Gaining a new lease on life

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The Belmont Correctional Institute held its first graduation of a preparatory program aimed at helping inmates obtain a new lease on life.

The Pre-Military program began at BCI in December, a 12-week program aimed at preparing inmates to join a branch of the armed service upon their release.

It was grueling setup, mixing equal parts physical training, classroom work and drills.

They performed daily physical training (PT), studied for and took the ASVAB test, practiced drill and learned the ins and outs of proper American flag handling.

They also learned the core values of: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

“We are so proud of this program,” said Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Assistant Director Stephen Huffman. “What these young men are trying to do is change their lives and I believe they have a very good start

Fourteen men began the class in late 2012 and earlier this week, 10 were able to hold their heads high as graduates of the program.

Mike Meintel, the Unit Manager for the dorm that houses the pre-military program, along with some of the inmates who are also veterans, said there was a set of criteria potential candidates had to meet in order to be considered for the program.

The men had to have two years or less on their sentences. Only inmates with certain offenses could take part as the military will only allow certain past offenses to be waived when signing up.

Meintel noted that the group started with 14 young men. Two withdrew from the program, one was removed because of an infraction and the fourth was transferred to another facility.

He commended the graduates on their achievement, noting the work outside of the program was likely as difficult as the work inside it.

“We have a population of about 2,700 and these men are a minority in this facility,” Meintel said. “They really had to stand above.”

Graduate Charles Winland agreed.

Winland, perhaps more than any other graduate, personified what this program’s purpose was for – making a positive change in your life.

Winland was named the honor graduate for the program’s first cycle. He also gave a power-point presentation on what the graduates went through during the 12-week program.

While participating in the program, Winland was also working to complete his classes in Administrative Office Technology.

“Every day is was non-stop,” Winland said. “It was tough and at first, I wanted to quit. But when I start something, I have to finish it and I pushed myself and the others.

“I told them ‘Let’s graduate. They are giving us a second chance.'”

Like Meintel, Winland agreed the outside influences he and his fellow classmates experienced were tough.

“We really experienced a lot of negativity from some of the other inmates,” Winland said.

Meintel noted that the majority of graduates will be looking at either the Ohio National Guard or Army Reserves as they offer the best opportunity following their release.

However, each graduate is free to choose whichever branch of the armed forces he wishes to join up with.

For Winland, he’s looking to parlay a solid ASVAB score into possibly working in obtaining a CDL and driving in the service. Either driving, or working as an automotive technician.

During his presentation, Winland told the large gathering in attendance about the progress he and his fellow participants made.

In the beginning, the average score on the PT test was 168. By the course’s end, it jumped to 260. The ASVAB scores received a solid bump as well, thanks to class work.

This is the first graduating class, but it won’t be the last. Meintel noted BCI is looking to have three cycles of the 12-week program each year, providing more inmates that second chance at life.

All they have to do is take it.

Hughes may be reached at