Kris Steele - TEEM
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Show 1712: Kris Steele - TEEM
Air Date: March 19, 2017
Rob McClendon: Started in 1987 to help some of Oklahoma’s most marginalized residents, TEEM is a one-on-one mentoring program that helps offenders avoid the mistakes of their past.
Inmate: TEEM – The Education Employment Ministry. I feel love here. You know, I feel at home. Incarcerated, you’ve been incarcerated, they look at you like you’re a nobody, you know. But when you come here, it’s all love. I feel love, you know. It’s a blessing to know that there’s people out there that really care about people like me, or wrecks like me. You know what I’m saying? And as I, you know, found God, he showed me, you know, it’s gonna be OK, you know, just I forgive you. And I’m really starting to fall in love with myself.
Rob: So TEEM has been working with inmates and trying to help them transition back into life for almost three decades now.
Kris Steele: That’s correct. So TEEM is a nonprofit, re-entry based service model in the Oklahoma City area that exists to help prepare individuals to successfully transition into the community and then continue to stay with that individual for 12 months after release to ensure that they have proper support, connect the individuals with a social services within the community that may be necessary for them to achieve stability and continue to make good choices and be able to care for their families in positive, productive and healthy ways.
Rob: In today’s workplace, how important is it for these individuals to have some type of certification or skills training?
Steele: Very important. We’ve been able to develop a relationship with CareerTech which is, I think, as important as any aspect to our service model in that we’re gonna be able to provide the industry-recognized training that will lead to better job opportunities. And we’re matching the trading with the openings that the workforce needs in the Oklahoma City area. For instance, we’re working with the restaurant association to train and prepare individuals to go into the food service industry.
Rob: Helping clients redefine themselves by their skills, talents and passions. Meet John Cook.
John Cook: I’m a prep cook here and you know, I like to make people happy. So I really, I take pride in my food. Well, this last past week, I worked 83 hours both jobs. When I get out I have to start all over, so I gotta, you know, one job’s for me, and one job’s for my son. I know that he’s gonna need a lot of stuff, and then I don’t have nothing. I gotta just keep my head focused on the right thing and get him, and get everything that he needs because, you know, that’s my main goal is to get him in the fastest possible to -- and every picture I see – smiling – and he loves to dance. He gets in his little walker, and the music goes on, and I seen a little video of him just running around and clapping his hands. He’s just always smiling and so that’s why I gave him a nickname A.K. Smiles. Man, if he can smile, I can smile too, you know. And so I get up at 5, and I get to the kitchen, and I have to work till 2, and I have to run back to the center and then check in, check out, be back at Red Pine at 2:30. And then I probably work till about, on weekends till 12:30, 1 o’clock. Get some sleep, like two or three hours, and start over again. TEEM is, man, I think, is a big gift from God, I think really. It gets me emotional sometimes. It kind of makes me tear up when I think about it by myself, just to have people like that in my life. I feel really blessed is to have a family like that. Because they are my family, and I really feel that every single one up there really care about me. And I can see the steps just going into place, man. And TEEM, and TEEM started that, you know. After I went there, I just knew I wasn’t going back to my old place. I just knew there was something good, something new for me out there. They treat you really good here. They’re all about the second chance, and that’s a real big deal to me. It really brought my spirits up about, you know, getting out in society. And knowing that there is a second chance, there is people out there willing to help you. Man, it makes me smile, for real because knowing that we’re, you know, we made a lot of bad choices, you know. And for them not to be judging us and to want to help us, that is just God working in his own ways right there.
Steele: Just because a person has been impacted by incarceration does not mean that the person is not extremely skilled or able to do the work that’s required within the community. In fact, I think at the end of the day, this ultimately becomes an economic development issue because currently what we’re doing and the way that we treat and think about a person who’s been impacted by incarceration, often times we kind of cast that person to the side. And even though they’ve paid their debt and they’ve served their time, once they transition back into the community because of the stigma or because of the, the label if you will of being a convicted felon, they’re often not even given an opportunity to pursue a job opportunity. And I think we’re selling ourselves short in that regard because there’s a lot of talent and there’s a lot of value in, in, that exists within this population of people.
Rob: Now, your background has been in education and in the ministry. This sounds to me like the work that’s been going on in TEEM is truly that Matthew 25:40 – how we treat the least of these.
Steele: It is, and I will tell you that I feel very honored, I feel very privileged to get to work with the men and women that I get to work with. They’re no different than me or you. I tell everybody all the time that I’m very thankful that I’m not known by my worst moment or my worst moments in life. And I don’t think it’s at all fair that we would judge a person whose been impacted by incarceration by his or her worst moment – at least not for life. My faith also causes me to believe that there’s just no such thing as a spare Oklahoman, a spare individual. I think it behooves us all when we can sort of join forces and help an individual reach his or her full potential. And so through working at TEEM and our partner agencies within the community I get to see hope restored and a future renewed, and I get to see what’s deep down in the life of an individual that truly makes them great and sort of help polish that off and help those individuals shine. And these are incredible men and women, they truly are. They’ve overcome some incredible adversity in their life. At the end of the day, their dreams are not a lot of different, not different than mine or yours in that they dream of being a good dad, a good mom. They dream of being a dependable employee. They dream of being a contributing member of society. And they’ve over, they’ve had to deal with some things and overcome some things in order to get to that point. And we’re just trying to help them along that process.
Rob: Yeah, and you’re certainly to be commended for your work that you did in the legislature as speaker of the house and now in the private sector. Kris Steele, thank you so much.
Steele: Thank you very much.