Guindon House

By Ian Gray

(Listen to an audio version of this story).

Recidivism is the rate at which inmates released from prison return again behind bars. The national recidivism average hangs around 60%. This means a majority of inmates at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility on the Cape will likely serve time again after being released. For the last 20 years a group associated with the Cape Cod Council of Churches, called Friends of Prisoners, Inc., has been fighting this depressing trend. They run a halfway house in Hyannis to help former inmates get back on their feet.

Last month ago, Greg, who asked that his name not be used for this story, was released on parole from the Barnstable County Correctional Facility after serving time for counterfeiting money. He was planning on moving back in with his girlfriend in Hyannis, but when his landlady caught wind of his release, she got a no trespassing order from the police to prevent him from returning.

Greg: "When I got to the house I found that I couldn't go onto the property so I basically had no where to go, and I was living in hotels and in my car for three weeks."

Without a stable residence to call home, Greg was in danger of violating his parole and ending up back in prison. That's when the Sheriff's office suggested that Greg go to Guindon House. Mark Anderson is the House Manager. He says inmates normally have nothing to look forward to once they step out of jail.

Mark Anderson; " Sometimes these guys come out with shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of winter and what are they going to do? They're going to revert to the same behaviors of survival that worked for them in the past. And it never works."

Guindon House is located on a residential street near downtown Hyannis. It looks like every other house on the block, with a basketball hoop in the driveway and new storm windows on the second story. Friends of Prisoners bought the house in 1985. Since then the house has seen over 1500 former inmates come through its doors. With only six available beds, the program emphasizes building a tight-knit unit of men who support one another like a family.

Kevin McNeally: "It's amazing to watch these guys help each other and pull each other up. And try and encourage one another. And that's what recovery really is. That's what makes recovery what it is."

Kevin McNeally serves as the night manager and lives full-time with the residents. He makes sure residents get to their Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and enforces the House's strict 10pm curfew. He also checks after the residents wake up to see if their beds are made.

Kevin McNeally: "The whole idea is to show them that the day begins with responsibility; a lot of these guys including myself at one point or another, and I'm not to proud of it, might have slept under a bridge. Well what do you care about sleeping under a bridge? You don't keep that too tidy and all of a sudden you have a room and I got to take care of it. I realize I'm a human being. I deserve something in life."

Kevin says the structure of Guindon House helps instill a sense of dignity in many ex- offenders and also gives them the means to defeat the addictions that fueled their criminal behavior in the first place.

Jason: "My biggest challenge is staying clean each day."

Jason Rice is only 25, but over the last six years he watched his life disintegrate as a result of his addiction to cocaine.

Jason: "This house has been really good because it's been a real chance to confront some personality defects that could be destructive to myself as well as to the community."

One of the hardest pieces of rehabilitation is rebuilding the lost trust in an ex-offender's personal and professional relations. Joey Carvallo, now a mason, was incarcerated a total of nine times over the last eighteen years.

Joey: "Throughout the years of being on the street trust was never an option, because everyone was always out to get something, trust was never something you wanted to hold onto, it always backfired in your face."

Trust is also an issue when it comes to finding a job. Residents are supposed to find a job within two weeks of moving in, and are expected to contribute $125 a month in rent, but for guys who've been out on the streets making a living selling drugs, a five-year gap in an employment record is a hard sell to employers. Al Roy works at Career Opportunities in Hyannis, an agency that has helped some men at Guindon find jobs.

Al Roy: "With all the job seekers coming in here we try and do a self assessment and look at the skill that they have. Okay, I sold drugs on the street what are my skills. Perhaps you have good marketing skills, perhaps you under stand profit and margin of loss. How can you use that in a more positive way. Did you enjoy that work?...How can I take those skills and transfer them in to an occupational design."

Night Manager Kevin McNeally says eventually, for ex-cons and addicts, reintegration comes down to someone, somewhere reaching out to them.

Kevin McNeally: "You know if society wants to win this battle you start making these people feel that they have self worth and dignity and you watch them patch their family lives tighter and this is a great contribution back to society. This is a working ingredient."

Currently Guindon House is the only house on the Cape devoted solely to male prisoner reintegration. For the few inmates lucky enough to arrive at Guindon House, that extra bit of structure and daily attention can make all the difference between returning to a life of addiction and crime and breaking the vicious cycle of recidivism that plagues America's correctional system.

Guindon House and Friends of Prisoners, Inc.
Ed Whelan

Broadcast December 29, 2005

Ian Gray reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations