Walla Walla program helps released prison inmates

WALLA WALLA, Wash. (AP) - Scott Andrews concedes he ruined his life and took other people down with him.

Andrews, now 42, had been in Walla Walla less than a year with his young family when he became enraged over a custody battle, he said. Stone cold sober, he assaulted his estranged wife with a baseball bat and butcher knife, severely injuring her.

For that, he spent 18 years, seven months, "and a handful of days" in various Washington state penitentiaries after a judge handed down sentencing in the exceptional range for the crime, he said.

Andrews was released in August of 2011 and state law demanded he return to the county that sent him to prison.

His crime continues to haunts him. His daughter refuses to have anything to do with him, according to Andrews, and he can only hope for a restored relationship.

In the meantime, the Florida native must move forward. That's where Walla Walla's STAR Project comes in.

The agency - Successful Transition And Reentry - has been helping just-released felons since 2005 to find stable housing, hook up with social and educational services, become employed and distance themselves from the problems that got them imprisoned.

Inmates about to be released to return here are told about the organization. Most make contact before leaving prison.

For Candi Adams, 42, the agency is the life preserver she is clinging to, she said.

Adams spent 20 months in prison for drug crimes. Addicted since she was 12, she spent the last 15 years before incarceration caring about nothing except getting high.

She lost custody of her children, lost her husband and watched her life disappear, she recalled. "I was on the streets, living in cars."

In the year she's been out of prison, Adams has worked hard to reclaim what she can with STAR's help.

Adams lives in a studio with her youngest daughter, she said. "It's tiny but I am blessed to have it. If I didn't, I would be on the street."

Without STAR's intervention, she couldn't find a landlord willing to take a chance on her. "It seems they judge me immediately because I just got out of prison."

STAR helped her secure a place and pay the rent until Adams could get other financial help, complete drug treatment and work to rebuild her life, including dealing with the depression that can shroud her, Adams said. "It's a blessing to have my own place again. I feel normal. I got my daughter back ... it's like my whole life came together."

Andrews echoes the sentiment. While he mourns his past, he is determined it won't keep him from moving ahead, he said. "I've done enough time ... I'm not that guy anymore."

He is slated to graduate from Walla Walla Community College's automotive program in June and plans to head directly into the diesel engine repair program there, he said, adding that he could never have accomplished this on his own.

STAR Project not only helped him get a roof over his head - "It's considered a studio. I have a tiny kitchen and my living-room-bedroom is the size of two cells. No bigger." - the agency provides a sounding board for the challenges Andrews faces, he said.

Staff there also made sure he took financial and other life skills classes. In his early years, it was "all about me. I didn't care about bills, I didn't care about paying rent, Now it's the opposite, I want to pay my bills. I got to pay for my tools to graduate from this course," Andrews said.

He is also learning community responsibility, he noted. When opportunities arise to volunteer in STAR's name, he jumps at the chance. "There is nothing I wouldn't do for STAR."

If an ex-convict wants to put his or her best foot forward in restarting their life, "and continue to stay out of jail, there is no better place than the STAR Project," Andrews added. "I can't really say enough about STAR. I'm not the only success story they had."