By Lesley Neff, M.A. | May 14, 2018
Felons find roadblocks in every direction upon re-entry into a society in which they feel forever labeled. Founder and President of Men of Honor, Reginald Smith was an inmate at Heritage Trails Correctional Facility on Indy’s west side, when he realized change in behavior can only result from a complete change in mindset. He started with himself, and then, he focused his energy on helping others. From that prison cell, he developed the 16 week long program, Men of Honor, to help felons re-enter society successfully.
I was introduced to Reggie last year by a recent graduate, Jim Huntington, who was working on an internship project for Constructing Our Future, through The Indiana Women’s Prison. Huntington was one of many students who works with local businesses, organizations, and non-profits to produce real-world projects as part of the curriculum to earn their degrees.
Reggie and Men of Honor needed help with various aspects of operating a non-profit organization, such as accounting and tax filing and wanted to comply with all state and federal tax and accounting requirements. So, this Spring, Marian University’s adult and online professor, Victoria Hall and her accounting students “created a record keeping system that is simple and easy to use which will allow Mr. Smith and his team to track donations, expenses and see their financial position monthly.” Hall explained that this “allows students in the accounting class to gain experience through understanding the real world needs of a non-profit organization”; at the same time, Men of Honor gained a record keeping tool, as well as instruction on its use, to help them be more successful.
These projects also enhance the students’ learning beyond the textbook. Joey Baertschi, one of the accounting students, explained that “collaborating with fellow students has provided an excellent networking opportunity, and seeing how far everyone has come in their understanding of accounting is remarkable. Using what we've learned in class to help a great organization like Men of Honor feels terrific, and my own understanding of the course material has improved in the process.”
The students enjoy the opportunity to produce work that will actually help outside organizations. Ashley Coad, a student in the accounting course stated, “by utilizing our newly honed skills, we have been able to assist this remarkable group in all aspects of their finances. Working with Men of Honor has been just that—an honor.”
Men of Honor is a 501c(3) non-profit based in Indianapolis. It is a program that gives men the tools they need to not only re-enter but to become reunited with society and shake the label of “felon.” Smith works closely with Men of Honor teacher, Tim Douglass, who was incarcerated at the same time as Smith at Heritage, to provide a spiritual journey to reunite, including housing, clothing, interview skills, job placement, and biblical principles to help guide the men down the right path in making good life decisions. According to the Men of Honor website, “education focuses on the attributes of a man building character, morals, values, and standards, teaching them to think and act in a positive way that will change their lives.”
The first half of the program is taught behind prison walls, and the second phase is taught, in Marion County, after release. “The men are taught to be self-sufficient, positive role models, and leaders in their homes and communities, never again returning to institutions for the purpose of incarceration,” Smith said. The program partners with Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio Regional Counsel of Carpenters and the Indiana Plan to provide employment opportunities to the participants.
They have also seen great success. The program was piloted in October of 2016, and in September of 2017, the program graduated 11 participants and welcomed 30 new participants into a new cohort. To date, they have graduated 70 men out of three classes with a 97 percent success rate on employment and not returning to incarceration.
Marian’s adult and online programs is thankful for such strong partners, like Men of Honor, and grateful our students can contribute to real-world projects that impact local businesses and organizations and give back to the community in powerful, unique ways.
For information on Marian’s adult and online programs, visit us online at marian.edu/map.