State prisoners prep for release

By Peter Shaller - email
Posted by Rachel Leigh - email

OKEECHOBEE, FL (WFLX) - Some of Florida's hardest criminals end up in a state prison in Okeechobee. Not all are there for life, and the Department of Corrections takes special care when an inmate is about to finish a sentence.

One thousand six-hundred inmates are locked up at the Okeechobee Correctional Institution.  Jose Ruiz is one of the 20 who attended a public speaking class. "It's an experience that gives you a lot of time to think about the value of life and the value of family."

Richard Flax is a sex offender, convicted of sexual battery on a child in Broward County. "I couldn't tell the difference between right and wrong."

Then, there's Rich Otten. He's not an inmate; he's the volunteer helping these men move forward, overcoming one pair of cold feet and one set of nervous habits at a time. "Gives a little glimmer of hope to a somewhat negative environment they're existing in."

It started a year ago, and the objective is to give inmates the skills they need to be productive when they leave.

It's a donation of time, and that's it. "It's very low cost for the payback you get."

Every week, the inmates have to prepare and deliver speeches to the group. Then, they are graded by their peers. "I have not looked into the past of the prisoners; I take them at where they are at the moment as human beings."

The 20 inmates, including Jose Ruiz, are getting ready to go back to your communities, but are they ready? Instructors say, with the course, they'll have a purpose when they get out that doesn't include a life of crime.