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Choosing a pathway for a brighter future

by Carol Pitts last modified Jun 06, 2022 04:07 PM
Refusing to let his past define him, Richard McMichael used the time while incarcerated to recapture the dreams he had for the future.

Richard McMichael used to see education as his right and took it for granted.

“Then, when I got in trouble, I realized what I had lost. Once I got the opportunity to take classes, I’ve treated it like the privilege it is,” he said. “I’ve kind of become obsessed with continual learning now.”

McMichael, 26, was released in March 2022 by the Kansas Department of Corrections following a 2018 conviction for drug-related offences.

Refusing to let his past define him, McMichael used the time while incarcerated to recapture the dreams he had for the future. After his conviction, he was sent to the correctional facility in Larned, Kansas.

From the very beginning, Valarie Browning, KDOC job specialist, said McMichael was unique.

“His motivation was to get his degree and do better, to prove people wrong and that he wasn’t just another troubled kid,” she said.

Browning said McMichael had a lot of family support, and he never slowed down. He would start taking a new class almost before the first class was finished.

“We don’t often see that here,” Browning noted.

McMichael was able to transfer previous college credits to an online degree program with Adams State University, eventually earning a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 and made the President’s List. His next goal is to obtain his CPA, then pursue a master’s degree in computer engineering and computer science.

In May 2021, McMichael relocated to the Wichita Work Release Facility, Wichita, Kansas, and in one week he said his life changed.

“Within a week I got a job,” he said. “A week literally changed the trajectory of what my future can look like.”

After a two-month stint with that employer, where he earned an outstanding employee award, he accepted an offer of a job at Koch Industries in accounting.

“I’m really thankful for this new opportunity,” McMichael said. “I wake up every day very purpose driven, thinking about what I am going to do today to get closer to my goals.”

Rick Husselman, KDOC job specialist at the Wichita Work Release Facility, said employers who are willing to hire current residents are referred to as “second chance” employers. Throughout Kansas, 42 private industries along with 16 correctional industries employ nearly 1,300 residents.

“I can remember the days when a convicted felon was automatically rejected for a job,” Husselman said.

That mind-set is changing, however, and many employers are finding skilled employees who are either currently incarcerated or newly released, ready to work and build a better future for themselves and their families.

“McMichael didn’t waste his time while he has been with us. He has worked hard, both in college and through programs provided by KDOC,” Husselman said. “He accepted help preparing for interviews, how to discuss gaps in employment history and what he is doing while incarcerated to have success once he is released.”

While it is McMichael’s drive and determination to reach his goals that set him on a better path for the future, he is quick to credit the help and support he has received during his time with KDOC.

“There are some very special individuals working at Larned,” he said. “These KDOC employees really went above and beyond. Valerie Browning at Larned guided me and helped me find all the tools to succeed. Travis Getty, among others, proctored my tests, kept me out of trouble and on the right path. They put a lot of effort into helping the people who want to succeed.”

McMichael applauds Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and KDOC Secretary Jeff Zmuda for the current push to provide education opportunities for KDOC residents.

“Finishing my degree while incarcerated has given me the skills I needed to obtain gainful employment and become a tax paying, full contributing member of society,” he said.

He also believes that if Kansas City or other areas had facilities like the one in Wichita, “you would see more guys get jobs and succeed.”

“In my opinion, the Wichita Work Release Facility has to be one of the preeminent reentry programs in the country,” he said. “The KDOC staff provide great support, assisting with job search resources, resume assistance, and many other transitional planning tools for assimilation back into society.”

McMichael said the staff recognizes that empowering the residents to reach their full potential reduces recidivism.

“It also reunites families, increases public safety, and reduces the tax burden for all taxpayers,” he said.

With a new job at Koch Industries, and his release from prison in March 2022, McMichael is setting his sights on graduate school and a brighter future.

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