s routine that he says he can’t miss, and it has helped him reduce feelings of anxiety and improve his overall health. “When I get to certain spots, it’s like being somewhere else,” Almond said, taking in his wooded surroundings. “It’s peaceful.” McGill started the “Pathways to Peace” weekly walking group in 2017. Participants can talk about anything they want, as long as they stay positive. Because participants meet at Central City Integrated Health before the walk begins, it also encourages them to keep appointments with treatment providers and counselors, McGill said. “It’s a peaceful, non-negative walk,” McGill said. “You talk about what’s good in your life and focus on the positive.” McGill’s weekly walk in the warmer months with probationers is just one of the many ways field agents across the Michigan Department of Corrections are working to help those they supervise improve their lives. Others also make it a priority to give back to their communities and encourage the offenders they supervise to do the same. Receiving Recognition This clear commitment to Offender Success and dedication to making the state a better and safer place to live has helped propel Michigan to a position as a national leader in corrections. The state’s recidivism rate hit a historic low at 28.1 percent earlier this year, and the prisoner population fell below 40,000 for the first time in two decades in 2017. These developments, combined with the department’s efforts to recognize staff for a job well done, and help offenders lead more productive and successful lives drew the interest of the American Parole and Probation Association. For the last two decades, the association has dedicated the third week in July to celebrating the work of field agents and community corrections professionals across the country. This year, the association’s executive director and staff decided to spend the 20th anniversary of Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week in Michigan visiting MDOC field staff across the state and thanking them for their hard work. “This state is breaking lots of records in terms of outcomes — with recidivism in particular,” said Veronica Cunningham, executive director of the association. “When you have a 28 percent recidivism rate, that speaks volumes to the work your officers are doing. A lot of departments across this country are still in the 50 percent range, and some even higher, so the fact that you have that low of a recidivism rate really speaks to the aptitude, the experience, the knowledge and the heart your officers are giving to the work.” Giving Back Be kind, helpful and generous to others. It’s a motto Van Buren County Agent Ann Marie Schaefer lives by as she works to guide those she supervises to better lives and help others in her community. About five years ago, an executive pastor at Freshwater Community Church who lives near Schaefer shared plans for growing the church’s community center and sought help with renovation efforts. Schaefer responded by helping to establish community service opportunities for parolees and probationers who could assist with renovations, serve meals during the church’s weekly lunch for seniors, help deliver food to families in need or participate in the community garden. Schaefer said it’s important to encourage offenders to give back and take ownership of their neighborhoods. “They’re part of our community and they’re part of who we are,” she said. “If they have ownership of their community, they’re more likely to take ownership of themselves and what they’re doing too. Giving back also gives a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. They’re busy doing the right thing and that’s important.” Schaefer also helps teach a weekly cooking class for families served by the church’s food pantry. The classes focus on making healthy meals with the food available at the pantry, and each participant takes home a basket that includes ingredients for the meal covered in class. The classes also cover nutrition and how to eat healthy on a budget. “It’s about what you can do to help others and help yourself,” Schaefer said. “It’s part of the bigger picture.” Like Schaefer, many other agents around the state are also working hard to make their communities better places to live. A group of Southwest District probation agents and offenders they supervise recently cleaned and beautified a quarter mile section of Outer Drive in Wayne County through the Adopt-A-Road program. The activity keeps the road clean for area residents and it also helps build a positive rapport between agents and probationers while giving both an opportunity to make their community a better place to live, said Region Manager Janella Robinson. In June, Wayne County parole and probation staff continued their ongoing commitment to partner with the Pinehurst Block Club in Detroit to combat blight. MDOC staff, offenders, the Detroit Police Department and residents came together to board up vacant homes, cut grass and create a flower garden. Participating offenders also had the chance to speak with a local employer at the event, and as a result, 25 were placed with construction jobs. Helping Others What Wayne County Agent Omar Russell enjoys most about his job is watching offenders on his caseload transform their lives to become successful and productive citizens. Guiding offenders to positive and meaningful change means taking the time to talk to them, understanding their background, and offering support and encouragement, Russell said. “I tell them they can succeed even through adversity,” Russell said. “I let them know I’m there for them. I try to reach as many people as I can and change as many lives as I can. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help people.” Gladwin County Probation Agent Gregory Brady also feels strongly about his ability to help others. He gives back to his community through a restaurant he owns and sees it as an opportunity to be a positive role model. He said he encourages the probationers he supervises to take steps to show the community they have changed and they are making a difference. Though Brady has donated thousands to local fundraisers and efforts, he said he doesn’t consider what he pours into the community as “giving back.” “I see it as an opportunity to share,” Brady said. “I see it as an opportunity to role model kindness.”