Delbert Delcoure thinks he may need a friend or two once he leaves a local community correctional center in the spring.
Delcoure, 45, said he has been in and out of prison five times over the past 20 years and is now serving a six-year sentence for possession of a controlled dangerous substance.
As one of the inmates at Clara Waters Correctional Center participating in a new program offered by The Education and Employment Ministry, Delcoure said his sessions with one of the program's mentors are helping him prepare for the weeks and months after his release.
“TEEM is going to give me what I missed out when I was younger. That's what I'm hoping for,” Delcoure said recently.
“I want to get out and stay out.”
Kris Steele, TEEM's executive director and Delcoure's mentor, said that's the ministry's goal, as well.
Steele said TEEM, 14 NE 13, received a U.S. Department of Labor grant to help prepare nonviolent male offenders transition back into society. He said the faith-based nonprofit is looking for men in the community who are willing to serve as mentors to inmates who sign up for the new program.
He and TEEM's mentor coordinator, Laynie Gottsch, said inmates who have been imprisoned for lengthy amounts of time will particularly need such support as they navigate a world vastly changed since their incarceration.
Steele said the program aims to curb recidivism by “transforming the inmates from tax consumers to tax providers,” and also break the cycle of incarceration that often plagues offenders' families.
He said the new program is just one of the ways TEEM helps provide second chances in life to those who need them.
“There's a glaring need for someone to step up and say ‘We understand there is value in helping someone,'” Steele said.
TEEM has been around since 1987.
At the organization's downtown headquarters, the ministry offers free classes for people who need help earning their GED and learning new computer skills. Clients also get job hunting aid and job placement assistance, access to a clothes closet for interview and work clothes, among other things. Participants are fed breakfast and lunch each day as they work toward a brighter future.
On a regular basis, men and women celebrate their successes — passing the GED exam or finding a good job — with the ministry's staff members who help them achieve their goals.
Steele, who took the helm of TEEM in 2012, is an ordained Baptist preacher who served for a while as an associate pastor at a Shawnee United Methodist church. He said he learned much about Oklahoma's prison system when he served in the state Legislature — he was speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives — and noted that the state has a 24 percent recidivism rate. Steele said many of the former inmates who end up going back to prison do so within six months of their release.