MALVERN, Ark.- It is estimated that more than half of all Arkansas inmates released from prison on parole, end up back in lockup within three years.
It’s a trend no one wants to see, and many people work hard to avoid.
For a lot of ex-convicts, re-entry programs are the key to success.
“You have to be willing to change everything,” says Katy Petrus with Covenant Recovery and Re-Entry.
It’s a group session all about encouragement.
They talk about their goals, their futures, and their pasts.
It’s sessions like this that change lives.
“I get to watch miracles happen every day,” says Petrus.
These men, not behind a jail cell, but serving out their prison sentences.
They were chosen to be a part of Covenant Recovery and Re-Entry in Malvern.
Their ankle monitors remind them of where they were just weeks ago.
“In prison, it’s a totally different environment,” says Trevor Richards, who is incarcerated.
Richards is searching for a fresh start.
“I’ve been here for 24 days,” Richards says. “The best 24 days of my life.”
This is his second time being incarcerated since 2014, but he says he’s found hope for the future.
“Once we pulled up the driveway, we were one way,” Richards recalls. “Once we came in here, got the rules down, we know what we want in life.”
Covenant Recovery and Re-Entry is licensed to hold 96 inmates.
Katy Petrus, the director, believes in this program so much, she calls the felons her family.
“My whole purpose is to save them and keep them from going back into the penitentiary,” says Petrus.
She spends her time being a support system.
Some of these guys have spent several years in and out of the prison system, like Eric Helms.
“One thing leads to another and you’re sitting back in the county jail, scratching your head asking, ‘How did this happen?”, Helms says.
However, this is his first time in re-entry.
Also for the first time, he says he truly understands his worth.
“Finding myself and being able to believe in myself probably what has completely changed my outlook on life,” says Helms.
Petrus teaches them that, and the basics of living life on the outside again. She helps them get stable jobs. They learn the importance of staying clean and sober, saving money and supporting their families.
“I released a guy the other day that had $14,000 that he had saved in the 180 days that he was here,” Petrus says. “That was after he bought a vehicle and after he secured a house.”
The reason why she does what she does because she knows what it’s like.
“In 2003, I was behind the same bars that they were,” says Petrus. “I lost my kids, I lost my husband, I lost my house, I lost everything through the course of my addiction.”
Years later, she gives these guys the support to get back on their feet.
The same respect she gives them, they give her.
“It’s nice to know someone in the world cares about people like us,” says Michael Dykes, who is also incarcerated. “It really means a lot to me.”
Michael Dykes says he’s been in a jail cell for two years before getting the opportunity to come here.
“My charge was theft of property and terroristic threatening,” Dykes says.
He says what’s changing his life around is his kids.
“I have a 4 and 3 year old and they are in the state’s care right now,” says Dykes. “They need me. They need me out there. They need dad.”
For the thousands of others that don’t get the opportunity to be here, he says it’s unfortunate.
“For them to miss out on an opportunity like this, it really hurts my heart,” Dykes says. “And I just feel blessed to be one of the chosen ones. It’s like a matter of success or failure.”
The small building, changing lives from a felon, to a free man.
Arkansas Community Correction interviews and selects who can come to the program.
It’s not always successful, some inmates that go through the Re-Entry Program do end up back in prison.