Former inmates gather for reunion, 'outraged' by escapees in Black River Falls

By: Joe Nelson Email
By: Joe Nelson Email

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wisc. (WEAU) - Nearly two weeks after two inmates escaped the Black River Correctional Center, dozens of former inmates returned as changed men.

The center had its eighth annual inmate reunion, where former inmates come back to reconnect and encourage current inmates that they can still lead productive lives.

The Challenge Incarceration Program at the Black River Correctional Center offers an alternative to prison for lower level offenders.

"The program can help them change their life. They can lead a better life than going back to prison," center captain Mike McNulty said.

Providing education, work experience and critical thinking training, many "graduates" have been successful leaving crime behind.

On Saturday, former inmates like Ryan Steinhoff returned to spread a message as positive role models for current inmates as part of their annual reunion.

"What I went through was tearing down who I was and what i used to be and rebuilding into the person who I am today," Steinhoff said.

Since ending a life of drug use and theft, Steinhoff turned to music and signed a national recording contract rapping under the name Syndrome. He travels to schools and prisons to encourage students and inmates to live a positive life.

He said inmates, James Newman and James Misleveck, who escaped last week and allegedly went on a crime spree, unfairly gave the program a black eye.

"These two fools went out and put a negative light on something that's great and people should be supporting," Steinhoff said.

"They were not representative of the type of inmate we get here," McNulty said.

"When you walk through this door, they strip you down to nothing. You forget the person you were because they scare it out of you. And they rebuild you into something great," Steinhoff said.


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  • by Kris on Jul 30, 2012 at 03:44 AM
    These guys provided some bad press, but i never heard of it until reading these comments. This sounds like a great program that is very successful. Perhaps the bad press isn't as bad as it seems if it gets stories out like the ones I have read in these comments. Very impressive!
  • by Graduate on Jul 29, 2012 at 10:44 PM
    I just graduated from BRCC last month and has changed my entire life. Before I went to CIP I had been in and out of jail as a result of my longtime drug addiction. Throughout my using days I sought rehab and counseling but could never afford treatment or discipline myself enough to stick with being sober. The Challenge Incarceration Program taught me the tools necessary to live a crime and drug free life. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life and also the most rewarding. Today I am a completely different person than I used to be and the world looks a whole lot different. It really comes down to choices and responsibility. Suddenly integrity is a way of life for me and it feels great. Its really unfortunate that these guys are casting a shadow on a program that is ACTUALLY changing lives. It would be really easy to blame the system but we are all one choice away from jails or prison. I really hope people consider the positive results of this program before they jump on the soap box of blame. RJ- this program has mandatory criminal thinking/rational thinking treatment groups as well as AODA treatment, education and work crew experience. I would absolutely recommend the program to anyone that deserves the PRIVILEGE to attend.
  • by RJ Location: Cornell on Jul 29, 2012 at 10:21 PM
    @ Mike if you don't mind could you tell me what kind of counseling does this program provide? I have a nephew that is extremely troubled due to being sexually molested and uses drugs to deal with it. The courts are no help they just want to treat the drug problem, which is a waste of time when you don't treat the underlying problem that causes him to use drugs to try and escape or forget what happened to him. His was recently revoked and will be going back to prison. He needs help and would love to find the right institution to give him the help he needs.
  • by Mike Location: New Berlin on Jul 29, 2012 at 02:45 PM
    I am a graduate of the Challenge Incarceration Program, and attended this reunion. CIP changed my life. I have been free for 3 years now, and life is great. I return each year to thank the staff, and to give advice and encouragement to current inmates. The staff at this facility give SO MUCH, and they ACTUALLY CARE! I am forever in debt to this program, and pray that the actions of two fools don't tarnish the reputation of CIP. I mean, we are dealing with PEOPLE here! Thousands of inmates have been through this program with NO issues. If you bought 1000 goldfish, way more than 2 would die, and we'd say, "thats the law of averages, no big deal." I mean, its IMPOSSIBLE to know exactly what every person is thinking every time. The only people at fault here are the 2 escapees, not the Department of Corrections, and certainly not CIP. Please support CIP and spread the word about the positives here. maybe next year we can actually get some press about the great things happening here, instead of the garbage.
  • by Ann Location: NW Wisconsin on Jul 29, 2012 at 01:06 PM
    This for sure is going to give people more reason to talk about things they have no idea about. People love the sensationalism. What they should be asking is why these men were in a minimum security. That is not their fault, it is the courts fault. Maybe our justice system is all messed up and can't handle things safely anymore, and it needs change now. And people do need to remember, not everyone incarcerated is a horrible person. They either made a mistake, and paid for it, or did nothing but the justice system took them anyway.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jul 29, 2012 at 03:09 PM in reply to Ann
      "That is not their fault, it is the courts fault" Some of what you say is true, but that statement is just not true.
  • by Me Location: Eau Claire on Jul 29, 2012 at 06:41 AM
    Keep in mind that one of the mens fathers has been arrested on drug charges. It is the only life the son knew & it is hard to break the mold.
  • by Taxpayer Location: EC on Jul 28, 2012 at 11:14 PM
    I completely support programs like the CIP. We need more programs like this that divert younger offenders out of traditional prisons. The two fools that escaped can be thrown away, but there are many individuals that are better suited to places like this. We must remember that most offenders will be released back into society. If a program like this can change the focus of some of them before they become our future neighbors, I think it is far better than sitting in a prison learning even more violent behaviors. I know some moron will probably respond here with the dribble they heard on some radio program, like "throw away the key" but then complain about high taxes in the next breath. The fact is that Wisconsin has 2.5 times the number of prisoners than Minnesota has. Are we 2.5 times safer here? Or just 2.5 times as broke?
    • reply
      by stan on Jul 29, 2012 at 09:45 AM in reply to Taxpayer
      wow. good point taxpayer on your last two sentences.
    • reply
      by Deb on Jul 29, 2012 at 12:31 PM in reply to Taxpayer
      All good points. I would certainly hope people would be able to accept that there is a difference between some inmates and their crimes and others. I like the fact that this program is out there to help people rebuild their lives. I applaud the prison programs that teach inmates more about themselves by working with horses or dogs. Some people just can't be helped or don't know how to change or simply don't want to. We all know there are also inmates who should never set foot outside of prison walls at all.
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