Every year thousands of inmates in Alaska are released from jail or prison to re-enter a society they have wronged. Many need a mentor to help prepare them to make the sharp transition from an unhealthy life to a productive one.
That’s why the Alaska Department of Corrections is involved in a collaborative effort with a program known as KAMP — Kodiak Area Mentor Program. Inspired by Teresa and Jeff Slaughter, KAMP is a faith-based program that prepares inmates for a life “outside” while they are still in jail or prison.
Jill Bunting, a parole/probation officer with DOC said KAMP is the first organized mentor program involving field probation supported by the state of Alaska. It aligns with the DOC’s strategic plan for re-entry into society.
Those involved with the criminal justice system “need living examples of what it looks like to have a clean and sober life” and KAMP provides that role modeling, Bunting said.
KAMP came about unintentionally, when the Slaughters moved from Kodiak to Oregon several years ago. They developed a mentoring relationship with female inmates they had met through a family friend.
They helped them write resumes, look for jobs. They took them to Celebrate Recovery and church on Sundays.
The Slaughters noticed that one of the ladies in the group was actively taking of hold of opportunities in pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
When the Slaughters returned to Kodiak, they invited her to come as well.
Since the lady was on parole, Slaughter contacted Bunting to see if supervision could be transferred to Kodiak.
“We don’t always approve those types of requests,” said Bunting. “But in this case, after a long time of consideration, I accepted the case for supervision in Kodiak.”
When the lady from Oregon got off parole, Slaughter told Bunting that she would like to mentor a lot of people and was interested in developing a mentoring program.
The ladies began meeting on a regular basis, putting down their ideas about what the program would look like. Bunting contacted her supervisor to find out how DOC could support KAMP.
“DOC is giving guidance and supporting this faith-based program because it fits,” she said.
For many of Bunting’s clients, “their whole lives have been about neglect, substance abuse, financial hardship, the inability to function as a healthy family,” she said. “Some of them don’t know who their family members are, or they don’t know where they are. They lack the support that most of us take for granted. Through mentoring relationships they can see (what a healthy, functioning life) looks like. When they get out of jail, many are going back to the same environment that they were in at the time they got arrested. They’re always having to be supported by the government with food stamps (and other programs.) They’ve never been shown what it looks like to succeed.”
Bunting sees KAMP as a healing opportunity for a drug-ridden world.
“The goal is that we won’t have to build another prison in five years. If we don’t get a handle on it, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing,” she said.
Although DOC supports KAMP, Bunting, as a probation officer, will never tell clients they have to be in this program. They can’t earn any extra points for having a mentor. There is no state funding involved.
Slaughter said the purpose of KAMP is not to replace, but support existing programs, such as AA, drug and rehabilitation, Celebrate Recovery and other organizations.
Mentors initiate a relationship with interested inmates who are serving jail time and will either be released or transferred to a correctional facility. The mentor keeps in touch with the mentee through personal visits, letter writing, email and other means of correspondence.
Mentors challenge mentees to set and achieve goals in education, work and personal responsibility. They share their Christian faith and seek to inspire and instill faith in the people they work with.
The relationship between mentor and mentee continues for as long as the mentee desires.
Slaughter said there are those who ask “’How long is this program going to go on? Six months, eight months and you’re done with me?’ My comment is, ‘I’m here for as long as you want me here.’”
Some mentees “can’t believe that you’ll still be there for them, no matter where they are” Slaughter said. “They can’t process that because no one has invested in their lives. (For some,) their parents haven’t invested in their lives. They don’t understand why you would want to.”
“We come into their life and let them know that we believe in them, we are there to encourage them, to help them along the way,” said mentor, Donna Ruch. “We talk about our faith.”
Slaughter said KAMP’s goal is to have a pool of mentors that would be available to contact potential mentees. On Saturday, July 12 at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, there will be a training session for those who are interested in mentoring.
“There are a lot of people capable of being mentors but they don’t realize it,” Slaughter said. “They don’t think they’re qualified. If you have two ears, a heart and faith, you qualify.”
Ruch said there are many ways to get involved in KAMP. People can write letters to mentees, help with fund-raising projects and perform other duties that would help the program.
Helping mentees become responsible citizens should be a community effort, Slaughter said. It is the churches’ “Christian duty” to welcome them. Businesses could play a big role by providing employment opportunities to those who are in recovery or rehabilitation, Slaughter said. “You can appreciate the risk that they go through (in hiring someone who is re-entering society.) We’re hoping with this program, that they will have a little more confidence in those we’re sending to them.”
Rehabilitation through a faith-based mentoring program is a good option in addressing crime that is growing in Kodiak, Bunting said. “Arresting them and locking them up isn’t solving the problem. There have to be consequences for the behavior, but there has to be something in place that prevents them from going back to the pit they were in. The time is ripe for this community to welcome this program.”
“We’re the other option,” said Ruch. “They can go back to what they were doing, or they can try us.”
Mike Rostad is a freelance writer and longtime Kodiakan who writes a weekly column examining the in-depth stories of Kodiak residents. You can read more about other Kodiak islanders in Rostad’s book, “Close to My Heart-Writing and Living Stories on Kodiak Island, Alaska.