Rehab preps Pointe Coupee inmates for release

Twenty state inmates housed at the Pointe Coupee Parish Detention Center are 90 days closer to release after completing an extensive re-entry and rehabilitation program.

The men, all wearing orange coveralls with “Pointe Coupee Jail” emblazoned in black, block letters across the back, crowded into the center’s small entry hall for a short graduation ceremony last week where each received a diploma.

The six-week, 90-hour program covered 10 subject areas ranging from anger management to parenting to job-finding and personal banking skills, according to the center’s warden, Captain Stephen Juge.

Inmates who participate get 90 days “good time” credit toward completion of their sentence, Juge said.

The program was funded by a $75,000 grant provided by the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation of Baton Rouge.

A few of the men could be released in the next few weeks, Juge said, but most still have several years left on their sentences.

The facility houses 153 inmates. That number includes 100 state offenders serving out their sentences and 53 local prisoners who are awaiting trials.

“We hope that what you learned in this course, you will take it in a positive way — that you don’t return back to the penal system,” Juge told the men.

“I hope it’s important to y’all to go back to your kids and your families and support your families.”

Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Beauregard “Bud” Torres III told the men they were the first graduating class but won’t be the last. He said he was proud of them.

“Whatever got you in here is in the past,” Torres said. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life and you can make it count.”

He told the men that, to succeed, they need to change their attitude, get a job and hold it, and steer clear of “that old street corner and your old friends.”

Elain Ellerbe, president and CEO of Re-entry Benefiting Families and Resources Benefiting Families, two nonprofit groups in Zachary, oversaw the program and taught some of the courses.

“So many people have this attitude that ‘Let’s be hard on crime, lock ’em up and throw away the key,’ but 95 percent of those incarcerated in this state will eventually get out,” Ellerbe said.

The state Legislature passed a bill in 2004 that provides 100 hours of life skills training for state facilities, she said, but the reality is that many of local jails house state offenders.

About 15,000 state offenders are released each year but only about 4,000 are actually in state facilities where there is re-entry programming — the rest come out of local jails where there is not, she said.

“We help them determine what their goals and values are and put together a re-entry plan of what they are going to do when they get out, where they will live, where they’ll get a job,” Ellerbe said.

Inmate Michael Lanieux, 41, of New Orleans, is 11 months away from release from a four-year sentence for marijuana distribution.

“This class taught me responsibility — I want to take care of my kids — and it taught me how to go out and find a job,” Lanieux said. “I ain’t coming back!”

Inmate Ronald Guidry, 56, of Plaquemine, is serving two years for marijuana distribution and may get out within the next two weeks. He drove an 18-wheeler before and will look for a trucking job again, he said.

“This … gave me tools to stay away from what got me here,” Guidry said. “I learned that the things that I do don’t just affect me; it affects my family, my friends and it affects the community.”

Inmate Hurk Harris, 37, of Lake Providence, halfway through a 10-year sentence for manslaughter, offered a powerful prayer of thanks for the sandwich and chips lunch following the ceremony.

“This (class) gave me a whole different outlook on life again,” Guidry said. “I learned that life isn’t about me; it’s about others.”