Ask anyone in law enforcement and they’ll tell you it’s true. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters and brothers and brothers – locked up for similar crimes.
For years, there has never been an agency that tracks family ties in prison. That’s changing. The Kansas Department of Corrections says it gets asked this question so often it is now compiling data to see the number of family connections.
For example, Sidney Gleason was convicted of capital murder for the deaths of Great Bend couple Miki Martinez and Darren Wornkey in February 2004. His brother, Jason Gleason, is accused of trying to kill a state trooper and three others in Saline County.
In 1994, Bruce Brooks, Sr. was shot and killed by Wichita police after robbing a fast food restaurant. Ten years later, his son, Bruce Brooks, Jr. was also shot and killed by Wichita police after robbing a different fast food restaurant in the same area of the city.
Breaking the Chain
“I can go back to the jail on any given day and see third and fourth generation people that I’ve put in jail or sent to prison.”
Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson says it’s a family cycle. Much of the crime stems from drug use.
“Back in the 1980’s we were working a lot of crack houses,” said Henderson. “Those people are grandparents now. Unless you broke that chain that is the mentor for the kids.”
Years ago while working narcotics, he arrested a young man named Michael Hill. Henderson was a classmate of Hill’s father, who had also been in trouble with the law. He and Michael developed a unique relationship.
“I was never in fear of Mike,” said Henderson. “In fact, I always thought he would take care of me in a crack house if something went wrong. But I wouldn’t lay a 10 dollar bill down there because he would take it.”
Hill was in and out of prison from 1998 to 2010. He was a drug addict and says he grew up in a neighborhood where that was just the thing to do.
“It’s what I saw,” said Hill. “I thought it was right. Everyone around me was doing it.”
While he doesn’t blame his father, he says your family does make a big difference in the choices you make in life.
“I can go right instead of left but I didn’t have that guide to say maybe you want to come this way,” said Hill.
He values the relationship with the former narcotics officer who just happens to now be the Reno County sheriff.
“Randy told me one time ‘Michael, when you’re doing good I’ll be by your side. When you’re bad or doing bad, I’ll be on the other side to get you,’” said Hill. “And I respect that.”
Hill says it took years for him to realize he needed to make a change. He’s been clean for six years, holds a job and is going to college to become a social worker.
“My purpose and goal in life is to help those who suffer from drug addiction,” said Hill.
A few months ago, he was off parole for the first time in years. He also knows staying clean is not easy and takes a lot of focus. He now has a good relationship with his father who has been clean for more than 20 years. He looks to him for inspiration. The family cycle has also come full circle. Hill says his own kids are a big motivation for living a good life.
“People say one day at a time,” said Hill. “My fight is one minute by one minute. No matter what you go through in life, you can always change. My whole life has changed. I’m not the same person, just the same name.”
Getting the Needed Help
Sheriff Randy Henderson wants a new jail in Reno County. The current facility was built in the 1970’s and because of the physical space limitations, the jail has no programs in place to help change inmate behavior.
“We have no programs, secure recreation yard, library or work details to keep them busy and they are not developing habits that will help re-entry into society,” says Henderson describing a new jail initiative.
He says it can be tough to convince the public to spend money on a project like this. But he says it is something everyone has a stake in.
“We expect inmates to come out and move next door to you and I and not steal from us and not be a threat to us anymore,” said Henderson. “How successful will we be unless we help break that chain?”
He’s proud of Hill and everything he’s accomplished.
“I’ve seen him at his worst,” said Henderson. “It’s good to see him preparing for his best.”