Agencies team up to help Lake County parolees stay out of prison

Post date: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 4:32pm
Frank Abderholden
fabderholden [at] stmedianetwork [dot] com | @abderholden

Aug. 6 10 a.m.
Full story here

The Illinois Department of Corrections held its first Hope Summit in Lake County on Tuesday to help parolees and probationers get their lives back on track and stay out of the criminal justice system.

“The reason for this is to promote the fight against recidivism,” said Marcus King, senior community outreach coordinator for the IDOC.

After initially having a hard time finding a place to hold the community expo, King said state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, stepped in and secured the Greenbelt Forest Preserve as a venue.

“I wanted it to be someplace nice where they would feel comfortable and promote the positive feeling of what’s going on here,” she said.

Contributing state organizations included the Illinois Secretary of State’s office and the departments of Health and Human Services (DCFS), Health Care and Family Services (HFS), Public Health (IDPH), Employment Services (IDES) and the Housing Development Authority (IHDA). Other vendors included the Illinois Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Waukegan Public Library, Nicassa, Citizen Utility Board, Woodforest Bank, Department of Women’s Health and the Illinois Student’s Assistance Commission.

All were on hand to help open bank accounts, deal with past child support payments, sign up for health care, reduce utility bills, get a driver’s license or state identification, register to vote and tap into social services that offer anger management classes or substance abuse programs.

King said the rate of recidivism in Illinois is down 8 percent over the past two years.

“As of today there are 49,050 inmates in the IDOC custody. There are just over 27,000 parolees statewide, “ said King, adding that in Lake County there are 1,062.

“We only invited 741 because we had to filter out sex offenders and such.”

The summits started four years ago under a different name, and it’s only been the last two years that the program has been expanded to include over 200 events. At noon Tuesday, organizers had 300 parolees and probationers go through the process, making it one of the top five best attended events in the summit’s history.

“We can talk to them about what they need to do to get their license back or get a state ID,’ said Ellen White, deputy director of intergovernmental affairs in the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. “A valid state ID is one of the building blocks to re-entry into society. You need that for housing, health care, job training. We are a key building block.”

For the parolees and probationers, the event counts as an official visit and includes the drug testing.

Roley Johnson, 28, of North Chicago, didn’t want to discuss what got him to this point other than to say “wrong choices.” He already had his driver’s license and was looking at getting a free cell phone from Life Wireless, which provides low-income families and individuals with phone service through the federal Lifeline program.

“This is a nice place,” he said of the venue and services. “They have a lot of resources, but I don’t need a lot of them.”

Johnson has a construction job now, and does carpentry and plumbing work, but he also checked out the temporary jobs.

“This shows you that there are people out there who will help a person do better in life,” he said.

Lake Villa resident Anthony McIntyre, formerly of North Chicago, left a gang lifestyle and has become involved in community organizing and politics. He said he tries telling gang members to give up the criminal game, but the message is not always well received.

McIntyre’s life changed when three men came to rob his apartment. One was killed and one of the three fingered him as the shooter.

“I was charged with first degree murder. It was a retaliation thing. The guy who said he saw me had drug charges dropped once he testified against me,” McIntyre said. “As far police and prosecutors were concerned, I was a gang member and needed to be off the streets.”

He got out last year after serving 19 years in prison. He said the best thing to do is stay busy.

McIntyre has an entertainment consulting business that is not doing well, he said, so he also works in construction.

“Four times I was hired and fired on the same day once they found out what I was in for,” said McIntyre, who also speaks at recidivism conferences. “Staying busy is a good thing. I’m a new person now compared to what I was before.”

Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said the county has a high parolee rate, one of the highest in the state.

“These people all paid their debt to society and now we want them to become productive citizens again,” Nerheim said. “They need to know we want them to be successful. These services we are providing is to make sure they stay on the right track.

Ray Bradbury's hometown considers memorial statue

Post date: Friday, August 1, 2014 - 3:26pm

The City of Waukegan memorializes famed author Ray Bradbury with an annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival and Dandelion Wine Fine Arts Festival, a park, walking tour, creative contest, star on Sheridan Road, and even a downtown establishment named Green Town Tavern. However, the City does not have an outdoor statue to represent one of its most famous natives.

A committee of community members has begun working to raise funds to honor Bradbury by commissioning a bronze statue for the downtown area. Locations being considered include the Waukegan Public Library, the corner of Washington and Genesee Streets, and other downtown locations.

The committee is chaired by Richard Lee, Executive Director of the Waukegan Public Library. In 2006, Lee began looking into the costs and details of designing a Bradbury sculpture in the City. “Erecting a Bradbury statue in Bradbury’s hometown has always been of interest to me,” said Lee. “Not only because Bradbury should hold a place of honor in Waukegan, but also because Bradbury’s passion for reading and learning would be an inspiration to the community.”

Bradbury lived in Waukegan until he was 13, when his family moved to Los Angeles. Throughout his life, he remembered his hometown in many of his writings including the 1957 “Dandelion Wine”, “Something Wicked This Way Comes” in 1962, and his last novel in 2006, “Farewell Summer”. He died in 2012 at the age of 91.

Last year, Lee traveled to California to oversee the packing and shipping of a large portion of Bradbury’s estate, his entire personal book collection, which Bradbury left to the library when he passed away. “I loved opening the library door and looking in and listening to all my friends in there,” said Bradbury. “All the books talked to me, they all whispered. The stacks were dark and mysterious and wonderful.”

Bradbury supported the Waukegan Public Library throughout his entire career, and, until health issues impeded, he made frequent trips to his hometown. He sponsored the Library’s Creative Contest for 30 years, personal hand-signing the winner certificates each year. And, in 2005, Bradbury permitted the library to use his name and present an annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival around Halloween, his favorite time of year.

The project was initiated last month when community activist Hank Bogdala and his wife Beverly contacted Lee and they all agreed that Bradbury should have a place of honor in the City. The envisioned statue is a bronze work based on Bradbury’s likeness.

This will be the second memorial statue to be erected in Waukegan. A tribute to Jack Benny sits at the corner of Genesee and Clayton Streets in Jack Benny plaza. Benny grew up in Waukegan until he began touring the nation as an entertainer. The Benny statue took over two years to complete at a total cost of $55,000, $48,000 of which was fundraised. The remaining cost was given by Senator Aldine GeoKaris.

Meetings are scheduled once per month and are open to the public. The next meeting will take place at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, August 26, in the Waukegan Public Library board room at 128 North County Street. If you are interested in contributing to the project or joining the committee, contact Richard Lee at (847) 623-2041, ext. 250.  It is intended that the statue will be fully funded by charitable donations and sponsors. All donations are tax deductible.

Grad talks up value of Waukegan library’s Spanish GED program

Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 2:40pm
Yadira Sanchez Olson
For Sun-Times Media | ysanchezolson [at] stmedianetwork [dot] com

July 21 11:16 a.m.

As a chemical engineer in Mexico, Pedro Gomez had only one barrier that was keeping him from moving up in the field.

He didn’t speak English.

English is the universal language, he thought, so “where better to learn it than in the United States,” Gomez said.

With that in mind, he made a trip last year, from his native land of Michoacán — a western state in Mexico — to Waukegan, where a casual visit to the Waukegan Public Library has taken him in an unexpected path.

“I found him wandering in the halls and asked him how I could help,” said Carmen Patlan, the library community engagement and Spanish literacy services manager.

Gomez needed English classes, which the library provides with its Conversation ESL (English as a Second Language) Program, in which role play and visual tools are used to teach English to Spanish speakers.

But Patlan thought Gomez could take his learning a step further, so she invited him to also join the Spanish GED program.

The new program preps students for the GED exam at the College of Lake County through instruction in math, reading and writing in Spanish.

In May, 35 students earned their GED diploma, becoming the first class of graduates of the program.

And 45 more students are currently enrolled and on their way to becoming next year’s graduates.

For Gomez, it took less than two months to prep and pass the GED exam. He also was able to secure financial aid that has helped him further his English education.

For everything, Gomez said he’s thankful he bumped into Patlan and that he took her up on the invitation.

To show his appreciation, he’s now volunteering his time as an instructor for the library’s Spanish GED class.

“Gomez is a wonderful teacher because the students can relate to him and his story,” Patlan said.

She added that it’s not just about teaching the material; it’s also about a community moving forward as a whole.

“Conversation ESL is really the port of entry,” Patlan said. “Once they’re in the program, we figure out what else they need and if it meets our vision then that’s something we try to provide.”

Students in the ESL classes don’t just want to learn English, Patlan said; they want to learn English as a stepping stone toward better jobs or to move up in their careers.

With his GED certificate and the ability to speak English, Gomez is getting ready to go back home at the end of the year to keep at his career goal in Mexico.

Soon, he’ll say goodbye to his volunteer teaching job at the library and to the friends he’s made there.

For him, the slight turn that his life took making him bilingual, a GED graduate, and an instructor has been incredible, he said.

“It’s been exciting. I’ve most enjoyed seeing people make a connection; a click in their eyes that tells me I’ve taught them something new that they can apply in their life,” Gomez said.

Patlan said that’s also what she enjoys most of her job at the library.

“We aim to help people break barriers and succeed,” Patlan said.