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St. Cloud prison fair helps inmates plan for their release

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Some St. Cloud inmates recently met with community groups to begin planning for their future outside of prison.
The Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud held its release planning fair this week, the St. Cloud Times reported. It’s the 10th year that the prison has invited incarcerated men to connect with organizations that can offer support upon their release.
Roughly 70 organizations attended the fair, from job and housing programs such as Better Futures Minnesota and Crossing HOME, to support groups, including the National Alliance of Mental Illness and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“(The men are) amazed that all these people are there and are willing to help them,” said Jacqueline Richards, the prison’s transitions program coordinator. “A lot of them think that once they get out (of prison) there’s nobody there to help.”
Robert Lee has been incarcerated in St. Cloud for over four years. The 28-year-old earned his barber license this year after training at the prison.
Lee spoke at the fair about his plans for when he’s released in roughly nine years. He hopes to open his own barber shop.
“Time moves a lot faster in prison than most people think,” Lee said. “I want to get ahead of it, rather than wait for my last couple years.”
Kelley Heifort, the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ re-entry services director, said most men and women released from the state’s prisons face barriers when re-entering their communities, including conditions upon their release that require them to hold jobs, have a place to live and stay sober.
The fair is intended to show inmates that there are people and groups that are rooting for them to find success, Heifort said.
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Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com