Archive for Sunday, January 15, 2012

Inmate program nurtures freedom on many levels

January 15, 2012


Dot Fernandez, left and Cindy Manske, center, run Freedom Foundation Ministries, which mentors female prisoners in Topeka. Diana Jurik, right, is an ex-convict who has gone though their program and continues to be mentored by Fernandez.

Dot Fernandez, left and Cindy Manske, center, run Freedom Foundation Ministries, which mentors female prisoners in Topeka. Diana Jurik, right, is an ex-convict who has gone though their program and continues to be mentored by Fernandez.

Diana Jurik left home at 12. She was an alcoholic by 14 and a school dropout by 16. By 36 she had been in prison five times and convicted of nine felonies.

But age 37 has been different. Jurik is working and staying clean. She is going to school and learning there are people in the world who care about her.

“I feel like somebody worth something,” she said, sitting between the two women she credits with much of her success.

The women are Dot Fernandez and Cindy Manske, co-founders of Freedom Foundation Ministries. Since last June, they have been holding life-skills classes for women in Topeka Correctional Facility and pairing them with mentors for when they are released. The group also offers optional religious services.

“It’s important for them to have that support from somebody who doesn’t want anything from them,” Fernandez said.

After Jurik was released from prison last April, Fernandez helped her get a job at a restaurant and enroll in cosmetology school in Topeka. She has also helped Jurik avoid her old way of life, which included alcohol abuse and bad relationships. She was convicted multiple times for forgery and drug possession.

Jurik said she has had one addiction relapse since being released from prison. In the past, that would have been the beginning of a downward spiral that likely would have ended in another prison cell. This time she called for help, and Fernandez spent an emotional hour in a cafe counseling Jurik.

Jurik said she has been clean since.

“I’ve used her to pick me up when I’ve fallen,” Jurik said.

Progress lost

Kansas was recently a model for helping people like Jurik.

In 2007, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed legislation to grant up to 60 days in reduced sentences for inmates who attended offender re-entry programs and appropriated $4 million in grants for communities with plans to reduce recidivism.

Kansas was among the top three states with the largest improvement in its recidivism rate from 2004-2007, according to a 2011 Pew Study, and its inmate population fell 5 percent from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2009, according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department.

Gov. Sam Brownback, then a U.S. senator, championed a bipartisan bill inspired by the Kansas law. It was later signed by President George W. Bush and became the Second Chance Act, which awarded grants to governments and organizations that helped offenders better return to society.

But Kansas’ fiscal woes have taken a toll on such programs, and the Kansas inmate population has been back on the rise. Every year since fiscal year 2009, there have been more people in Kansas prisons and jails than the year before. There were 9,186 prisoners in September 2011, the highest number in a decade.

It’s a trend the Department of Corrections worries will continue given current funding levels for offender programs. The Kansas Legislative Research Department included that concern in its 2012 legislators’ briefing book, a guide of issues provided to state lawmakers.

Fernandez believes her program is allowed access to the prison because of the state’s diminished ability to provide such services. But she praised Brownback, who has called for every Kansas inmate to have a mentor during the months before and after they are released.

“I know he (Brownback) isn’t always the most popular, but that’s something very positive he’s done,” Fernandez said.

As of December, 500 volunteers have been recruited for Brownback’s Mentoring 4 Success initiative.

Manske, the other Freedom Foundation co-founder, acknowledges the teaching and the mentoring is time intensive and affects relatively few. They have resources to help just 10 women each year. To her, it’s still progress.

“It’s one woman at a time,” Manske said.


Jurik has 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. They live in Louisiana, and she hasn’t seen them since they were 3.

A few weeks ago, their father unexpectedly emailed her a link to a Facebook page he had created. She opened it up and saw pictures of her twins, happy and doing well. She hopes she will get to see them again.

“It’s just one little step,” Jurik said. “Now I’m being reunited with my children slowly. It’s just a lot of good things.”


Jeff Barclay 6 years, 5 months ago

An outstanding, visionary program. Working at ground-level, seeing lives changed from the inside out. Great job ladies!

jhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

Sounds like a great idea. However, using this woman as an example of the program's success is premature at best. After having made poor choices for 20 years, she has now been on the straight and narrow for nine months, except for the one slip (that we know of) in sobriety.
Write back in 20 years and let me know how things worked out. Tell us how her children are doing after having been denied a stable loving family relationship. I certainly hope her actions over the past 13 years of their lives don't lead to the next generation being incarcerated as their (supposed) role model was.
I hope things work out well for this woman, her family and this program. Keep sending updates over the next many years.

geekin_topekan 6 years, 5 months ago

Well, the article does say that they are with their father. It may mean that they have had the stability and he, the man, stepped up to the plate when the mother didn't.

WHo knows?

Lana Christie-Hayes 6 years, 5 months ago

I support the reintegration program, and hope that funding continues to support it. I believe that giving support to those reentering society is most certainly a catapult for success. Having said that, I tend to agree that 9 months is a very short amount of time, 1 relapse (that we know of) definitely gives rise to skepticism. I'm in recovery myself, with over 2 1/2 years clean and sober, but I still have to keep in mind that it's just a daily day at a time. Time will tell for this woman. However, I do pray for the best for her, and all those trying to overcome difficult circumstances, addictions, etc, and become productive members of society.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

Good job. We need to help people, not just lock everyone up forever. Keep it up.

KEITHMILES05 6 years, 5 months ago

Very, very few ex cons really want to change their lives the "real" way but always looking for the quickest way. There may be a few who do it the "real" way and those are to be supported. The others? Just like throwing money away.

Jeff Barclay 6 years, 5 months ago

Great example of how the non-for-profit sector can work efficiently in social rehabilitation situations when there is a vision and genuine want-to. Women join this program months before their release date. Guidelines for participation are strict, but reasonable and covered with alot of self-esteem restoring care and compassion. As so many of those in prison are there because of a descending spiral of poor choices it takes considerable patience on the part of Freedom Foundation staff and considerable courage and new-found moral resolve on the part of the women in the program to begin the slow climb out of the pit they have dug for themselves. Dot and Cindy operate on much less than even a shoe-string budget... they are definitely non-for-profit. I am sure they would take whatever someone would like to donate to their foundation.

jlw53 6 years, 5 months ago

The smile on her face looks genuine. Though I tend to be skeptical that people who have been down that far can really recover and be happy, productive members of society, I am hopeful that at least this one lady has turned the corner towards a successful and rewarding life and in due time will be reunited with her children. She appears to be grateful for the assistance and is willing to earn her way back into their lives. Good luck!

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Not only does it take a lot of time, it takes a really special kind of person to do what Dot Fernandez and Cindy Manske are doing, and I want to thank them for their work, patience and perseverance.

I don't see any place where it says that this is faith based, maybe one can assume that from the title, but it is also stated that they can only help ten people a year. We obviously need far more than that. I hope that these programs will continue to be funded by the state as they seem to be working. Most of us can't even imagine what it is like to feel the hopelessness of nobody caring what happens to you.

Jenni Allen 6 years, 5 months ago

great , its too bad that there are so many hypocrites in this world, it would be a better place without them program they helped me i just celebrated 18 years off of drugs and alcohol. they gave me a second chance and i am grateful for that

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