Director Scott R. Frakes is commending the work of 18 men who are the first inmates in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) to achieve international certifications in the Intentional Peer Support Program. Frakes joined Warden Michele Wilhelm and Kasey Moyer, director of the Nebraska Mental Health Association (MHA), in a graduation ceremony at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on August 12.

Speaking before invited guests, Frakes told participants, “You took on a huge responsibility. You have signed on with the commitment to provide service to others. It’s the most satisfying work you can do in this life, but it is not easy. I am proud of you.”

NDCS partnered with MHA to bring the Intentional Peer Support Program into the penitentiary as a pilot program. A majority of the participants completed 80 hours of training, in order to achieve the international certification. The program is based on establishing mutual trust and respect and pairing up individuals who have similar experiences as a way to tackle issues related to mental health, addiction, trauma and other life challenges.

“Trained specialists are able to assist others when they are struggling and help to guide them through tough times,” explained Warden Wilhelm. “One of our graduates recently entered community corrections. He will be able to take the skills he learned and apply them to that environment. Ultimately, it would be ideal if our graduates chose to continue their service once they are released, by helping other people who are transitioning from incarceration into the community.  “We all have goals and ambitions and we’ve all made mistakes,” said graduate Todd Cook. “Peer support lets us look through a lens of hope and lets us show each other ways to improve our lives together.”

Director Frakes said he is excited about the program and where it will go next. Currently, peer specialists are being trained at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI).

“We do this for our population,” said graduate Ron O’Neill. “We do this for the community as well because these men will be returning there one day.”

“Their efforts truly increase the safety for our staff, the population and the community,” added Wilhelm. ”Those who graduated underwent an application process, interviews and many hours of training. They want to help their peers and can do so by demonstrating respect, shared responsibility, and a mutual agreement of what is helpful.”

During the ceremony, Director Frakes presented a proclamation from Governor Pete Ricketts making August 12, 2019 Intentional Peer Support Recognition Day.