Society owes a debt to prison staff

It’s a reminder of just how important their jobs are.

After you park at the Lansing Correctional Facility, depending on your path to the main entrance, you’ll pass by a bell that hovers over the names of Lansing staff members who have died in the line of duty.

During a recent tour, I met some of the amazing people who work there. I came away with a greater appreciation of and respect for the employees and the work they do.

As I arrived that rainy morning, I was led past the yard, where I saw prisoners in blue jeans and red caps heading off to their daily assignments. I saw one prisoner in handcuffs being led away by two corrections officers. And I saw several prisoners spending their last few minutes in confinement before being let out.

Once inside the facility that houses the prison chapel, I saw GED graduates being honored with certificates and congratulations. But no student is successful without a good teacher.

And that’s where Larry Cyrier comes in. He’s the director of education for Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, the company that contracts with the prison to provide educational services to the inmates. Cyrier and his staff don’t receive enough credit for inspiring inmates academically.

With his extensive experience as an educator, Cyrier could work in many school settings. But he was right where he wanted to be, behind the steel bars at Lansing, handing out GED certificates.

“I’m an educator, and I enjoy education,” Cyrier said to me. “It’s rewarding. These guys are in here to learn. The guys are usually motivated to learn.”

Cyrier said his role ends up saving Kansas taxpayers money.

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know, what most of these guys’ offenses are,” he said. “But we can save taxpayers $20,000 to $30,000 a year, which is what it costs to incarcerate someone. We can save that money by keeping them out after they leave here through education. Because once they get good jobs, they’re far less likely to re-offend.”

After the ceremony, Randy Jewell, a Lansing corrections officer, led me to B-2, the honor dorm, where 108 inmates are housed. The prisoners there watch TV and listen to it through headphones. A mural of a snow leopard, painted by the inmates, is on the wall in front of the cells.

“This is the only unit where prisoners can come out, watch TV and play cards,” Jewell said. “It’s a very successful unit. We have very little problem here. We raise the standards, and they maintain them. If they don’t, we put them in regular population.”

Next, I was escorted to C-2, the dorm that houses prisoners in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative. That’s where I met Jerry Ruzicka, the program manager for IFI, as it is called, a program that helps prepare prisoners for re-entry to society. Only prisoners with less than two years left on their sentences are eligible.

“We teach them a way of using biblical values to live in society,” Ruzicka said. “We teach them how to be successful people in society. They’re here because they violated the law. They’re here because they were convicted of violating the rules against society. We’re here to reform that thinking.”

Ruzicka tried to explain why he enjoys what he’s doing.

“I’m a 26-year recovering alcoholic, drug addict and drug dealer who is clean and sober,” he said. “I’m comfortable with these guys.

“And when you can see a guy change his life and quit doing what they were doing, then walk out and be a whole new person, that’s all the reward I need.”

Lansing is a relic compared with newer prisons. The working conditions are dated. That’s why you have to respect the employees there. They’re special. They willingly work in an environment that most of us do our best to avoid.



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