MUSKEGON, Mich. -- Fathers who are stuck behind bars as their children grow up are able to spend an evening with their children thanks to a program called EXIT. The program is a partnership between Muskegon County Jail and Read Muskegon, an adult literacy council, to provide a connection between the dads and the kids, , the silent victims of their incarceration.
EXIT stands for Ex-offenders In Transition. The program works with convicted felons who are fathers in the Muskegon County Jail. The program aims to stop revolving-door offenders by preparing them to be able to transition back into the community with the skills they need to get a job and support their families.
Carl Adam, an inmate doing time for six months for fleeing, alluding, and resisting an officer, expressed his feelings about his son: “I don’t want him to be a two-year-old having to come see me behind the glass."
Time seems to stand still for inmates like Adams and Jacob Puisis as they wait patiently until their kids walk through the door. “My adrenaline is rushing right now, like my eyes are going straight toward the door every time somebody walks in,” said Adams.
A dozen inmates are waiting for their kids to arrive, where they will eat dinner, do crafts, read, learn, and talk with their children for several hours.
Adams’ son, Carl Jr, is only seven months old. This isn’t Adams' first run-in with the law, but it’s a first for doing long, hard time. He said his motivation to be better is his son.
“I just want to be there for my son. I want to get out and do the right thing. I love him to death,” said Adams.
Jacob Puisis has been in jail for a collective eight years. He told FOX 17 News he has been locked up from here to Detroit. Puisis is dealing with an alcohol addiction that has fueled most of this lock ups. His daughter, Hannah, only nine years old, waits for the day he can come home. Puisis is one of the nearly 300 fathers behind bars in Muskegon County Jail.
Staff of the EXIT program said the children of the inmates are the ones who suffer in the end. “I know that in terms of the children going to jail or prison, many times the statistics are when you have an incarcerated member of your family, you are more than likely to go to jail or prison than graduate from high school,” said Kellie Oom, program coordinator of EXIT.
Oom works with the inmates day in and day out. She says they deserve a second chance.
“Everybody that goes to jail, comes out of jail,” said Oom. "And they are going to come back into the community, and we think that it’s better that when they come out to the community they are productive citizens."
Family is a big part of inmates' transition, in addition to taking classes and sharpening trade skills, while improving their morals and social skills.
“By incorporating their families in it, they start seeing they have a lot to look forward to, and to be responsible men and responsible fathers,” said Oom, "and its expected of them to rise to the occasion."
The night with their families is made possible by Read Muskegon, which provides food, books, and gifts for the children. As much as possible is crammed into the night in just a few hours. The fathers and their kids get to play games, make crafts, read, learn lessons, and eat. The dads try to catch up on the hours, days, and months they have missed of their children's lives.
“It’s painful,” said Puisis. "I find myself crying all the time, but it makes me want to try harder, strive hard to better myself, so when she grows up she doesn’t fall in the same position as me."
Hannah already has high goals for her dad who gets out jail on February 16. “First I want him to get a job,” she said. "Then he gets a car, then he gets a house, then he gets some beds. Because once he gets a job he can get a house, and it’s a place to live, and once he has a place to live, he’s going to need beds."
Puisis has high goals to achieve, and he told FOX 17 News he’s up to the challenge.
Revolving door offenders are nothing new to county jails across the country. We asked Puisis and Adams why getting out of jail this time around with the EXIT program under their belt will be any different. Adams told us he is 100 percent confident that he will not commit another crime. “Without this program [EXIT], I wouldn’t know who I am. I wouldn’t be ready to change or see the light,” said Adams.
Puisis said all the other times he has been in jail, he knew when he got out he was going straight back to jail. But this time he has the tools to be a law-abiding, successful citizen.
“I have people in my corner. I got people that are pulling for me,” Puisis said, "[Hannah] wants me to be a superman in life, and she looks up to me and wants me to be a role model and wants us to be successful. I want her to be successful. I want to build something for her so she can come up and have the opportunities that I didn’t have, that I have cheated myself out of.”
Muskegon County Jail EXIT program is aiming for real results. The goal is having 78 percent of participants do not commit crimes again, and 60 percent maintain a job after serving their time.