Group helps former inmates transition
June 12, 2007
Officers stopped Donald Paetz on his bike last year for carrying packaged-to-sell methamphetamine. Two years before, he’d finished a prison sentence for attempted burglary – “19 months, three weeks and four days,” Paetz said. “But who’s counting.”
Even the air smelled different when he got out after that, he said, but he couldn’t get a job. He could make money selling methamphetamine. His old friends used the drug and he didn’t know what to do.
“I had no one to talk to and everything, and what happened was I fell right back into that cycle, that bad crowd.”
After, he was put on probation for the drug charge, something happened that Paetz said was supposed to happen. He started going to group meetings for former inmates, part of the Transitional Re-Integration Program.
The group tries to help members with the paperwork, medicine and the support they need when they get out of prison, said Elaine Voigt, who’s helped start programs for inmates, the families of inmates and former inmates in Nevada. According to her, all but two of the more than 100 members in Reno and Carson City have stayed out of prison in the last 30 months.
“These guys are just there to air it out – get this stuff off their chests,” she said.
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Now Paetz, who is 48, has a job, two cats and the first driver’s license of his life.
He plays with his baseball cap when he talks and his hair is trained back and flat against his head.
“Just because someone made a mistake,” he said, “doesn’t mean they’re carrying around the bubonic plague with them or something.”
That’s what he felt like when he was looking for a job, though. He’d apply for jobs, sit down for an interview and wait for employers to pull up his record on the computer.
He had a hard time telling people about his prison sentence.
“You start to say where you’ve just came from and, you know, they kind of shy away or (say) ‘I’ve got something else I’ve got to do.'”
“I’ve never been a real big crowd person,” Paetz said, “and, of course, in prison, it’s easy to talk with the people you know while you’re there. But when you get out, it’s an entirely different world. Most of the people you meet can’t relate to where you’ve just been.”
Voigt said members can say why they’ve been in prison but no one will ask. She said the group is there to listen and help each other be accountable.
“Stick with the winners,” Paetz said. “Stick with the people that are trying to move forward in life, not go backwards. Every single one of us in the group has been to hell and we don’t want to go back.’
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at email@example.com or 881-1212.
WHAT: Transitional Re-Integration Program, a support group for former inmates
WHERE: The second floor of First United Methodist Church, 400 W. King St.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursdays
CALL: Elaine Voigt 772-4641