Success Stories

Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois provides a holistic, multi-faceted approach that supports a returning citizens’ transition back into the community. Full integration in the community is demonstrated by a stable lifestyle which includes the necessary identification, dignified housing, and employment with reliable income, possession of life skills, a willingness to be sober / addiction free, and strong family and faith-based relationships. We have heard of many success stories through our work in this reentry ministry and will share some of these that we have been involved with.

Literacy Success!


Janice has read over 27 biographies in addition to completing the Language Olympics literacy instructional series. We are so proud of all of our literacy students, and our volunteer instructor Colleen.

Nothing is set in stone

By: Brandon Craighead Musings

To the brother’s and sister’s living behind bars I come to you with a message of hope, inspiration and motivation.

I was once behind these same walls (Menard for 16 years) serving a life sentence that I received as a juvenile. Instead of allowing my predicament to define I instead choose to use my time to elevate myself beyond my circumstances. What I was dealing with, as you’ll doing now didn’t provide much hope for success but I didn’t or wouldn’t allow that to deter me. I lived every day of my time behind those walls planning, praying and preparing for the day that I would be released because I knew one day it would come. Never once did I believe that jail would be the end for me and those that know me will vouch for that. We all know that not much is provided to us to inspire hope so we do what we need to not lose it. Once we walk out that door we are for the most part left to fend for ourselves which in most cases leads to individuals coming back. It is incumbent upon you’ll, as it was for me, to take advantage of whatever avenue you can grasp to educate yourself, to ensure that when you do get out you can be a success.

Some may look at their situation and say what the hell is he talking about, I’m goanna die in this place, and I won’t argue with you. You have the right to believe how you want, but remember I once had the same sentence and look at me now. Nothing is set in stone and the future holds no guarantees except death.

Every last one of you’ll have a unique gift and that gift is to be and do whatever you set your mind to. There’s goanna be a lot of obstacles put in your way to block your progress but confidence and faith is essential to whatever you do in life. The system only wins if you give upand conform to their expectations. I know what I’m saying may sound far-fetched but I am a prime example as is a whole lot of dudes and ladies of where new thinking can lead you to. From Natural Life to Freedom. The only way I was supposed to leave there was in a box but instead I walked out on my own two feet.

While I was in there I constantly researched and looked for people and organizations that assist returning citizens. While there I didn’t know how I was goanna take care of myself when I got out. You would be amazed at how many organizations and program that exist out here to help. Effort that’s all that’s required.

I am praying for each and every one of you. Those I know and those that I don’t. I know the struggle you’ll is dealing with and I empathize because I lived that struggle. Keep your head up and keep the faith. Nothing is for certain and set in stone.


By Ernest Rice-Bey

There are many different ways by which one can start to make a difference in the lives of others, but the one true and most important way starts with loving one’s own self. Yes, the good that anyone does for others will cause that person to develop strength and
character, thus bringing about a change in one’s own life.

This is what I learned in prison; in order to better myself I had to become selfless and seek to make a difference in the lives of others who seemed to be struggling to find or stay on the path of what is called “doing the right thing”. Doing the right thing will cause one to be a better person inside the prison and will prepare you for when you are released. You won’t have to struggle very much if you work on yourself while in prison.

We all have our two selves: Higher and Lower Selves. The Higher Self is Justice, Mercy, Love and Right. The Lower Self is what the Higher Self is not, it breeds hatred, slander, lewdness, murder and everything that harms.

We must learn to think with our Higher mind in order to escape the illusions of the world. We are all social beings, the enjoyments, comforts and the pleasures of life are yours to claim as long as you remain within the confines of doing that which is Right. Having this mindset is what helped me during my time in prison. I enjoyed the ease and tranquility of my heart while also rejoicing in the happiness and prosperity of my neighbor. I decided that I would no longer be a part of the revolving door of recidivism, so I had to begin working on building character starting
with Faith, by first believing that it could be done.

The chains that bind us are best illusions. If we stand and use the power of will, these chains will fall like worthless rags, for Faith is stronger than the stoutest chains man can ever make.

Support Prayer

By Earnest D. Rice-Bey

Hello everyone, I pray all is well with you in your perspective places at home and in business.

During these difficult times we all are doing the best we can to operate as efficiently as possible in our positions of social duties.  When we consider the wants and needs of our clients, we must also remember our own imperfections and acknowledge that we are sons and daughters of humanity honored by God and endowed with the spirit of love and good faith.

We, as  outreach workers are placed in society to tend to the needs of others and to insure a successful reentry into the bands of society. Mutual obligations, protection from injuries, the enjoyments of the comforts and pleasures of life, all these we owe to the assistance of others

It is our duty, therefore, to be a friend to mankind. As the rose breaths its sweetness from its own nature, so the heart of a benevolent person produces good works. I hope everyone is being safe and continue to practice social distancing.  We , the staff here in East St Louis are doing all we can to keep up with files, it has been a little tedious  working from home  and insuring our client’s needs are met but we pull together and we get the job done. There are some magnificent ideas and organizational planning that has been placed on the roster in preparation for the reopening of LSSI/OBK here in our fair city of East St Louis.  We wish you all happiness in enjoying what you do and for the happiness of all men.      Blessing and peace,

Ernest D. Rice-Bey (LSSI/OBK Program Aide)

Re-entry Program is ‘an Outlet for Good’ Ivan Carmona Interview at OBK/LSSI Reentry Opening

By Christopher Orlet, Editor of Messenger, Belleville Diocese

“If it weren’t for the re-entry program I’d be back in jail,” Ivan Carmona says.
Carmona spent seven years behind bars at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mt. Sterling. After his release he prayed he wouldn’t have to return to the streets of south Chicago. “I knew if I went back to Chicago I’d be right back in the same chaos,” he says.
Carmona’s prayers were answered. A social worker hooked him up with a re-entry program in Marion, Lutheran Prisoner and Family Ministry. The result has been life changing.
During those seven years of incarceration, Carmona studied botany and grew vegetables on the prison grounds. Now he grows food for local public schools and food pantries in the food deserts around Cairo as part of a green reentry opportunities program.
Carmona was one of those in attendance May 11 at the opening of a cooperative program that provides reentry services for ex-offenders. The new criminal justice ministry, sponsored by Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois, which organizes re-entry services for the Diocese of Belleville; Lutheran Social Services, and New Life Community Church in East St. Louis, where the program is housed, is an example of three local religious groups coming together to make a difference.
“How fitting that these services are offered at a place called New Life,” says Father Christian Reuter, OFM, who along with Bishop Stanley G. Schlarman, started Our Brothers Keepers of Southern Illinois.
According to Lou Slapshak, OBK secretary, the new ministry connects ex-offenders with vital services that promote successful reintegration back into their community. Ideally, the services will give ex-offenders jobs skills and experience, a support system and a stable life.
“Without these things nearly all who are incarcerated will return to their communities without the necessary help and about half will be locked up within three to five years,” Slapshak says.
According to organizers, ex-offenders meet regularly with an outreach worker to create a plan for their future. All of their life needs are addressed, including employment, education, housing, personal needs and family relations. Services include a 23-day, computer-based program that covers all aspects of employment training, from resume writing to interview skills.

Father Reuter calls prisoner reentry–from death in confinement to freedom in society–one of the pathways to new life. “Reentry ministry makes us midwives for rebirth,” he says.
Meanwhile, Slapshak says Our Brothers Keepers of Southern Illinois is moving forward with plans to build a re-entry home in East St. Louis that will house six ex-offenders who will live as a family. “We’re providing the services first, but we will continue the search for the home,” he says.
Carmona, who has two young daughters, says the program “gave me an outlet to put my energies to something good.”



Inmates Helping Inmates to Read

This success story is about a program develop by Poverty Services of the Diocese of Belleville, IL to provide inmates with reading skills necessary to continue their education. Inmates that are able to read are trained in the reading lesson plans by reading teachers from the local community college. Working with the adult eduction staff at Centralia Correctional Center, inmates who are not able to read at a satisfactory reading level are able to work with trained inmates to assist them to read. The success of the program was realized by Centralia achieving the highest percentage of inmates leaning to read in the State of Illinois. The success of the program is related to the peer to peer trust between the inmate tutor and the inmate student. The outstanding support, encouragement and coordination of the inmate tutors by IDOC staff.

The exceptional inmate tutor training by the local Kaskaskia College and Rend Lake College adult educators. The program is based not only on the tutor aiding a student with his assignments and grading tests, but the tutor also inspires and maintains a student’s will to learn by establishing a tutor/mentor-student relationship.


The Bright Light

By Earnest D. Rice-Bey

In 1976 I was recruited into a gang called The Metro’s, but this particular gang considered themselves an organization as did most gangs to remove the stigma of negativity from themselves. I was seventeen at the time and this was also my first time in prison, I would eventually end up serving two more prison terms for both Armed Robbery and Armed Violence. How I became involved in the street life can only be contributed to the kinds of individuals that I chose to be involved with who would eventually introduce me to the life of alcohol and drugs. I was trapped in a delusionary world of drugs, gangs, fast cars and pretty girls, I was headed down a path of destruction, I thought I was in control but soon I discovered that I was not. One day it happened, I was blinded by this great light, like Paul in the scriptures of the Bible, I also saw this great light that blinded my vision and caused me to humble myself and to view my circumstances from a different perspective.

I was knocked off my high horse and blinded by a light so bright that it was at first beyond my understanding but when my vision returned and time went by, I continued to be convinced that the way I was living my life wasn’t the way God intended so I began to change, slowly and methodically God began to show me what the plan was for my life.

I am here today a transformed individual. By the grace of our higher power I stand before all and boldly speak upon the magnificence of the power that exists within us all to be able to make a difference in the lives of others. We have within us the unlimited capacity for progress but it must be cultivated and nurtured by THE GREAT LIGHT of God our higher power that lies deep within us waiting patiently for us to realize its presence and make a decision just like I did when I chose to join a gang. The choice is yours. Today I am a community activist, I am very active in my community. I am a USA level 1 Boxing coach at Arthur Johnson’s Activity Center in East St. Louis, IL. I am also an outreach worker for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois/OBK – Our Brother’s Keepers of Southern Illinois and we are our brothers’ keeper as well as our sisters’ too. We can’t leave them out. Our women are a very important part of us. I am a former Americorps member also but most importantly I am a youth advocate for all troubled youth, simply because I used to be one of you too. Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom and Justice.

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Helpful Links

Illinois Prison Project

Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition

Waysidecross Prison Ministry/

Catholic Conference of Illinois: Prison and Jail Ministry

Disciple Bible Outreach of IL

St. Leonard's Ministry

Southern Illinois District Prison Ministry

Dismas Ministry

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OBK Reentry Office:
614 N. 7th Street,
East St. Louis, IL

Office Phone: 618-271-7821

Agency Director:
Kirsten Marie Peterson

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