As Jerome Marshall sat in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison during his 10-month incarceration on drug charges, he knew in his heart that he would do “whatever he could” to not return to prison.
When Marshall, 26, was released from prison on Dec. 1, 2010, two days before his 24th birthday, he met James A. Windom, executive director of the Capital Area ReEntry Coalition.
Windom set Marshall on a path he is on today. He will graduate soon from Capital Area Technical College while working as a mechanic at Gerry Lane Cadillac and becoming a role model for young men who did not have positive role models.
“All my role models I grew up under are in the streets, selling drugs and doing drugs or in jail,” Marshall said.
Marshall’s story, which had some coalition members in tears, was the capstone of speeches at the coalition’s December meeting Thursday at the ExxonMobil YMCA.
“His story, to me, is illustrative of why we do what we do. It wasn’t just a one-person event. It wasn’t just me. It was a host of people throughout the coalition who provided the services he needed to be successful,” Windom said of why he chose Marshall to speak at the meeting.
The coalition began in 2008 under Healing Place Church and in 2011, branched off as a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation, Windom said. The 85-partner coalition works with nearly 300 members to help former inmates return to society, he said.
Several other speakers talked about Louisiana’s recidivism rate, how to lower it and what’s working in other Southern states and alternative sentencing, among other topics.
State appellate court Judge Fredericka “Ricky” Homberg Wicker, who works on the Louisiana Sentencing Commission, said the 22-member panel works to create new guidelines for re-entry of prisoners into the community.
Wicker, who sits on the state’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna, said the commission studies data, policies and procedures in other states to identify what works so the panel can understand what may or may not work in Louisiana.
“We incarcerate more people per capita than any place in the world, more than Siberia, more than China, more than all those places we look at as hard places,” Wicker said, adding Louisiana has an “unacceptably high recidivism rate.”
She said the commission works with an annual budget of zero dollars.
Contrary to what some people may believe, some wardens, like Burl Cain at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and sheriffs, like Mike Cazes in West Baton Rouge, are strong advocates of programs aimed at lowering inmate reentry numbers, she said.
Before the meeting, David Cressy, a Baton Rouge lawyer who works with the Louisiana Reentry Advisory Council, said the state spends more than $750 million annually incarcerating criminals and about 50 percent return to prison.
Cressy said one aspect working against convicted felons is dealing with collateral consequences, provisions or laws that directly or indirectly affect their ability to get a job or housing. For example, he said, last year, state lawmakers abolished a law that prevented convicted felons from working as barbers.
The coalition, the sentencing commission and the council are all trying to help people like Marshall, who said that these days, he stays out of trouble and leaves his house for only school, work or church.
He said he also contacts people who helped him in his post-prison life, including state District Court Judge Chip Moore, who recently asked Marshall if he would ever see him in his courtroom again.
“I said, ‘Yeah, you’ll see me in January when you release me,’” Marshall said to a rousing applause, referring to when his three-year probation ends.