Inmates at SEPTA Correctional prepare for life outside the walls.
Can People Change? Of course, yeah, I mean it's all in who you are, it's if you want to change, it's if you've had enough of the life that you're leading... Everybody can change man. If given the right opportunity, everybody knows what it is to change, knows what it takes.
If you add all my just adult time when I leave here it'll be 10 years 7 months. If you throw the juvenile time and everything in with that, I don't know, it'd be over fifteen.
I'm definitely not proud to set here and say that, you know what I mean I have nothing, I have less than thirty days to the door, and every day that it gets closer I'm definitely scareder.
See, everybody's felons, from grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, all my uncles, all my brothers, we all got penitentiary numbers, all got better than three in.
I guess you would call it that's what was normal, you know what I mean, I thought that was a part of growing up, you know what I mean, you had to go to prison too, just like everybody else did. I knew when I got out that I was on my way back the day I got out. And this time was different, I got to take advantage of some programs, got to come here, obviously, you know what I mean, accomplished- I got my GED, I got a better plan, I've gotten older, got a little bit wiser.
That's a part of a prison mentality too, you know what I mean, uh, I run with a certain group of people inside the penitentiary, and trained myself to be a soldier, to be a warrior every day, to hate anything with diversity, to hate anything that wasn't white, you know what I mean, I had a bad chip on my shoulder and I hated, you know what I mean, I hated
I've had enough, that life is not for me, you should never hate no one for the color of their skin. Obviously I've got a lot of tattoos on me that's gonna cause me issues later on in life, but then you know I went home in '04, and to keep it all the way real, I met this girl, my son's mom- she's white as we are bro- and I fell in love with the girl. She asked me to go to her family reunion with her, we pulled up- everyone there's black. I end up leaving, going home, locked myself in a hotel room for three days, and that's when you know, god put it on my heart. Love doesn't have a color. Love don't care red, green blue, all people are equal. There's good black people, good white people, there's bad everybody's.
I don't got that hatred inside of me no more, I don't got that uh...coldness I guess you'd say. Bro I've hurt people, you know what I'm sayin', and it's hard for me to deal with now thinking why I would ever hurt a man that bad over the color of his skin.
(Playing Cards) I just now thought of what I should have played back to ya... but it's alright. I should have played hearts back to you, I know you got that king and queen over there... Micro-Microphone check... Caught 'em. One more and their done... Aw, awww my goodness....
No, I definitely did that much time in the hole... 192 is the biggest hole shot I did.
You know, prison is an emotionally cold place. It's not a place where you cry. So you lose a piece of yourself and if you lose it forever, if you go emotionally dead, you might as well be dead. You know what I mean, and I been lucky enough to not lose contact with me. I do got a big heart, I do care about people in general, and being loved and being able to love.
There's no rehabilitation in prison, you know what I mean, they talk about the department of rehabilitation and corrections, it's not that. You go to the prison, you set, you can get high, get tattoos, there's nothing, you know what I mean, you don't have to do anything.
I wrote the judge a letter and told him you know you keep sending me back and forth to prison but you're not helping me. They're not trying to rehabilitate me, where's the rehabilitation at. So, he give me the option to come here, I come here to SEPTA, and you have to do this program. It's either participate and do it or go back to prison.
It's that cause and effect thing, I liked it. Counseling- I think about the choice I'm gonna make. Think things through first, think about what the consequences are gonna be. Think about what the outcome might be.
SEPTA for me is like this- I come here for IOP, that's why I come, because I'm a drug addict, I wanted to figure out what was wrong and try to fix it. IOP is for intensive outpatient. It's for addicts, in general whether it be alcohol or drugs, counseling is what I would compare it to. But it's a group of guys, we're all in there settin', tellin' each other our story, your story, feedback from it...
That's what this is about. If everything shuts down, and nobody's talking, and nobodies putting an effort in, nobody can- we help each other. You know what I'm saying, all of us help each other.
My only words of wisdom, is do not put your sobriety on anybody but you. Because you know that you're gonna face hard times, and you need to make sure that you're strong.
Angel, Lisa. I got real close with them women, you know, they're great women, and they care about us. I've set in Angel's office and cried bro, I ain't gonna lie to you, because I know she's real, and she cares about me as an individual, not me cause I'm here at SEPTA, not cause I'm somebody in this program, me. I learned how to open up a little bit more in there, I'm pretty shut down. Reserved maybe you would say. But I learned how to open up, trust people. I'm still not great at it, but, gettin' better. And just being able to talk you know, and share, and get everything out in the open.
To Miss Heroin: I hate you for all you do to me and all the pain you've caused me. I let you take over when I was weak and needed a friend. Instead all I got was you. And yes at one point you made me feel numb, but I always felt the pain worse later. Now it's gotten so bad all I feel is hatred. I will beat you and you will die, I can't stand you and the thought of using again almost makes me cry. So to the next meeting I will go and to God I will continue to pray, until the day I feel I have washed you all away.
Personally that's gonna be one of the hardest things for me to overcome is to not physically act on my anger, you know what I mean. To have a good handle on my anger and not physically act on it. I know what the consequences are, you can't put your hands on nobody out there no more, you break somebody's bones that's felonious assault, you go back to prison. I just hope I'll be able to take the time to think about what I got going for me and what really matters, cause if I can just think about that for a split second, that's what gets me through now.
I want to go to church on Sunday. I want to be able to go to work everyday, you know what I'm saying, and come home. And now my dream is to have my family and take care of them.
A lot of people man probably think that I got an eighty five percent chance of being right back. So for me, I've always been one of them hard-heads, I'm gonna show 'em that it can be done, I'm thirty-one years old, spent most of my life in prison, now I'm gonna go the other way. And at the same time, all this armor that I've put on to make it through these years in prison I'm gonna turn around and do something good with, I'm gonna turn around and help kids, and that dream is not that far away now. And it's getting closer everyday.
I know what it's gonna take, I know it's probably gonna be one of the hardest swims I've ever swam in my life. But there is no other way for me. I've done tried it my way, done did it. And I don't think I'll make it through another trip on drugs or another trip to the joint. I don't think I got another one in me.
Hey Starcher? You ready to go? .
You gonna let him walk down there with me? Alright man.
It means a lot man, because I didn't think I'd make it home. Ten years is a long time. Not a lot of people make it out of that man. I especially didn't think I'd make it home, before something happened to her. And that's my life. My grandma's everything. But I made it, you know what I'm saying, and I bettered myself from this side of it. It's gonna be a good day Sunday.
See you on the other side of the fence bro. I love you bro
See you later....
The men and boys of East Wing stand at attention along the walls outside their rooms as the monitor on duty, the one they call "Gump," nods at each one silently through the glass. Inside the cage of the control room he picks up a phone to report the number of inmates for the 6:30 p.m. count. They stand like this 12 times a day, counted every two hours. They mumble quietly, waiting.
Waiting is what they do the most at SEPTA Correctional Facility. They wait to go eat. They wait for visits. They wait for permission to watch television. They wait to meet with counselors, and they wait to go to classes. Mostly, they wait to leave the fences and the cameras and the control behind and either go back to the life that got them locked up or to try and turn that life around. But for now, they wait for the 6:30 count to be over.
"Count Complete." The voice cracks over the intercom like a starting pistol and the guys scatter, back to their card games, back to writing letters, back to watching cop shows on TV, and back to the rec yard to smoke.
Doug Starcher cranes his neck toward the cigarette lighter mounted on the wall outside. It burns orange as he lights a Marlboro. He turns away onto the yard, exhaling a screen of blue smoke and rubbing his freshly shaved head. It is an overcast Sunday afternoon, and he is back from another weekend furlough home. His girlfriend made it down to see him at his grandma's house and he brags to some of the other guys, "I'm straight exhausted, Bro."
Douglas Dean Starcher Jr. is coming to the end of a 10-year prison sentence—the last six months of which he has spent at SEPTA. "I've had enough," he said. "I lost too much, and I don't want this life anymore."
People in their lives hit crossroads of defining moments. SEPTA is a defining moment for a person's life. —Monda DeWeese, SEPTA Director
Tall and broad with sharp blue eyes and tattoos of SS lightning bolts and a hooded Klansman spilling down his arm, he looks tired. For the first time in his life, Starcher thinks he is ready to turn it around and leave prison, drugs, and guns behind him. "A lot of people probably think that I got an 85 percent chance of being right back. For me, I always been one of them hardheads, you know I'm gonna show 'em that it can be done. I'm 31 years old, spent most of my life in prison—now I'm gonna go the other way." Starcher is the latest living test to the basic question SEPTA asks—can people change?
SEPTA—the South Eastern Probation Treatment Alternative Correctional Facility—occupies a segmented grey and blue building that sprawls over a former mine shaft at the base of a ridge in Nelsonville, Ohio. It looks like it belongs in an office park. It opened in 1990 to provide judges and sentencing courts in southeast Ohio an alternative to prison or probation for felony offenders, and to help convicts transition back into home communities. The idea is that locking guys up in a place where a battery of programs are not just available to them, but required of them—can cause a shift. It can change outcomes. They can learn to stop coming to prison.
Monda DeWeese, a commanding woman with a no-nonsense hairstyle has served as SEPTA's Director for 25 years. Sharp and articulate, she carries a keychain weapon shaped like a kitty cat. "Before SEPTA, and particularly in the rural area that we serve, it was probation or prison, and we did not have a depth of community resources." In a conference room with the words "freedom through responsibility" painted on the wall surrounded by trompe l'oeil ivy, DeWeese is clear about her vision for the place. "If you don't like being here, then in part I've done my job. This is not meant to be some place that somebody wants to spend a lot of time. People in their lives hit crossroads of defining moments. SEPTA is a defining moment for a person's life."
Inmates at SEPTA are required to participate in a battery of programs and treatment classes. If they don't have a high school diploma, they have to work on their GED. If they have struggled with addiction and alcoholism, (which nearly all have), they attend rehab. They are eligible for work release, and if they can find and hold down a job, they can eventually go on weekend visits home. All this is supposed to help them gather the skills and capacities that they missed out on when they were busy doing drugs and getting into trouble. SEPTA also tries to create a sense of normalcy—a transition from prison life. The guys wear their street clothes, they can smoke outside on the yard. In the small library they can check out a book or create a Mother's Day card on one of the computers. They can go to a horticulture class.
These individuals are going to come back and they are going to be your and my next-door neighbor. —Monda DeWeese, SEPTA Director
"These individuals are going to come back and they are going to be your and my next-door neighbor," says DeWeese. "And it doesn't matter whether you believe that people should be locked up and the key should be thrown away, or whether you believe that people should never have their freedoms restricted, this is the system that we have. And I think it's SEPTA's mission, and it should be society's mission, that we want these people to come back with an increased ability to cope."