- Associated Press - Saturday, December 23, 2017

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Ten years into his 15-year sentence, Luke Lloyd had no desire to leave prison.

“I’m doing great in prison,” he said, recalling his thoughts three years ago. He had friends and a job he liked building furniture. “I had it made.”

Lloyd was locked up for raping a 5-year-old girl. He was originally charged with sexual intercourse without consent, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of sexual assault.

He got accustomed to prison, and when he was up for early parole he figured he’d be better off behind bars, finishing out his sentence. He’d only leave prison when he had to, and not before.

In prison, he at least had a sure place to live. Outside prison, finding dependable housing, especially for sex offenders like Lloyd, is a constant struggle. Landlords are justifiably leery, and many won’t rent to convicts. And with jobs scarce for ex-cons, many can’t put together the rent money plus deposit needed to get into an apartment. Many wind up living in week-to-week hotels, homeless shelters, or their cars.

That’s more than just a problem for them. Without stable housing, numerous studies show that ex-cons are more likely to reoffend, and that’s a problem for communities.

Soon Lloyd heard about a place in Billings, Adullam House, that takes in sex offenders like him. Instead of getting out on his own and looking for a place to live, he’d be guaranteed a bed. That couldn’t be underestimated.

So he decided he wanted in. The house program director agreed, and the parole board signed off on the placement.

Lloyd left prison in April 2014, and has since stayed sober, gotten a full-time job as a manager at a fast food restaurant, and moved into his own house, which he sublets from the Adullam House. He credits the program with his post-prison stability.

Soon Lloyd heard about a place in Billings, Adullam House, that takes in sex offenders like him. Instead of getting out on his own and looking for a place to live, he’d be guaranteed a bed. That couldn’t be underestimated.

So he decided he wanted in. The house program director agreed, and the parole board signed off on the placement.

Lloyd left prison in April 2014, and has since stayed sober, gotten a full-time job as a manager at a fast food restaurant, and moved into his own house, which he sublets from the Adullam House. He credits the program with his post-prison stability.

ADULLAM HOUSE

The Adullam House opened on Billings’ South Side in early 2012 - one of the first in a wave of sober living houses to open in Billings.

There are now a handful of such homes in the city, often with live-in managers who earn no salary for their work. They might stay in the house rent-free and work an outside job to make a living, treating the residents of the house as family and adhering to the idea that a well-connected community of ex-addicts with shared struggles is the best path to sobriety.

Adullam’s model is similar, operating on a shoestring budget without grants or public funds. People stay for as many months as they need, with the idea of eventually moving out on their own and living independently.

Due to a shortage of offender-friendly housing in a city that receives its fair share of parolees, the sober living programs expand when possible - leasing out new houses that fill up quickly.

But in a few ways, Adullam is different.

While the house caters to people with violent or sexual criminal history, the folks running the house have no such past. Instead it’s managed by a live-in married couple who, in middle age, saw it as their God-given mission to share a roof with murderers and rapists, treat them as family, and resort to personal savings to keep the financially struggling program afloat.

Cottrell, Adullam’s program director, has never been to prison, but he’s no stranger to adversity. Growing up in Cleveland, he lost several family members at a young age, lived on the streets, and became addicted to drugs - meth, crack, heroin, “whatever,” he said. He has since become sober and deeply religious.

Ken and his wife, Jody, moved to Billings in 2001, when Jody was transferred from Seattle for her work at a shoe company. Adullam leases out various houses, including one for women.

Adullam serves a key demographic - sex offenders - who have the hardest time finding stable housing. Prerelease centers are reluctant to take them. Many sober living houses won’t, due to geographic restrictions on where sex offenders can live. The Montana Rescue Mission takes only lower-level offenders on a case-by-case basis at the men’s shelter and has a blanket ban on them - and on violent offenders - at the women’s shelter.

Adullam’s numbers show relative success: While 57 percent of offenders statewide made no return to a correctional program within three years of release from prison, 66 percent of Adullam’s men and women have done so. That number includes residents who stayed at Adullum for only a few days, after other housing plans fell through.

Money is a constant challenge for the organization. House residents pay $350 a month in rent, but no one gets turned away if they can’t pay. When the nonprofit comes up short on money for monthly bills, program members pray for help.

In calendar year 2017, the program would have been roughly $9,000 in debt if not for a cash infusion in July of roughly $20,000. That was money Cottrell took out of his retirement account, draining it and paying a tax penalty in the process.

The program can house 27 men at a time, with space for five additional men through sublease arrangements. Seven women live at the Butterfly House, a similar program for women that started two years ago.

THE SHOCK OF RE-ENTRY

Most house rules are basic: No overnight guests. No drugs or alcohol. Abide by a 10 p.m. curfew, or give notice if you’ll be out later.

But the house is full of men who’ve been behind bars for decades, and some structure and authority is necessary.

For instance, once when the Cottrells left for a rare weekend away, someone living in the house broke into the petty cash kept in the house office and stole $1,000. The money was never recovered.

“We are working with a population that you get burned a lot,” Cottrell said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s difficult.”

Emotional and social support is a big focus of the program. Cottrell said you can’t teach those skills - you can only warn people about the shock of getting out.

For example, a man who worked his way up the food chain in prison, had the top maintenance job and enjoyed status behind bars landed a dishwashing job upon release and now his boss is half his age.

Or a man sits down at a restaurant and sees, at the next table over, a woman the age of his ex-wife, or a man the age of his son, and he is struck with the sudden realization he’s lost decades of his life.

“It’s not unusual for a man to be in a back room on his third or fourth day and cry and ask to go back to prison,” Cottrell said.

A NEIGHBOR’S SUPPORT

Plenty of neighbors are unaware of the Adullam house, but most who know of it expressed support.

Toni Banister, who has lived next door to the main Adullam house for three years, supports the program and has grown to trust the men who live there.

Some of the residents offered to help her unload furniture when she moved in. Another made sure to warn her about a recent break-in at a house across the street. And she once gave a spare key to one of the men so he could let in a cable company worker scheduled to arrive while Banister was at work.

Asked if she’d ever had misgivings about living next door to a house full of violent and sexual offenders, she was firm.

“No, never,” she said. “Not at all. I’m glad that there are places like this for people like that.”

___

Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com


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