December 15, 2015
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Published: December 14, 2015
By: Nicki Gorny
To view the article online, visit: http://www.ocala.com/article/20151214/ARTICLES/151219877/-1/news09?p=3&tc=pg.
Farrin Adkins admits she has made a few bad choices.
…By the time she turned 23, that path had brought Adkins to the Lowell Correctional Institution on two drug-related charges.
Adkins had served about seven months of her sentence, she said, when an opportunity arose that she credits with turning her life around. At a judge's recommendation, Sgt. Randall Driggers recruited Adkins for the 126th platoon of a rigorous boot camp program…
Mondays, for example, find her and seven other young women unloading truck-loads of food for Interfaith's Food 4 Kids program. The cans and boxes they stack in the pantry on Mondays wind up in wheeled backpacks distributed at 34 Marion County schools on Fridays to children who otherwise likely would go hungry on weekends.
“It's a real blessing for me,” said Ken Nelson, who runs the Food 4 Kids program.
The boot camp program has been operating at Lowell for about 15 years, Driggers said, and he credits it with significantly reducing the recidivism rate for recruits. Only about 9.8 percent of female boot camp graduates return to prison, he said, citing the most recent statistics available. That compares to a 33 percent recidivism rate for the general prison population.
That mental training is a major part of Driggers' goal for boot camp, he said. But the rest of their 16-hours days, spent on and off the Lowell campus in a variety of classes and jobs, focus on practical skills as well. That sets them up for employment once they leave Lowell, he said.
Karnowski and Gadson, for example, said they plan to look into construction jobs after their platoon graduates on Feb. 18. Although neither said they had any construction experience before starting boot camp, they now spend two days a week learning electricity, plumbing and other aspects of home construction at Habitat for Humanity sites.
Drawing on the certifications and skills they get by working with dogs and horses on other days of the week, Adkins said she hopes to work at a veterinary clinic. She and others also become certified in cake decorating, thanks to a culinary arts class; and everyone is required to take GED courses, or, if a participant already has a high school diploma, more general education courses.
“You see a whole different person,” he said. He stays in touch with his recruits for at least a year after they graduate, and said three of the four women in the last platoon to graduate have since enrolled in college.
“That's when I can say, 'We made a difference,” he said.
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 23,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 140,000 offenders in the community.