Farmers Market Keeps Ex-Cons Straight
June 7, 2016
By Scott Cousins
ALTON — A church-based reentry program for people coming out of prison is going to be expanding with a farmer’s market next week.
The Dream Center, a nonprofit group based out of River of Life Family Church, 3401 Fosterburg Road, Alton, will start a farmer’s market at 3-7 p.m. Fridays from June 17 through Oct. 21 at the church.
The center provides employment and other services to former inmates. The overall program currently serves about 130 people. Much of their efforts are geared toward finding jobs for their clients.
Program Director Dar Bryant said several local employers have signed on to help provide jobs.
“So we can get these guys right out of the gate,” he said. “It reduces the chances of an individual’s going back to prison, and relieves the taxpayer of that expense.”
Program Director Mike Pallagi, who joined the program full-time in February — after Lutheran Social Services cut it’s programs because of the state budget crisis — said the normal recidivism rate is about 60 percent, while their’s is roughly 6 percent.
“We’re kicking butt,” he said. “That’s because we really follow up, sometimes we call them two or three times a week.”
He said a lack of employment opportunities is the “number one reason people go back to prison.”
“If there’s not somebody there, if they don’t find something right away, they’re going to do whatever they have to do to survive,” he said. “That creates more victims, more burden on the taxpayers. If we can get that individual a job within days of getting out of prison, we’re going to reduce the chance of that person going back to prison.”
Bryant said the farmer’s market is a natural extension of the garden program they have.
“The original idea of the garden was to provide some additional employment for returning citizens,” he said. “From that, we were going to sell that to some local grocers, but we decided to expand that and have the farmers market.”
The garden currently has three employees, but when harvest starts, they will have up to 15, in addition to three to four more for the farmers market.
In addition to produce from the program’s garden, he said they will have other farm vendors, as well as crafts, baked goods and other items.
“I’ve been talking to several other vendors at other farmers markets,” Bryant said. “We have some farmers up in Greenville who are going to bring in some poultry and eggs.”
Pallagi said the entire program takes more than a year.
“Once we get them kind of secure in a job, we’ll monitor them,” he said.
Monitoring is at least once a week for six months. At the end of that time they become “inactive,” and are then called monthly for the rest of the year. That is followed up at about 18 months.
“We don’t give up on them, that’s what we try to get across to them.”