Local News

Prison's domestic violence program the only of its kind in NC

Posted October 3, 2014 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 3, 2014 7:01 p.m. EDT

— Before Mike Conrad was imprisoned 19 years ago, he had a certain way of treating women. “Like objects,” he said. “I thought I owned them.”

Now 43 years old and serving nearly 30 years in prison for second-degree murder and armed robbery, he has a different take on the opposite sex.

“Basically, I didn't show them the respect that they deserved,” he said.

Conrad is one of about 600 men who have gone through an intensive, 20-week domestic violence education and treatment course at Albemarle Correctional Institution in the past three years. The goal of the program, called S.T.O.P. (Survey/Think Of Options/Prevent Victims), is to change the way inmates think about women.

Some inmates are referred to the prison specifically for the program. Others seek it out and apply.

“The first thing I learned in the class was that I was a good person, just my behavior was unacceptable,” Conrad said.

About 25 inmates are enrolled at a time and spend six hours in class five days a week. It’s the only full-time program of its kind in the North Carolina prison system.

Psychologist Sandy Huffman says many of the men in the program treated women poorly because of their upbringing.

“(It was) the way they were raised, the types of beliefs that were instilled in them early on that creates an environment where they feel it’s justified,” she said. “If we can look at what they’re thinking and help them change that, then that helps to modify their feelings, and when we do that, we can modify their behavior.”

Jonathan Fink, a habitual felon serving a nine-year sentence, became emotional while talking about who he has hurt in the past and what he has learned in the program.

“Any type of abuse you can imagine I’ve put my partners and – not only my partners – my mother, my grandmother all through,” he said. “Once I got involved in the program, it was like a big light bulb went off in my head.”

Roland Hunter, 35, is serving a 15-year sentence for kidnapping and robbery. He says the program has taught him how to communicate better and take other people's feelings into consideration.

"I never really cared about what people thought or how they felt," he said. "When I learned how to place myself in other people's shoes, it's like the world opened up to me."

Regardless of what happens inside the prison walls, the big question is what happens when the men walk out? Will they be able to use their newly learned skills to cope in the outside world?

STOP coordinator Ellen Koski-Ponton says she has seen “so many men change and their lives change and their relationships change.”

“This makes a difference,” she said.

Change can even happen in the life of someone like 60-year-old Timothy Robbins, who has been in prison for 40 years for first-degree murder.

“This class has taught me (that) I'm not my behavior, that I have some type of worth, and I can sit down and think about it,” he said.