Building A New Life After Prison

For the full story on the Building Homes: Rebuilding Lives Scholarship Program, read Eye on LSSIWinter 2009 ( Note: This article has been abridged. Click on PDF to see complete article.)

More than 7,000 Illinois inmates have taken part in LSSI’s Building Homes: Rebuilding Lives program, where inmates learn construction skills by building components for low-income homes. But what happens once they leave prison? LSSI is now offering a scholarship program that enables individuals like Dion Fletcher (right) to work with a Habitat for Humanity affiliate and build a new life. Building Homes is one of several programs offered by LSSI's Prisoner and Family Ministry.

“I was involved in BHRL [Building Homes: Rebuilding Lives] at Illinois River [Correctional Center],” says Dion Fletcher. While at the prison, he had taken Construction Occupations and Computer-Assisted Drafting classes and had become a teacher’s assistant in the construction class. He heard about LSSI’s scholarship program and applied for it. The program provides a bi-weekly stipend of $260 to $390, depending on how many hours the parolee works each week. LSSI pays this “scholarship” for up to 26 weeks.

Dion talked with John Holmes, director of Building Homes, and then with Warren Callahan, executive director of Windy City Habitat for Humanity in Chicago. Both Callahan and Holmes agreed that Dion was a fine candidate for the program. But they didn’t know how “fine” he was.

Dion not only proved himself in his craft, but he also proved that he was excellent working with people of all kinds. During Dion’s 26-week scholarship period, the site supervisor left, and he was promoted to that spot. A year after he started working with Windy City, the project manager left, and Dion was promoted to this role, which includes reviewing BHRL applications for the scholarship program at Windy City, a responsibility he takes very seriously.

“I am protective of this program,” he says. “It’s a great program. It has a proved outcome for people who want to do something [with their lives]. I am very candid [when I talk to applicants]. I won’t tolerate any nonsense, and I won’t hold a spot for someone who doesn’t work. I don’t feel right about wasting a scholarship on someone who doesn’t have his act together.

“I really appreciate the opportunity provided to me [through this program] and want to do the same for others,” Dion says.

Note: Since this story was written, Dion completed his parole. He wants to continue working in construction or a related field.