Understanding Cleveland’s Harbor Light Community Corrections Program
“Heart to God, Hand to Man.” It’s an old slogan still cherished by some. It sounds simple, almost elementary, until you see it come to life. I experienced the meaning behind these words on a recent visit to Cleveland’s Harbor Light Complex.
The Community Corrections Program dates back to 1973, and it serves nearly 200 people on a daily basis and over 1,300 annually. 75% of program participants successfully complete the program—an impressive number by all accounts. The ultimate goal is to help transition ex-offenders back into the community and reduce recidivism. These individuals come into the program either in lieu of going to jail or to serve the ﬁnal months of their sentences.
During the 4-6-month program, these residents, who are still designated as inmates, participate in 25 sessions of evidence-based classes that focus on cognitive behavior and teach them how to make better decisions. Other classes teach soft skills, like creating a resume, conducting job searches, interview role-playing and ﬁlling out applications. Helping residents ﬁnd employment is a large focus. The staff at Harbor Light works daily with area businesses to identify employment opportunities, which can be hard to come by, especially for those with felonies.
“I witnessed God’s grace and support for one another.”
“This is not just a halfway house. This is a community.”
I witnessed God’s grace and support for one another. It was demonstrated through the actions of everyone from the ofﬁcers and staff to the program participants. People were smiling and engaged in conversation, and phrases of “Bless you, brother!” were exclaimed everywhere. This is not just a halfway house. This is a community. It is a place where respect, spiritual faith and faith in each other is front-and-center.
Residents Joe Hughes and Richard Withers shared with me the value of self-discovery that takes place at Harbor Light. Joe, who has been in the program for two months, has taken every class available to him, including worship services. “With this time here, I have to take advantage of that,” says Joe, who had warrants for his arrest just a few months ago. “Before I came here, I was homeless, staying in abandoned buildings. I was a junkie shooting heroin, always running from my probation ofﬁcer and got tired of that. I turned myself in to the ﬁrst police ofﬁcer I saw. I said, ‘If I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it.’” As for self-discovery, Joe says that learning how to set expectations is critical. “I had unrealistic expectations of not only myself but others. I put a lot on my plate, and I have to learn how to prioritize.” Today, Joe is “super conﬁdent” in maintaining this new path. He credits the staff for his growth. “Staff from every part of this building has come to help me out—giving referrals, support and guidance.” Joe is currently employed and saving money. He plans to head to the West Coast to work on a ﬁshing boat when he completes the program in October.
Richard Withers, another resident, was in prison for two years for violating parole prior to coming to Harbor Light. He too shared how the classes, and especially the staff, have helped him see things in a new light. “Day one, I felt love and support from the staff. You are surrounded by positivity,” Richard says. Richard has been at Harbor Light for two months, and since his arrival, he has made a key realization. “I learned I was lazy; I need to stop cutting corners and ﬁnish what I started. I’m getting that together now.” For Richard, it’s the cognitive classes on how to be productive and manage situations that have helped him the most. In this short time, he says the biggest change for him is, “…my attitude. I cherish the smaller things in life more now than before.” Richard is currently working on his GED while he awaits his release in November. He plans to build a career in machinery or construction.
While the program elements have evolved over time, the true heart of Harbor Light’s Community Correction Program is the men and women who work there. For them, the real reward is seeing the positive change taking place every day in people who have overwhelming challenges and baggage. They delight in serving others in His name and demonstrating that living a philosophy of “Heart to God, Hand to Man” is delivering on the promise of “Doing the Most Good.”
Andy Junn lives in Cleveland, Ohio.