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STAR Center offers path to new life

Franklin Furnace — Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it.”

But Ford was never sentenced to STAR Community Justice Center, where residents are, quite literally, “Thinking for a Change.”

“STAR explains to residents that their best thinking led them here in the first place,” Executive Director Eddie Philabaun explained. “If they can let go of their pride and ego, and open their minds to new, positive ways of thinking, their likelihood of re-offending will be low.”

Breaking ground on Jan. 5, 2000, under the watchful eye of Dan Hieronimus, STAR opened its doors in 2002 to the common pleas courts of nine surrounding counties as a therapeutic community or TC.

According to Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Charles Cooper, the facility offers a low-cost alternative to punishment for non-violent adult male and female offenders and places a predominant emphasis on improving decision-making skills.

“By far, the best attribute of STAR is its statistics of success (in deterring crime recidivism),” Cooper said. “It is also financially easier on Ohio’s taxpayers. The cost to house offenders at STAR is approximately $8,500, compared to $26,000 when they are sentenced to prison.”

Those confined in this minimum security “TC Family” are referred to as “residents”, not “inmates”; and respect for self and others is a requisite theme.

Upon admission to STAR, new residents are immediately thrust into the spotlight. Each new resident conducts a “Who am I?” question-and-answer presentation and must then be voted into the TC family.

Once accepted, the new resident is assigned a gender-specific “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” to assist them with the myriad of regulations, standards and treatment tools they will be expected to learn during their stay.

“STAR provides residents with all the treatment tools they need to be a productive citizen once released,” Philabaun insisted, noting that it is the responsibility of each resident to use these tools to improve their lives.

“However,” he continued, “if they choose to hold on to their old behaviors and attitudes, they will soon find themselves in a worse place than STAR; I’m not talking about prison, I’m talking about six feet under.”

The following morning, their first full day of a possible 180 at STAR, new residents begin a crash course in something they may have never before experienced.

STRUCTURE

Feet on the Floor, the beginning of the TC day, arrives at 5:30 each morning, excluding Sunday, which begins at 7 a.m. Feet off the Floor, bedtime, is at 10 p.m. The 16-plus hours that fall in between, whether spent in peer meetings, behavior modification and/or GED classrooms, groups or work service, are strictly scheduled and rigorously monitored.

“Most of the people we see in court have never had structure in their lives,” said assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson. “STAR provides them the opportunity to learn how to live a productive life by challenging the way they think.”

While structure is a way of life at STAR, it is also the name of the first of four phases of commitment.

Clad in yellow phase shirts, the newly oriented Structure residents are expected to study diligently for roughly thirty days in order to pass two tests, one written and one oral, covering the extensive program content. Once they demonstrate a working knowledge of STAR principles, the residents begin another new experience.

THERAPY

“Therapy is the science of right thinking,” states the STAR philosophy for this phase, which is repeated by residents numerous times, in unison, each day. “I am responsible for maintaining my own pro-social attitudes.”

The blue phase shirts in Therapy Phase allude to the resident beginning to hold him/herself accountable for detrimental behaviors and thinking of alternative ways to handle problem situations.

“In Therapy Phase we want to see significant progress, so the residents are tested on a daily basis through learning experiences, treatment plans and assignments, groups, classes, role-plays, etc,“ Philabaun said.

Cooper added, “STAR provides therapy and tests daily to ensure that residents are not just memorizing what they are taught, but are internalizing the teachings.”

ADVOCACY

Positive actions are beginning to be the norm for the resident at this stage.

Issued a green phase shirt to signify continued progress in the program, Advocacy Phase residents are learning how to give respect to others while earning it for themselves.

Residents in this phase have successfully completed at least two individualized treatment plans and are becoming role models to the other family members.

They have learned the value of living life by the Golden Rule, which is the vital lesson necessary to reach phase four.

RESTORATION

Freedom is on the horizon in Restoration Phase, but not a guarantee.

Members of this phase must consistently uphold the rules and regulations of the community, be strong role models and demonstrate a desire, possibly for the first time in their lives, to be productive citizens.

These family members have absorbed considerable knowledge during their stay at STAR; now, it’s time to put that knowledge into action.

Speaking of knowledge, sentencing courts recognize the impact the STAR program can have in a former criminal’s life.

“In some ways, the STAR process can be described as miraculous,” Cooper said. “They take broken human beings and assist them in getting their lives back on track.”

THINKING FOR A CHANGE

STAR’s approach to rehabilitation offers a variety of behavior modification and educational programming, including courses in anger management, parenting and relationships, relapse prevention, substance abuse, reintegration, and NA/AA groups.

The flagship of behavior modification courses, however, is appropriately entitled Thinking for a Change.

This course, developed by the National Institute of Corrections, is a 22 section journey into dissecting the most basic of thoughts.

Once broken down, these thoughts are rebuilt on a stronger foundation.

Trauma classes and a multitude of group therapy sessions, overseen by staff, are also conducted for the benefit of each individual resident.

And STAR, courtesy of the dedicated teachings of Janet Travis, has one of the most successful GED programs in the state of Ohio.

BEGINNING A NEW LIFE

Looking back on their stay at STAR, many residents note that the structured environment was initially difficult to grasp.

Unlike prison, where huge chunks of each day are spent simply passing time in a cell, STAR requires discipline, initiative, responsibility, honesty and accountability.

Once they take hold of these and other core values, however, life at STAR becomes less about being uncomfortable and more about being confident.

Like Cooper, Philabaun spoke of broken lives and the miraculous recoveries he has personally witnessed in his nine years at STAR.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle to observe a broken human being, who has suffered from every type of abuse imaginable, get their life back on track and become not only a good person that has always been there hidden behind the abuse, but also a law abiding citizen.”

Then he added his most emphatic point:

“You don’t have to be smart to make it through the STAR program, you have to be determined.”

And that leads back to Henry Ford, who unwittingly stated the STAR mantra decades ago when he said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”