By Ryan Shek
In the women’s side of the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program, or KPEP, two mirrors cling to the cement blocks of the same room and stare at each other from opposite walls. The residents call the room “the beauty room” because it’s the best place to apply makeup. The only other mirror suited for the task is propped against a wall in a space used for cognitive behavioral therapy.
This long, glass rectangle has at its top a question scrawled in dry erase marker, asking anyone who looks: “Would you hire you?” The residents don’t use the mirror for makeup.
KPEP is Kalamazoo’s community-based alternative to incarceration and runs multiple programs for its live-in residents. KPEP hopes to turn its residents into “productive community members” through rehabilitative programs, and high expectations.
The residents are criminal offenders whose crime warranted more than just regular probation, but not extended jail time. The programs they’re enrolled in are built around employability skills, education, behavioral therapy and substance abuse counseling. For regular programming, a resident will pay $10 a day for rent, up to a maximum charge of $900. But for other KPEP programs, such as work release, there is no maximum charge; they pay until they’re discharged.
Daryl Gardenhire, 20, and Tori Sabin, 27, are two recent KPEP graduates. They met in December when Tori was assigned as Daryl’s roommate; KPEP released them both in February. According to KPEP’s 2013 Annual Report, approximately 2,100 residents successfully completed KPEP’s programs.
More importantly, about 80 percent of the graduates stay out of the criminal justice system for at least a year, according to their follow up study.
Daryl and Tori are among the 72 percent of successful graduates. And though brief, their time in KPEP gave them an endearing friendship: A statistic that ins’t on record.
Daryl is a 20-year-old mother who was sent to KPEP for violating her probation. Her sentence was under the Michigan Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, or HYTA. It’s a defense available to young people who’ve committed a crime before their 21st birthday, but after their 17th.
If Daryl is able to complete the rest of her probation, which ends in March 2014, without picking up any more charges, then her criminal record will be wiped clean. It’s the best option she could’ve taken for her future prospects. One day, she’ll be able to move on from the assault with a deadly weapon charge she was convicted of after she got into a fight with her boyfriend and “knicked” his neck with a knife, she says.
Daryl came to KPEP in late November and Tori arrived a couple weeks later. Tori graduated from KPEP’s residential substance abuse program, which meant she’s wasn’t allowed to leave the facility for work like Daryl. Tori was in the home stretch of her four-year stint with the Michigan Department of Corrections that was a patchwork of time served in county jails, prison, and drug courts like KPEP’s, her first parole violation, a failed drug test, sent her to KPEP.
Walking through KPEP’s hallways one might mistake Tori for a case manager. She stands upright and away from everyone else, her blonde hair falling just past her shoulders. She carries a notebook, dresses nicely, and appears to be studying those around her. She writes poetry and reads crime novels. A copy of “Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac, and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel” sits in the corner of her room.
Daryl’s mother, Guyla, named her in tribute of her father who was murdered in Kalamazoo two days before Daryl was born. Daryl says she’s proud of her name, but being mistaken for a boy is annoying. It’s an error KPEP’s staff sometimes make when they see “Daryl” on records. That’s probably why everyone else calls her Ques (pronounced “KWees”); it’s the name Daryl says close friends and family use.
Daryl and Tori both said that their last roommate stole the little money both of them had out of the clothes hanging in their closet. It was her departing gift, they said.
At KPEP, Daryl’s routine was monotonous. Go to class, to work, sleep, do house chores and sometimes volunteer. The program she was in, called the “standard residential,” allowed her to continue her job at Goodwill, where she works retail, but not to see her family and infant daughter, Chryshelle. Daryl says it was like a tease; to be able to leave, but to never go anywhere important.
In early February, two days before Tori was released, Daryl sat at a conference table with five other residents and Miss Felicia, KPEP’s job club coordinator whom the residents know as “the job club lady.” It was Miss Felicia’s task to lead them through a class on self-control, and she began the session with an ice breaker.
“What are the three things you would bring if you were stranded on a deserted island?” she asked.
Most of the responses were practical: fishing poles, sunscreen, food. Daryl added a bathing suit and Miss Felicia seemed content with the answers. The residents pulled out their workbooks and took turns reading from the assigned sections; they recited question-and-answer prompts with titles like “self-control plan,” and “the effects of negative thinking.”
The workbook questions were designed to make residents reflect on the actions that sent them into KPEP, and change reactionary thinking into something more critical. However, one resident in particular concluded every self-reflection with: “If I had used positive thinking, I wouldn’t be in trouble and I’d be happy.” Her responses had the wooden tone of a daily confessional.
When it was Daryl’s turn to read from her workbook, her voice, which is usually small with shyness, turned rigid and sharp. The question asked how she would exercise self-control in the face of violence. Daryl answered: “I’d fight back and do everything I can do to protect myself and my child.”
Miss Felicia turned a calm face and appeared to have understood.
Sooner or later, every resident is required to share what they’ve written in their workbook. When a class has run its course, each resident’s workbook is reviewed by their respective case managers. Daryl liked her case manager well enough, and Daryl wasn’t much of a fuss. She was well behaved and seldom received any house rule violations, or HRVs, or program violations (PRVS), according to staff.
The HRVs are handed down for miniscule offenses; unmade beds and messy rooms, while PRVs warrant a more serious screw-up such as being insolent towards staff.
The violations are listed on an updating chart tacked to a bulletin board just inside the entrance of the women’s ward. The chart records the violator’s name and the time of the violation. It is pages thick and, in very small font lists the infractions: “Unmade bed. Messy room. Interference. Out of room. No tie at dinner. Late for dinner.”
The many rules are why Tori preferred prison. In prison, she says, the staff doesn’t hound inmates about insignificant things. In prison, inmates can spend time and not waste it. In prison, inmates could not only get their GED , but could take college courses as well.
It was hard for either roommate to imagine what life would soon be like once they returned to regular life.
Tori says she plans to go to Lansing, and then to Sterling Heights where she starts cosmetology school at Paul Mitchell in March. Tori says that she’ll miss “Quesi,” the nickname Daryl lets Tori call her, and Daryl says she will miss Tori too.
Daryl says the chances she’d meet another friend like Tori are slim; not only did the two share a room, they shared moments of sadness and joy, they talked, gossiped, and lived together. Tori says that Daryl made her feel normal; that when the two were together in their room, just before they fell asleep, she forgot where she was. It is easy to believe her.
February 6th was their last night together at KPEP. Daryl spent the day working at Goodwill and at lunch, ate Wendy’s chicken nuggets and dipped her fries in barbeque sauce.
Eight days before her discharge, Tori wrote herself a poem and later gave Daryl a good-bye note. Daryl put the letter on her dresser next to a Bible and a picture of her family. Undoubtedly, it’s where it sat as the two spent Tori’s last night there waiting for the next day when Tori could start life again. Fourteen days before Daryl could wake up and do the same.
The last lines of Tori’s poem read: “My purpose in life is to live a life of purpose. So good morning beautiful, it is nice to finally meet you.”