Indiana Department of Correction commissioner excited about Gary project

Many have written off the economically depressed city of Gary, Indiana — just as many have written off the offenders residing in Indiana’s prison system.

But Indiana Department of Correction Commissioner Bruce Lemmon has hope for both. He said that the city needs what the department strives to give offenders — a second chance.

The department already has been involved with helping to improve the city by bringing in a parole office and cleaning up parks and neighborhoods. And when Lemmon heard from former Fuller Center for Housing board of directors member Jeff Cardwell that The Fuller Center was planning a major build with its new covenant partner in Gary, he enthusiastically offered his department’s support.

“One thing that was really telling and meant a lot to our offenders and staff last year, when we were in the neighborhoods, we had people coming and thanking us for what we were doing and helping us cleaning up,” Lemmon said. “There’s a lot of good people that live in Gary. We tell the offenders that you need is a second chance. The city of Gary, I think that’s what they need — just a partnership and some assistance. I think this is a great project. This is going to be something we’re really looking forward to.

“And anytime we can partner with Jeff Cardwell on a project, we’re gonna do it because Jeff is a good man,” Lemmon added of the director of Indiana’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The Department of Correction has committed $50,000 to help The Fuller Center for Housing of Gary with a major neighborhood revitalization project that will include a blitz build currently planned for late August of this year. They already have raised nearly half of that and plan to have a strong contingent of volunteers working with The Fuller Center.

For Lemmon, it’s not just about helping the city of Gary. It’s also about promoting a concept they preach in a program known as PLUS — Purposeful Living Units Serve. According to the department’s website, PLUS living units “are geared towards teaching core fundamental values that challenge and focus on positive reinforcement through learned behavior. The emphasis of this voluntary initiative focuses on strengthening spiritual, moral, and character development as well as life-skills. This is the basis toward re-entry into the community.”

“I really wanted to get involved with that because one of the ideas in corrections that we have — especially in our PLUS, Purposeful Living Units Serve — is giving back to the communities,” said Lemmon, who noted that both staff and minimum-security offenders will be contributing volunteer hours to the Gary project. “And this is a great way to give back to the communities. We have two facilities probably within 20 miles of Gary. A lot of our staff come from that area, and unfortunately a lot of our offenders come from that area. We just thought this was a perfect fit.

“One of the main foundations of our PLUS communities is learning to give back,” he added, pointing out that the nearly $20,000 (as of March 3) raised toward the $50,000 has come from offender-led fundraisers. “The offenders, you can see them really grow from that. They’re used to taking all their lives, and now they’re actually giving back to the local communities. And I think that really means a lot to them.”

As Lemmon learns more about The Fuller Center’s philosophy of offering families a hand up instead of handouts, he has only become more excited about the partnership.

“We found that if you just give people things without any expectation, you’re not going to get much in return,” he said. “What we see in the Department of Correction is the offenders have to earn their keep. They have to learn how to work and develop a work ethic. If you’re giving out something for nothing, you’re not going to get much in return. So that philosophy of The Fuller Center fits in exactly with what we’re doing and what we’re trying to teach our offenders in the Department of Correction — that you’re not going to be given anything for nothing; you’re going to have to earn it.”

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