DECATUR – Heather Young said she lost sight of who she was while a student at Maroa-Forsyth High School and eventually lost hope of finding that person again.
She spent nearly a decade using drugs and committing crimes to support her habit.
Then, in the spring of 2013, Young discovered she was pregnant with her first child and was offered a “last chance” program to keep from going to prison for a third time.
“I decided right then and no matter what I had to do, I was going to do it so I could be a better person for me, for my family and most importantly, my son,” she said. “I never had that feeling of being really proud of myself until today.”
Young, 30, was speaking Jan. 15 at a transition celebration for her and six other participants who have recently satisfied some of the requirements of their probation or their parole by reporting daily to the newly renamed GEO Reentry Service Center in Decatur and taking classes addressing substance abuse, anger management, employment and educational issues.
Formerly known as the Spotlight Reentry Center, the facility was conducting its first transition ceremony since 2011, when it added defendants sentenced by Macon County to probation and enrolled in a then-new program called Adult Redeploy Illinois.
Fast forward four years, and Young was one of three successful Redeploy clients and four prison parolees who participated in the celebration at Main Street Church of the Living God.
At least seven more participants with success stories were invited but were unable to attend.
Emanuel Barr, outreach manager for GEO Reentry Services, said such ceremonies help engage ongoing community support for the center and the people it serves.
“This is the cherry on top of the evidenced-based treatment we deliver,” Barr said.
Regular participants at the Decatur center include more than 65 parolees and approximately 40 Redeploy enrollees. It opened in 2004 at 876 W. Grand Ave. to ease prison overcrowding and reduce recidivism rates among adult parolees before its caseload expanded four years ago.
“We wanted to recognize those individuals who worked hard to change their lives,” said Christine Pinckard, Adult Redeploy project manager for the Macon County Probation Department.
Young, who will complete two years of probation in April, said she would like to get an associate's degree at Richland Community College and eventually counsel people who find themselves in the same situation she did.
The two other Redeploy clients at the ceremony told similar stories of transformation.
Joe Baker, 59, went from being a self-described “loose cannon” guilty of a long list of driving offenses to mentoring other participants at the center.
“When I started holding the plow and not worrying about the people in front of me, everything come out just right,” he said.
Malcolm Jackson, 40, who completed probation about a month ago and has held down a job as a restaurant cook for more than two years, said his experience at the center actually changed the way he thinks.
“I really was selfish and had been going in and out of the jail system since the early '90s,” he said. “This is the first time I've ever been in trouble and felt as if the system was trying to correct me rather than punish me.”
Participants on parole receiving completion certificates Jan. 15 were Patricia Brooks, Adolphus Cooper, Tommie Davis and Alphonso King Jr.
Remarks by King, 37, who manages his aunt's thrift store, were brief but moving.
“This is the first certificate I got for doing something positive,” King said. “I am ready for more positive things in my life.”