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Friday, February 3, 2023

Programming at jail makes big impact on inmates – ECM Publishers

Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen, left, and Jail Programmer Tim Brummer speak to the Board of Commissioners, April 19, in Little Falls.

Staff Writer
Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen, left, and Jail Programmer Tim Brummer speak to the Board of Commissioners, April 19, in Little Falls.
After being shut down for two years, the Morrison County Jail has brought back programs for inmates.
Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen and Jail Programmer Tim Brummer highlighted some of those programs for the Morrison County Board of Commissioners, April 19. Larsen said they started back up in late March and early April.
The number of inmates has gone up over one — and especially two — years ago. The jail was limited on how many people could be detained at a time and had to institute intake protocols to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In March, the jail averaged 43 inmates per day, including people being held for Beltrami and Itasca counties.
“I’m really excited we’ve got programs back in the jail,” Brummer said. “Hopefully we’ll get to keep them, COVID pending, of course.”
One of the most widely-known programs is sentenced-to-serve, which allows inmates to go out into the community — with law enforcement supervision — to complete community service projects. Brummer said the crew in March worked on shoveling out fire hydrants, removing glass out of the hockey arena, doing demolition work at a former health center at Camp Shamineau, picking up trash on county roads and cleaning St. John’s Lutheran Church, south of Buckman.
Brummer said the crew usually consisted of three to five inmates.
“So, they’ve been staying fairly busy,” he said.
Each Sunday morning, a church service is held for inmates who wish to attend. On Mondays, there are Set Free Males and Set Free Females Bible study classes.
On Tuesdays, a representative from Teen Challenge in Brainerd visits the jail to help inmates interested in getting into the program.
“He helps them with that, and he’s excellent at helping them,” Brummer said.
There are volunteer-led Christ in Construction classes and AA meetings for both men and women, along with Your Choice “deep study” Bible classes.
On Thursdays, there is a crystal meth addiction class, which Brummer felt was particularly impactful. The program features talks from two people who have struggled with and overcome addiction to crystal meth.
Brummer said they “drive hard into these inmates” that they can quit and straighten out.
“These two are phenomenal, and this class is good,” Brummer said. “They’re opening the ears and getting these inmates to see that there’s more to life than a meth pipe. There is. Every bit helps. We keep trying.”
The program he was most excited about, however, is the Residents Encounter Christ (REC) program. It has been part of the programming at the jail for 30 years, and will make a return in July.
Brummer said REC is a two-day, “very intense” program. Faith leaders from the community come in to lead devotions, Bible studies, prayer, music and more. Brummer said the objective is to try to make at least one or more of the inmates a better person when they leave than when they came into the jail.
He said it has “done wonders” for inmates over the years.
“It is a just phenomenal program, and I’m so excited we’re getting back; and the Sheriff is, as well,” Brummer said.
Another program he highlighted was Mental Health Education, which is led by Jail Social Worker Jennifer Koenig. The class will start up in May, and aims to help inmates deal with mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, depression and more in a classroom setting.
Koenig will also be able to meet with inmates one-on-one after the classes, if necessary, to help them get further help.
“We try very hard to make these inmates better when they leave than when they got here,” Brummer said. “If they’re worse when they leave than when they got here, we’re not doing our job. We failed. If, anyone, we can make better when they leave than when they got here, we’re winning the battle.”
A nurse is also able to provide mental health services and crisis intervention via Zoom meetings.
He said the inmates are also looking forward to get going with some of the programming.
“We’re getting anywhere from 15 – 20 inmates going to these programs every day and every night,” Brummer said. “It’s going really, really well.”
Following Brummer’s presentation, Commissioner Jeffrey Jelinski said he has seen first-hand the impact some of the programs at the jail can have on inmates. Particularly, he said the REC program — which traditionally is held twice per year — makes a profound difference in their lives.
He noted that there are people in the jail from “all walks of life,” some of whom committed more serious crimes than others. He asked if participation in those programs is open to anyone in the jail, and if Brummer and jail staff have a “vision” going into the programs.
“I’m pretty positive I can’t come into the REC program, or any other program, and be disruptive throughout the whole thing,” Jelinski said. “I’m well aware of that, but I want to hear from you. What happens if I am disruptive?”
Speaking specifically about the REC program, Brummer said about two weeks before the weekend, he turns into a salesman. He goes around to every cell block to sell the program.
He said some residents will ask why they should go. He tells them it will make them a better person, which will be good for not only themselves, but also their family, their children and everyone involved.
He said there are usually about 30 volunteers who come in, and about 30 inmates who participate in the REC weekend. They seldom have an issue with an inmate. In fact, he said it “almost never” happens.
Brummer said the biggest thing they face with inmates on REC weekends is that they often break down crying.
“They’ll cry so bad that they’ll make you cry,” Brummer said. “They’ve had such tough roads that they’ve been down. It’s not always all their fault. They weren’t handed or given, maybe, as good of a chance as I was or you were. I let them know that.”
He said the inmates are often “so happy it is unbelievable” when they finish the two-day REC weekend.
The following Friday, he said the same group comes back for a mini-reunion. They get together in a classroom and discuss what they’ve learned and what they still need to learn.
“These inmates give testimonies,” Brummer said. “They stand up in front of the volunteers and other inmates and talk about some of the terrible things that have happened or they have done in their life. And they cry. Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you can’t cry. It’s the bad getting out and the good coming in.”
He said he is amazed by how successful that particular program often is in helping inmates turn their life around.
Commissioner Mike Wilson said he is glad the programs are back, as he too has seen the good they can do. He said it is never known who it’s going to help or when it’s going to connect with someone.
“It is important,” Brummer said. “Because when you do see a former inmate on the street or in Walmart or wherever and they walk up to you say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? You helped me.’ It makes you feel real good. It makes you proud to come to work.”
Larsen said he was proud of Brummer, the jail staff and everyone involved in helping inmates get their lives on track. He said one thing they often discuss is that they don’t want inmates sitting idle.
He said they talk about the root causes of why inmates are there. Oftentimes, he said it is mental illness or drug addiction. The programs, he said, address those issues.
“It’s been so successful over the past,” Brummer said. “It’s been amazing. Does it help every inmate? Of course not. But, if it helps one, two, five in that group — look what we’ve done. Look what we’ve done.”
“Does it help every inmate? Of course not. But, if it helps one, two, five in that group — look what we’ve done. Look what we’ve done.” – Tim Brummer, Morrison County Jail programmer
Staff Writer
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