"Thinking for a Change" probation program looks to help criminal offenders

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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - Nearly a dozen people on probation were honored for completing a simple, but possibly life-changing course Thursday

Ten men attended the final lesson and graduation ceremony for a "Thinking for a Change" class at Marietta Municipal Court.

"It’s going to help me a lot," one of the participants said. "It’s changed my way of thinking,"

All of the participants are on probation for past offenses ranging from crimes of drugs to crimes of anger. Each was celebrated for completing a two-month class, based on a national program.

"It teaches them how to pause before reacting," class teacher Shay Dunn said, "and how to weigh out your choices with your consequences, so it just literally teaches them to think before they react."

"Us being able to teach like how to actively listen or how to apologize is very beneficial," teacher Abby Craft said.

Alphonso Johnson came into the class after struggling with anger issues and says it has really helped him to be more understanding and patient.

"Is the risk worth the consequence," he sad, "and 90 percent of the time, the consequence is not worth it, so you know I, the biggest tool I’ve learned literally is weighing the risk and thinking about other people’s feelings. Sometimes I didn’t think about other people’s feelings. I was very selfish."

The students say they can be open to Craft and Dunn because their past struggles with the law make them perfect for teaching the class.

"They’ve been through it themselves," Johnson said. "I’m pretty sure Abby and Shay, they shared their experience. I think they been to prison. They’ve been to jail, so it hits home because they’ve been through it. They’re walking testaments."

Johnson added when he started the class, it was just to get out of jail and he didn’t really care about his fellow classmates. But now, he sees them all as friends.

“When I first started I could care less about what they guys ate or drank," he said, "but now I’d give these guys the shirt off my back…these are my brothers now.”

Each person’s willingness to share and adapt is something Johnson says can show people that even someone who broke the law can change.

"Some of us have violated, reoffended, some of us are first time offenders, but we’re not done," Johnson said. "We’re not out. Don’t count us out. Just because there’s classes like this that will rebuild us, bring us back up and rehabilitate."

"And again, you can teach an old dog new tricks because we’re walking testaments of it."

"I hope they learn that they’re worth so much," Dunn said, "that they can do anything they put their mind to and it’s possible to change and to be successful."