A Marysville haven that gives people second chances celebrated its 10th anniversary Oct. 28.

A Marysville haven that gives people second chances celebrated its 10th anniversary Oct. 28.

The West Central Community Correctional Facility at 18200 State Route 4 marked the occasion by holding an open house of sorts. Visitors heard comments from elected officials and staff, listened to songs by some of the facility's residents, took a tour and heard testimonials by graduates of the facility's rehabilitation program.

"This place taught me that I was somebody," graduate Shanell Draines said to applause from the women who currently reside at West Central.

West Central is among the 18 Community-Based Correctional Facilities (CBCFs) organized and funded by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC). It serves Champaign, Clark, Delaware, Logan, Madison, Marion, Morrow and Union counties.

The 91 men and 45 women who stay up to six months at West Central were sentenced for placement there by judges in those eight counties who consider them to be non-dangerous felony offenders. The CBCFs began in 1978 as an alternative to prisons, placing offenders in a structured environment with classes to deal with their problems and offering outside employment opportunities.

Officials said about 2,000 males have graduated from the West Central program since it opened (women offenders began staying at West Central in 2007), with 321 graduates in fiscal year 2009, an 85% success rate.

Upon entering the center of the facility, visitors found all residents were seated, wearing plain clothes of different colors that indicated their status within the program. Hanging on the walls over the residents' artwork were two huge signs - There were nine "Cardinal Rules," including "1. No physical violence" and "6. No escape"; as well as 23 "House Rules," including "1. You respect others" and "20. No horse play."

"We have a super group of residents that are living here right now," said David Ervin, Executive Director of West Central since 1996. "These men and women are probably doing one of the most difficult things they've ever had to do in their life. Each and every one of these folks is broken in so many ways. And I can tell you that they're sitting here wondering what the next day is going to bring to them. But they have committed themselves to doing the right thing."

"This community provides a second chance," Logan County Judge and Judicial Advisory Board (JAB) member Mark S. O'Connor said. "The courts have the duty to protect the public and to punish offenders, but also involved is this opportunity to provide a second chance coupled with discipline and counseling, improved skills, and most importantly, a new perspective on life."

O'Connor said West Central, one of Ohio's more recent CBCFs, was first planned in 1993. He was among the JAB members who appointed a Facility Governing Board (FGB) to oversee West Central's staff of 50.

West Central was compared to a lighthouse by FGB representative Jeannie Brewer.

"It's a beacon of light, it's something you follow, and it is a safe harbor," Brewer said. "You folks in here are doing hard time (but) you are worth it."

Retired Judge Richard E. Parrott said the Union County commissioners donated the land to West Central after only a five-minute presentation. He praised the community, judges and staff for its support of the facility before turning his attention to the residents.

"There are expectations here, because you have the opportunity to seek a second chance, and you should take advantage of it," Parrott said. "I'm not lecturing you, but I'm telling you it's a privilege you've been sent out here."

"I can guarantee you that 51,124 people who sit in the 31 prisons in this state at this particular moment would trade (places) with you immediately," DRC Director Terry Collins said to the residents. "You have to help yourself I need none of you in a state prison system that already runs at 132 percent capacity."

"We know that CBCFs work," Collins said. "The residents placed at West Central have benefitted the community. They earned over $86,000 in taxable income. They paid over $8,000 in court costs and over $3,000 in child support, and completed more than 11,000 hours of community service work. Those things could not have happened if they were in one of our state prisons."

After the talks and songs, West Central Employment Coordinator Jan Campbell led tours into the women's resident rooms, which had names like Faith, Leadership, Strength and Vision. All of the rooms have been blessed by local clergy, Campbell said. The sparse, plain rooms contained eight or 16 identically-made bunk beds and individual lockers with combination locks.

"I challenge you to find any dust," Campbell said, noting that the residents clean the facility as part of their responsibilities.

Amazingly, Campbell said, "we've never had a physical fight here" at West Central.

In another room, Melissa Lowe of Champaign County, the first woman graduate of West Central, told women residents about her experiences, summing it up by saying, "I'd rather be clean than be locked up."