Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility Warden Ken Keller speaks Tuesday morning on the work and effort put forth by four soon-to-be free detainees in the Emerald Re-Entry Services Turning Point Program. From the left: Clinical Operations Manager Robyn Bisonette, program manager Hope Keller, Warden Keller, and graduates Terry Bigback, Henry Sheppo and Richard Ross. The fourth graduate, Michael Sees The Ground, asked not to be pictured.Henry Sheppo, a recent graduate of the Emerald Re-Entry program, hugs Clinical Operations Manager Robyn Bisonette following the ceremony. Once he returns to the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, Sheppo hopes to get a job and start a career.

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Two Rivers detainees graduate from Emerald Re-Entry program
We at Two Rivers are excited for them and we’re proud of them.” – Hope Keller, Re-Entry Program manager
A gathering of family, friends, Crow elders and detainees in orange jumpsuits at the Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility in Hardin greeted four new graduates of the Emerald Re-Entry Services Turning Point Program late Tuesday morning. Following a ceremony that included speeches by the graduates, warden and program directors and drumming from the Medicine Horse Singers, the former detainees exited through the facility’s metal detector and out the razor wire-topped entrance with a new chance at freedom.
 
A circular piece of art with 10 teepees – painted by the aforementioned detainees in jumpsuits – created a backdrop of sorts for the ceremony, representing the 10 Native American tribes found in the facility, including the Crow and Northern Cheyenne. Warden Ken Keller said the facility currently houses an estimated 130 detainees.
 
This group is the second to have graduated from the facility, following a group of female detainees.
 
“They have worked very hard,” said Hope Keller, Re-Entry Program manager, during the ceremony. “They have endured challenges, trials and dealt with a lot of personal demons to get to this point. We are very optimistic about their recovery and going home to their families.
 
“We at Two Rivers are excited for them and we’re proud of them.”
 
Hope, who happens to also be Warden Ken Keller’s wife, said the Turning Point Program lasts 6-9 months and is individually paced. 
 
“When they come in the first 30 days, they’re going to focus on orienting themselves to the model,” she said. “They get up out of bed, keep their dorm clean, go through orientation groups and learn the concepts and practices of holding each other accountable. They learn to be held accountable.”
 
Each detainee is given a checklist of specific, individualized goals. Once all of the goals are accomplished, they move on to Phase II.
 
“Phase II is the intensive treatment model of the program and there, they’re going to focus on what brought them here to begin with,” Hope said. “They’ll start intervening in those thought processes and they’ll learn tools to help them make better choices.”
 
Once they accomplish their Phase II goals, they move onto Phase III: Reintegration.
 
“They’ll do relapse prevention, which means they’re going to look at all their triggers, they’re going to make a support plan for the community, they’re going to look at – these are the AA meetings, these are the counseling agencies, this is what I need to work on,” Hope said. “We get that plan with them, so when they get released, they continue to go on with the support system in their communities.” 
 
As drum beats from the Medicine Horse Singers and the power ballad “So Far Away” by Staind played in the background, the graduates were awarded certificates, and went to eat cake and see their family and friends. A couple detainees attempted variations on a fist bump with Ken, and hugged their various family members and helpers.
 
Former Big Horn County Sheriff Larson Medicine Horse Sr., who organized the drum group, performed a smudging ceremony for the graduates with fire and a wand. These ceremonies are often used with the purpose of clearing negative energy from an area.
 
Speaking in a combination of English and Crow, he advised the detainees to remember to lead good lives for the benefit of themselves and others.
 
Drummer Ben Cloud said the group had performed Sun Dance and prayer songs for detainees in the Two Rivers facility three times thus far to help provide them with spiritual healing. His grandson, Michael Sees The Ground of the Crow Nation, was one of the graduates.
 
“When a person is suffering and comes into a place like this, it’s not by his choice, he came here for a reason. Maybe he had a bout with alcohol, drugs, whatever,” Cloud said. “When they’re in here, their spirit is really broken, they’re feeling bad. We try to lift them up and let that healing process begin.”
 
According to Cloud, Ken invited the drum group to help the detainees after speaking with Medicine Horse. 
 
Hope said keeping in touch with a “cultural perspective” through activities including painting and singing is an important part of helping detainees foster a moral foundation. She praised the Medicine Horse drumming group for bringing a “cultural connection” to the inmates.
 
“They’re very supportive of them and they give positive feedback on how, from a cultural perspective, they can get back on the right road,” she said. “They do this all volunteer: they pay their gas, they pay everything themselves. They’re just an awesome group of people.”
 
Also attending the graduation were the 107th Advisory Council of Elders, who decided to forego their usual Tuesday meeting to show support for the graduating detainees.
 
Graduate Henry Sheppo of the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota, flanked by his son and godson, said through the program he learned how to treat others and himself with respect. Once he returns to his home state, he hopes to find a job and “get a career going somewhere.”
 
“It’s overwhelming, the things I’ve learned in this program, and it’s very influential,” he said. “Anybody who’s up to changing their lives and really focusing on getting better, I would suggest this program to them.”
 
The four graduates – Sees The Ground, Sheppo of the Hidatsa Tribe, Terry Bigback of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Richard Ross of the Arikara Hidatsa Tribe – finished the program out of an original group of 18. The graduation pamphlet also lists a detainee named Steven Littlewhiteman, who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony, as an honorable mention.
 
Once he got through, graduation, Bigback said he learned about negative effects that his past drinking habit had on his thinking and behavior.
 
“It was pretty hard at first. Everybody wanted to give up,” Bigback said. “It felt like we were going nowhere, but we came together and became a family.”
 
He expects to be able to control the habit in the future.
 
According to Ken, the detainees in jumpsuits mentioned at the beginning are expected to also graduate within the next several weeks.
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