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August 19, 2007 - Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil (IA)

Inmates' Families Get Help Coping

By Sunshine Dalton, Staff Writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

People who are incarcerated are not the only ones who do time.

It is because of this that the Fourth Judicial District has initiated a new program called Families Also Serve Time, which focuses on the emotions family and friends often go through when their loved one is incarcerated or under correctional supervision.

The program was coordinated with the help of Larry Schulenberg, District Director Matt Gelvin and Community Treatment Coordinator Steve Weis. It was funded in part by a grant from the Iowa West Foundation.

"My wife and I, six years ago, took our son to Yankton Federal prison camp to serve a federal sentence," Schulenberg said. "We were beside ourselves and blamed ourselves. We were terribly distraught and through the support of friends and family were able to pull ourselves together."

It was these feelings of guilt and a lack of control that inspired Schulenberg to work on FAST. He realized in speaking to his son and other prisoners that he was not the only person dealing with this difficult issue.

"We could not find anything that dealt with family and friends of incarcerated people who ask themselves, 'What could I have done?'" Schulenberg said.

After a lot of discussion and searching for answers to difficult questions, Gelvin applied for funding from the Iowa West Foundation.

Julie Hansen of Council Bluffs attended the first F.A.S.T. program, which takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays at 801 S. 10th St. The course is split into six, two-hour sessions, and a new series begins every two weeks.

"My fiancé just got out on the July 20. He served eight months," Hansen said.

She said he has been in and out of prison over the last few years, and she sought some assistance in dealing with the complex emotions she was experiencing.

"I just felt very lost," she said. "Ashamed. I learned how to cope. How to not enable them when they are released. It reassured me that he was there, that it was his problem, not mine. It has given me enough strength to not allow him to basically use me as his scapegoat. Make him accountable for his own actions."

During the fourth and fifth sessions, an Alegent Health representative visits the class and talks about stages of grieving, exploring emotional issues and reestablishing support while the person is still in prison.

The first session gives an introduction and history of the criminal justice system from the arrest through the arraignment and into prison. The second and third nights address substance abuse, and the last one discusses what life will be like when the loved one is released from corrections and has to adjust to life on the outside.

"Coming out of prison they are going to need everything they can get to help them and support them," Weis said. "When they come home, certain things will be stressors for the family. Simple things like sleeping with the lights on."

Hansen has three children, ages 17, 15 and 11. She brought them along to the final session to prepare them for when her fiancé would be moving back in. She said children who are mature enough to understand the crime, consequences and circumstances, would get a lot out of the program as well. Her oldest attended almost every session.

"I believe I gained a lot of self confidence," she said. "I would recommend it to anyone, even if it's one day in jail or 10 years."

Hansen intends to establish a support group for F.A.S.T. attendees outside of the program so that members can continue to benefit from the support of others in their position after the instruction is complete. It should be up and running in September.

Weis said the district will be facilitating a meeting place but will let the members control the flow of topics and conversation.

For information about F.A.S.T., call Weis at (712) 325-4943. Ext. 272. For information on the support group, e-mail Hansen at

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