MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The rising cost to house prison inmates has many looking to a Minnesota Christian faith-based rehabilitation program for inspiration.

For the past ten years, Innerchange Freedom Initiative (IFI) has worked with inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes. The program uses no taxpayer money and has reduced re-offending, which in turns saves the state money.

‘I Didn’t Know What To Expect’

“I’ve spent the vast majority of my life coming in and out of institutions in Minnesota, and for most of that time I was without hope,” said Don Urbanski, who’s spent most of his 49 years behind bars.

His drug-filled criminal life came to an end when he was transferred to the state’s prison in Lino Lakes, and became part of the IFI.

“When I got to IFI, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure if it was Bible boot camp or a monastery,” he said.

IFI is an 18-month program based on the life values and teachings of Jesus Christ. Inmates do not have to be Christian to participate in the program.

“Nobobdy forced me to believe anything spiritual or religious, but they did ask me to be honest with myself and how I’ve been living my life,” Urbanski said.

From 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., the 150 men in the program are taught to change their ways of thinking.

“The counselors start out teaching us how to change character through the teachings of Christ, and then in the evening volunteers come in — men and women with their work clothes on — and they are the example, the embodiment of what we have been taught during the day,” Urbanski said.

Saving Money, Lives

Joseph Perez says the program saved his life.

“They take the old files out of our thoughts and put new files in,” Perez said.

He added: “It allowed me to look at my identity — and find out who I really am — and what I really want to be known for.”

A study showed IFI is not only saving lives, it’s saving taxpayer money. The study evaluated more than 700 offenders released from Minnesota prisons. It revealed that being a part of IFI reduced the number of men who are re-arrested and re-convicted by 40 percent.

It also showed how the support system inmates build while on the inside helps them to be successful on the outside.

IFI director John Byrne says community involvement is crucial to prevent reoffending.

“When they get out of prison, they continue with their mentor and do the outside part of the program, connect with a pro-social community whether that is a church or synagouge or it could be a AA group. Less than one percent of that those men have come back on a new offense,” Byrne said.

The Importance Of Relationships

Aaron Burks was in the first class of IFI in Lino Lakes ten years ago. He spent his time as worship leader and director of the choir. He credits his aftercare with helping him succeed in life.

“I was able to establish a really good relationship with an older gentleman and his wife, and they met with me in prison and have met with me since I’ve been home,” he said.

Although he says life at home has been bumpy, he finds comfort in being able to ask others for help.

“They were able to help me to get through the tough times,” he said.

Reg Chapman

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