ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Six men took a step in turning their lives around and becoming the best this country has Thursday as the third graduating round of the Belmont Correctional Institute's Military Preparation Program.
Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Fregiato was the guest speaker.
"You can't change the past, but you are very capable of changing the future," he said. "There are indeed consequences for your actions, both good and bad, the decision being yours, without excuses or whining."
T-L Photo / ROBERT A. DEFRANK
Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Fregiato speaks
during a graduation ceremony for inmates who have completed a military preparedness
program and hope to enlist with the armed forces.
He said that while the graduates have made deplorable decisions and are now suffering the consequences, it was in their hands what happens next, either to continue their criminal courses or change their lives.
"All of you in this room have made incredible, life-saving choices," he said, pointing out the physical, mental and economic fitness and future offered as opportunities by the program.
"I can't fully express how proud I am of you, and how proud you should be of yourselves. Impressively, it was the greatest decision for you to even enter the program, but for you to complete it, with its physical, mental and emotional demands is nothing short of a major lifetime accomplishment."
Fregiato added that this was only the initial step.
"You must successfully complete your stay here and any association other programs, and then succeed at your enrollment process with the US military, where you won't just have a mere job, but you'll have a full, satisfying career and a wonderful life and a very, very proud existence."
Afterward, he noted this was a different side of court proceedings.
"In the courtroom, I emphasize a lot on punishments and on protecting the public. Today what we're focusing on is rehabilitation to make certain we reduce recidivism and make certain these individuals who have performed properly in the military program re-enter life with a full productive non-criminal life ahead of them.
Christopher Rogan was honored as outstanding mentor. He spoke about his service in the Marine Corps and his work to impart the values of discipline, self-control and accountability to the class. He thanked the staff for the opportunity to help others. He spoke about the importance of genuineness and the willingness to listen.
Symeon Bankston was recognized as outstanding honor graduate of the class. He called the program the first part of a lifelong journey and which taught him to never quit. He thanked the veterans and the staff for creating this opportunity.
Other honor graduates were Keith D. Green. Brandon Hazelett took the physical training records for pushups and sit-ups and tied with Bryan Lindenberger for the two-mile run.
Unit Manager Mike Meintel said the program is a 12-week cycle to make offenders marketable for the military. They focusing on physical fitness and ASVAB training to determine their skill set. He said most will likely enlist in the Army on their release. He added that 22 inmates have graduated now that the program is in its third cycle. None of the graduates have been released yet. There are a total of 40 mentors from all branches of service.
Education Instructor Al Glitch thanked Miller and Meintel for initiating the program.
"There's been a lot of great programs that I've been involved in and have seen in action, but this one has to rank up right at the top," he said, also recognizing the mentors who have worked with them. He noted that the 18 mentors are now certified tutors through the Ohio School System. "Without a doubt the most top-notch group I've ever had."
Warden Michele Miller congratulated the graduates on their accomplishments thus far. She noted the benefit the program has had on veteran inmates.
"The program has been a fantastic asset to Belmont Correctional Institution. The offenders learn great life skills, loyalty, selfless service. They're really spending lots of time with education and they're mentoring offenders and educating them and assisting with them," she added that some inmates in the military preparation program are preparing to take their GEDs.
She added that since the program's inception the inmates have taken a more direct role in spearheading activities.
The mission statement of the Belmont Correctional Institutions Military Unit is to provide inmates with a safe and secure living environment conductive with the ideals of the American Veteran so that they can reintegrate back into society as a proud and productive citizen. The unit will also prepare a select number of inmates for future military service, all with the goal of reducing recidivism.
The vision statement of the Veterans Track is to re-instill into incarcerated American veterans the seven core military values which they once lived by. These are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and courage, and to prepare them to leave prison with a support mechanism made of veteran
DeFrank can be reached at email@example.com.