Taking a more moral approach: 15 ex-offenders complete MRT program

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James Bailey of Maple accepts congratulations from officials with Loving Light Community Outreach's Moral Reconation Therapy program upon his graduation from the program during a ceremony at The Mount Church in Elizabeth City, Tuesday. Bailey, 32, was one of 15 ex-offenders who graduated from program Tuesday.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

James Bailey says his life is finally turning around. 

Bailey, 32, got into trouble by violating the state’s law against carrying a concealed weapon. But thanks to Loving Light Community Outreach’s Moral Reconation Therapy program, he’s come to grips with his past and is now thinking more clearly and carefully about his future.

Bailey, of Maple, was among a group of 15 people with prior criminal records who, clad in caps and gowns, graduated Tuesday from Loving Light’s MRT program at a ceremony held at The Mount Church in Elizabeth City.

Moral reconation therapy seeks to decrease recidivism among both juvenile and adult criminal offenders by increasing their moral reasoning. The program follows the tenets of a 12-step program.

Bailey, who never earned a high school diploma, says Loving Light’s MRT program has done a lot for him.

"It's the first time I've actually completed something," he said. “The program helps you look over goals and set your goals for the next few years — and just realize that a lot of the choices that you've been making affect your future."

Bailey said that thanks to Loving Light, he’s already achieved a major short-term goal of putting himself into position to move into a larger home in Moyock. He said he’s also closer to his goal of owning his own housekeeping business.

Originally founded to provide free education and screenings for diabetes and HIV, Loving Light has for the past six years worked with ex-offenders on ways to overcome the barriers that can prevent their successful re-entry into the community. The contractor for the MRT program in the region, Loving Light’s services are funded by N.C. Public Safety's Recidivism Reduction Services.

Loving Light provides a number of services, including employment, education and transportation, as well as parenting classes, to help its clients reintegrate into society. But it says MRT, which features education, group and individual counseling and structured exercises, can help “treatment-resistant” clients learn to “think and make moral judgments about what is right and wrong.”

Loving Light notes that this help is critical to a client’s success.

“As long as clients’ judgments about right and wrong are made from low levels of moral reasoning, counseling them, training them in job skills, and even punishing them will have little insignificantly long-lasting impact on their behavior,” its website states. “They must be confronted with the consequences of their behavior and the effect that it has had on their family, friends and community.”

Another graduate at Tuesday’s ceremony was Kimberly Dowling of Kill Devil Hills.

Dowling, 22, declined to talk in detail about her past, but said she got into trouble by hanging out with the wrong people.

"I knew the road that I was going down wasn't going to get me anywhere," she said.

Dowling said Loving Light’s Moral Reconation Therapy program helped because through it she was able to "evaluate everything in my life and take a step back and think about what is going on my life, and how it's affecting me and how I need to change and fix everything."

Dowling said she’s happy with her current path in life — a path that includes a child: She’s expecting a little girl.

Ronald Brooks, 28, of Kill Devil Hills, said Tuesday’s graduation from MRT marked the second time he’s completed the program. 

"I just slipped back into the same things,” he said.

Brooks said he was convicted of intent to sell and deliver illegal drugs and has been on probation for about six years.

While he regrets not sticking with what he learned during his first exposure to MRT, he believes that failure will actually be helpful to him going forward. 

“It’s helped me learn what not to do this time," he said.