The following interview took place over e-mail from March 2011 through April 2011. Kirk Herman, was convicted in 1997 of driving drunk and causing the death of a childhood friend who was seated behind him when his vehicle struck a tree. Herman received 5 to 30 year prison sentence and was denied parole on five occasions, Herman was released in April of 2007 and participated in the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative.. Q: If you could just give a little context for your incarceration, if you don't feel comfortable talking about the specifics dates would suffice.
A: I was incarcerated from Oct 16th 1996 until my release date of April 4th 2007.
Q: What was the process of being enrolled into MPRI like? did you get to chose the program or have alternatives?
A: Being enrolled into MPRI was strictly a decision made solely by the Parole Board. After being selected for the program the inmate is to sent to a correction facility that has the program and is nearest to the town you are paroling to. The Washtenaw County program was brand new in April of 2007 as I was the first group to enter into the program; I hope things have improved by now.
Q: When you were involved with the program did you feel as though it helped you prepare for life outside of prison? if so, in what ways? if not, why?
A: The program was not geared for someone like myself who is very self motivated and is resourceful. It is geared for the troubled, never had a job, and are looking for menial employment. 3 1/2 years after my release date (2007) I graduated from Eastern Michigan University with B.S. in Health Administration and now work for University of Michigan Hospital. In short I did more for myself than MPRI ever could have.
Q: Do you think there is anything the program can implement that might have helped the transition?
A: Not for me, like I said I'm self-motivated and I have a great support team of family and friends. For others I felt like the MPRI staff needed a liaison to make contact with employers in the area to help the parolees enter the work force
Q: What was your release like in terms of the program? did they help you find employment, housing?
A: I was more resourceful in finding employment, housing and, getting enrolled in college (for the first time at 33 yrs old) than they were.
Q: What exactly lead you to be so motivated after your release?
A: I would have to say that just comes down to my personality and who I am. I guess you could say I'm a criminal because I did break the law but I'm not your typical one.
Q: What were your expectations prior to entering the program?
A: I expected more help with employment even if it was just minimum wage but they had nothing.
Q: Do you feel like in some ways the program was effective for other inmates? Do you keep in touch with anyone else who completed the program? if so, did it positively effect them?
A: No, I did my own thing, I had a goals and I've accomplished them. Guys coming out of prison need jobs, bottom line and it was not there.
Q: One of MPRI's claims is that it has helped lower crime rates; do you feel like it really might be deterring crime?
A: When Power Inc ran MPRI they were successful in lowering the number of guys that returned to prison. They did have some good counseling programs and they were trying to make head way on the job front.
Q: Do you believe you were incorrectly placed into the program, do you feel that way? what do you think the parole board might have overlooked when assessing your possible success outside or prison?
A: Yes I feel i was missed placed in the program. Only a limited number of people were allowed in at the time and my spot could have been used for someone that did not have the resources or support that I had. Maybe I was picked as a positive statistic, the more successful they are the more money they get, I made them look good.
Q: Typically the most common indicators for recidivism revolve around education, housing and health care - is there anything else that you think might really make an impact in terms of creating a more successful bridge between incarceration and release?
A: Substance abuse is number one and as far as I'm concerned those who abuse drugs and alcohol will not quit until they want to, I don't care how many treatment programs you put them into.
Q: MPRI in 2009 added another phase to it's program called "Getting Ready"- this phase focuses on what they term to be an 'accountability plan' which determines certain services like mental health, substance abuse or other issues a prisoner may need to focus on prior to leaving prison. This phase essentially serves as a set of expectations a prisoner must meet before and after leaving prison. Do you think this would have had any effect on you or any other prisoners you may have known?
A: There are some out there that truly want and need this chance but they need to be willing to change their life and commit themselves 100%.
During the interview Herman noted that the program originally was contracted out to a community group called Power Inc, but as of last year the parole department has taken control of MPRI . After Herman's release he published a book "What Happens Now? A Look at Life Behind Bars," that he wrote during his final years of prison. Herman dedicated the book to Hollis W. Hamm, his friend who was killed in the crash.