(TNS) — It seemed like an unlikely reunion.
There stood Ondrel Mayo, an Annapolis, Md., man with a lengthy criminal record, tinkering with electrical appliances in a warehouse in Baltimore.
The 31-year-old was explaining to Officer Dannette Smikle, one of the officers who he used to give headaches, how various components make up the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system at her home. As Smikle put it, Mayo was on the Annapolis Police Department's "Top 10 List of people to go after." He was arrested more than a dozen times in the city — "that's just as an adult," Mayo jokes — and nobody would've faulted an officer for being surprised to see how far he's come.
Mayo is on track to become the latest success story to emerge from the department's nascent Positive Impact Program, an initiative instituted by Police Chief Ed Jackson to help those returning from incarceration to lead a better life upon release. Jackson's officers work with nonprofit partners to help people like Mayo get an education to ply a trade or to provide counseling for drug addiction or mental health issues. "I've made mistakes in my past and this is my way to correct those mistakes," Mayo said.
He dreams of becoming a master HVAC technician and, one day, starting his own business. And, because of the program and Mayo's commitment, his goals aren't so far fetched. He's slated to get his HVAC certification in January when he graduates from the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives' Herbert J. Hoelter Vocational Training Center. He'll be able to give his six children a chance at a better life, too.
Jackson's program is not limited to those leaving incarceration. His officers have been out promoting the program for those at risk of becoming shooters or victims of gun violence. In fact, anyone who's over 18 and who receives help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is eligible for the program, which is free for participants. The department says it's helped 144 people since its inception in June.
"I like that the police department realizes that part of their role is not only arresting people but preventing crime in the first place," said Carl Snowden, a longtime Annapolis civil rights leader.
The program is equal parts social service and crime prevention. Jackson has said from his swearing-in that his officers will arrest violent offenders but that the city must address the root causes of crime before it can hope to curtail it. As long as poverty, addiction and hopelessness abound, Jackson says people will keep turning to crime.
"We want to show young people particularly (there's) a different way," Jackson said.
Luckiest Man in Law Enforcement
It's a mission so critical to Jackson's philosophy that he had to recruit one of his protegees from the Baltimore Police Department, where he retired as a colonel, to lead it.
Officer Robert Horne brought with him about two decades of experience as an officer in Baltimore, the bulk of which he spent building and running a reentry program.
He also works as a chaplain in prisons across the state. From the super-max prison in Baltimore, the Chesapeake Detention Facility, to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Horne has consoled men serving life for their crimes on the streets. And he's used their stories to break people from the same vicious cycle.
Horne found his niche in policing and approaches each day with an empathy derived from his roots in West Baltimore. He's proud to have helped many people in Baltimore but said that the workload in his hometown can feel overwhelming. He hopes to see his impact sooner in Annapolis.
As far as Horne's concerned, he's the luckiest man in law enforcement. He feels fortunate every time he can get a man back to his family.
Statistics show it's no small feat. About 83 percent of people released from state prisons in 2005 were arrested within nine years, according to the Department of Justice. The department estimates the recidivism rate in Maryland is about 40 percent.
"I believe it's our obligation to give them better opportunities than what led them to crime," said Mayor Gavin Buckley.
Buckley views the program as an extension of Jackson's community policing overhaul. The mayor said he looks forward to cutting the ribbon for a business started by one of the participants of the reentry program. He has faith Horne is the right person to make it successful.
Anne Arundel County police have taken an interest, too, as the department is in early discussions with the Annapolis program about potential collaboration, said Marc Limansky, county police spokesperson.
Horne's already brought about some change in Annapolis.
The Division of Parole and Probation now has office space at the police station on Taylor Avenue. Probation agents meet there with their clients, who make up the majority of participants for the reentry program. And thanks to Horne, those participants can choose from resources offered by a range of partners he developed during his time in Baltimore.
Horne and his partner, Smikle, who's been an Annapolis police officer for a decade, connect participants with the vocational training center in Baltimore, which offers automotive repair, HVAC, drone, culinary and commercial drivers license certification. The center pairs participants with case managers, who help them bridge barriers to graduation, said Walter Billips, the recruitment director.
Billips said about 75 percent of the students graduate from the program and find and maintain employment afterward, jobs where they make $17 per hour on average.
Recidivism among graduates is in the single digits, Billips said. "They're making enough money where they don't have to consider working and hustling on the side."
Horne is also filling for the first time a cohort to complete computer training, conducted virtually while the threat of the coronavirus persists but which Horne plans to bring to the Pip Moyer Center. They also use connections to get people jobs as medical and veterinary assistants.
Drug treatment, too.
'He's Here to Help You'
Angla Henson, 48, was ready to pounce on any opportunity to get her husband help.
She said he had been struggling with opioid addiction for some time. It was getting hard to recognize the man she'd been with for 18 years. She gave him an ultimatum: their family or the heroin. He wanted help. But the first treatment center she called wanted $17,000 up front, a figure she could never afford.
One morning Henson was leaving her apartment in Harbour House and saw a police officer posting a flier on a window. It offered help at no cost. She called the phone number; Officer Horne picked up.
Horne got Henson's husband into treatment in Baltimore. But that was too close to temptation. Next was a place in Sykesville; Henson's insurance canceled. Finally, they found an in-patient facility in Texas. By all accounts, Henson said her husband is doing well. And she said Horne pledged to help relocate the family upon her husband's return.
"I can finally get the husband back that I fell in love with," she said.
The program is an example of a brand of policing overdue in Annapolis, Henson said. "It's good to see an officer that's not always out to arrest you... he's here to help you."
From his seat at City Hall, Alderman DaJuan Gay, D- Ward 6, has been calling for police reform. He wants to see more social services and less lock-ups. He's been briefed on the reentry program and said he sees promise.
"I think that any time law enforcement is attempting to create solutions in the community as opposed to arresting people, they should be commended for that," Gay said. His only concern is that because police officers are the ones offering help, people may be afraid to accept it.
"This can be very, very successful if this is consistently in the community and there are recognizable faces with the program and our residents feel their needs are being met. And I hope it is."
Trying to assure just that is Bishop Charles Carroll. The pastor has presided over many of the funerals stemming from deadly gun violence in Annapolis. His own son, Charles Carroll Jr., was fatally shot in 2016 and police haven't closed the case, citing a lack of witnesses coming forward.
The same "don't snitch" culture has led to slow progress in the investigations stemming from the homicide of 14-year-old Camarin Wallace in the Annapolis Gardens community and a quadruple shooting on Clay Street which claimed the life of 28-year-old Shawn McGowan. Police say both crimes were committed in front of crowds of people but that few, if any, have come forward with information.
Carroll buys Jackson's belief that building trust in these communities and cracking cases starts with police extending an olive branch.
'Give Him a Chance'
On a recent Friday, Carroll and Horne walked along Clay Street to promote the program. They distributed fliers and talked to residents. Carroll provides the familiar face — neighbors, some his congregants, greeted him by saying "Hi Bishop!" and "Hey Charlie" — and Horne brings the encyclopedia of resources and wealth of tales from his work inside the prison wall.
"We're just trying to give them a way out," Carroll said. "This is life or death — this is the lifeline."
One man told the duo about his 18-year-old son who was teetering on getting into trouble, so they signed him up for HVAC. A neighbor overheard them: You got anything for women? she asked. They explained the options and signed her up for computer classes.
Down the street, a group of teenagers stood on a stoop. Carroll recognized one young man and introduced the group to his "partner." Horne, who wears plain clothes to be more approachable, followed up with the information.
"We got so many options for you," Horne said.
Some were surprised about their business in the community. A woman asked whether they were pedaling insurance, to which Carroll responded: "We out selling hope!"
In a couple hours they had about a dozen intake forms but not everyone is ready to accept help.
As they were wrapping up their rounds, a group of grown men left a corner at the sight of Carroll and Horne, who explained that he doesn't chase people. There are too many people who want help to waste time on those who aren't ready for change, he says.
Count Mark Corbett, 50, as part of the contingent ready for a change. After a lifetime of crime, he wanted to reverse course the last time he got out of prison. But it proved to be a real challenge.
Corbett was rejected for a number of jobs, a frustrating reality he attributes to being honest about his criminal record.
"I was ready to give up," Corbett said. "I was ready to go back on the street and do what I used to do."
His probation agent connected him with Horne. Together, the agent and Horne worked on getting him a job. They eventually found Corbett work at Baltimore Washington Medical Center, where for about a month he's ensured refrigerators are stocked with food and drinks. He said because Horne stuck his neck out for him, he shows up to work early every day.
"I know a lot of people saying 'he's a cop.' Well, he's a cop that's trying to help us back on our feet. Give him a chance."
(c)2020 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.