The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Program helps steer ex-cons straight
Thomas Keating is 72 and has been in and out of jail since he was a teenager.
He has served time as a bank robber, drug distributor and sex offender. But he’s been a free man for more than six years and says there’s one reason he’s stayed out of trouble for the “longest stretch” in his life.
Keating got help from the Fredericksburg Area Re-Entry Council, a group of agencies and volunteers who help ex-offenders make the transition back into society.
“The re-entry program has been such a joy to me,” said Keating, who lives in King George County. “I had no family, I had no clothes but what was on my back. If it hadn’t been for Dave Coman [the council director], I’d have been in jail again.”
Keating and others who served time talked about the way the program helped them find jobs, locate housing and get to mandatory meetings with parole officers or substance-abuse classes. The ex-offenders attended a town hall Thursday evening at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library along with representatives from the agencies who helped them.
Organizers estimated that at least 150 people wandered in and out of the library meeting room. That included representatives from some of the council’s 24 agencies, which work in correctional programs or provide education, housing, mental health programs, employment and social services.
The session began with motivational remarks by Marshall Williams, who said he wanted ex-offenders, or “returning citizens,” to become great citizens again.
“This is where they’re going to find the opportunity to do it,” he said.
He encouraged ex-offenders to take advantage of programs the community offers—and members of the community to give them the chance they need.
“That’s what we’re asking for,” he said. “Nothing major, just a second chance.”
Williams, 49, said he was living the dream—had the big house, the good job, everything—until the economy soured. He was demoted from a store manager to an associate, and his salary was cut by two-thirds.
“I did something dumb,” he said.
He embezzled money from the store. But he turned himself in, went through the court process and got three years of probation and parole—and a felony on his record.
He started volunteering with Virginia Cares, a Norfolk-based program that helps prisoners re-enter society. He eventually started working at a local recycling company and has recruited other ex-offenders for jobs.
He’s hired 10 since November, and said that nine are still working. One violated his parole and went back to jail.
The Fredericksburg re-
entry council serves Planning District 16 and covers the city and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. It originally was started by Coman, the director of the King George Department of Social Services, and was one of the first in the state.
Currently, there are 42 re-entry groups in Virginia. In 2010, Gov. Bob McDonnell established the re-entry councils to increase safety in communities and to reduce the chances of former inmates returning to jail.
“The cool thing about a re-entry council is that it’s bridging the gap between the community and the institutions,” said Jason Frazier, a re-entry specialist with the Department of Corrections in Spotsylvania.
In Virginia, 23 percent of released prisoners return to jail, said Lisa Kinney, communications director with the Virginia Department of Corrections. That’s the second-lowest in the nation, she said.
In Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford, 2,087 people currently are on probation or parole, said Ron Cavanaugh, chief officer in the District 21 Probation and Parole Office.
Each month, between 100 and 120 people are added to the caseload, “and hopefully, the same number are going off,” he said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425