On Monday night, the Spring Creek Correctional Center opened its doors to the public, inviting them to the maximum security prison for an open discussion about the center’s restorative justice initiative, criminal justice and how these issues affect the surrounding community.
“Things like this are scary to a superintendent,” said Spring Creek’s Superintendent Bill Lapinskas. “To open your doors and have people come in and judge what you’re doing — but we’ve been putting more and more of the people first. What are we doing at Spring Creek? Whatever we have to turn out a better person.”
Last year, Lapinskas and the inmates worked to create the Restorative Justice Initiative, to fight high recidivism rates and help the inmates become better people.
Restorative justice focuses on restoring those impacted by crime and behavior rather than retribution for the crime itself. By working with the victim, the offender and the community, restorative justice hopes to heal victims while helping the offender return to society as a contributing member of the community.
“It’s asking what role does the community play,” said prisoner Matt Moore, one of the Restorative Justice Initiative’s three co-chairs. “Because no person is left untouched by this process, even if it’s just because your tax dollars go to locking these guys up.”
Moore and other inmates explained during the meeting that it’s important to focus on what happens when prisoners are released, to change the conversation from punishment to rehabilitation.
“On the fringes of society is where recidivism lives and that’s where you end up — what happens when you get out and aren’t accepted in society,” Moore said.
So far, the Restorative Justice Initiative has brought yoga, health and fitness, ethics and reasoning and more to the inmates — exercising both their minds and bodies to help when the time comes to transition back into the public.
“We’re trying to create better prisoners, to show them that there’s benefits to being a better person,” said Anthony Garcia, who teaches a weekly moral and ethics class to his fellow inmates. “It’s all about building character, building a good moral foundation because without training like that, you get out of here an old, bitter prisoner.”
On Mondays and Saturdays, correctional officer Justin Ennis leads a running group around the yard, teaching techniques, skills and pushing the inmates to push themselves in races. Other inmates participate in yoga classes or writing classes.
Those outside the prison have also contributed to the Restorative Justice Initiative, including Altra Running Shoes, which donates shoes for the running club, or The Fish House/Bay Traders True Value in Seward, which donated boots for the prisoners who work with dogs to prepare them for adoption.
There are also community volunteers, like Liberty Miller, who has been volunteering at Spring Creek since May and helped organize Monday night’s event. Miller’s brother was murdered and she said that volunteering at the prison has been a cathartic way to heal, a chance to practice forgiveness.
“These guys understand that we’re experiencing something together, from different sides of it,” Miller said. “I want to thank them for being so good to me and changing my life.”
Most importantly though, the inmates at Spring Creek Correctional Center are hoping to continue their conversation with the community.
“It’s not just about being nice to us. It’s looking at us as people. It helps,” said Garcia. “It’s about doing what’s right for the community. You put a person with morals, ethics and character out there and he’s a better person then when he came in. If you don’t, the community suffers.”
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org