Inmates Buoyed When They Meet Their Match--a Real Pal

Times Staff Writer

Every 10 days or so, Homer Kindschi, 73, spends four to five hours--playing dominoes, checkers and just plain talking--with inmate Clyde Porch, who was sentenced in 1986 to 11 years at Donovan Correctional Facility on Otay Mesa for manslaughter.

"The visit seems like it would be a long time, but when you're doing something you enjoy, it's not a long time," Kindschi, of La Mesa, said.

Kindschi is a volunteer in the M-2, or "Match Two," Prisoner Outreach Program, an 18-year-old statewide program in its second year in San Diego. The program matches inmates with volunteers to act as role models, help increase their self-esteem and--more importantly--to just be friends.

"One-third of all inmates are forgotten, and the person thrown away is most likely to fail," said Barry Lord, San Diego director of M-2.

"There are currently 80,000 inmates in the (state prison) system. There will be 110,000 by the year 1990, and they will come out worse than when they went in. Approximately 98% of all inmates are going to get out. The question is, what are they going to be like when they get out?"

About 72% of the parolees are going to fail when they are released from prison, Lord said, "but if they have an M-2 volunteer, according to statistics in a 1987 report given to the California Department of Corrections, more than 61% succeed."

The basis for befriending prisoners is because "They'll be back," warned Sam Huddleston, an ex-felon-turned-minister and president of the M-2 program. "Prison has a way of eating your self-esteem. . . . We want to make the community a better place to live by changing the lives of prisoners before they come back."

The program, begun in 1971, operates in 35 prisons throughout California and has matched more than 32,000 inmates with M-2 volunteers, Lord said. There are 150 volunteers in San Diego's program, which costs about $50,000 to run at Donovan.

About 70% is paid for by the state; the rest comes from corporations, churches and individuals who are interested in reducing crime, Lord said.

Based on Bible

"The concept of M-2 really began in the Bible, 2,000 years ago," Lord said. "In the first chapter of 2 Timothy, Verse 16, it speaks of Oneisiphorus, who searched the sewers of Rome diligently to find Paul the Apostle, who was imprisoned. God commands us not to leave them in prison and rot but to visit them. (M-2) is not a religious outreach, but it's based on Christian concepts."

The vast majority of the volunteers are Christians, but in befriending a prisoner, Lord said, "We don't beat him over the head with a Bible; there's no jamming of religion down anybody's throat. We tell volunteers to just walk, who you are, in front of him. He will see who you are."

The M-2 volunteers are from all professions: doctors, attorneys, plumbers, carpenters, retired men and pastors, from age 22 to 87, Lord said. He recruits them from various community organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, churches and other men's organizations.

For now, there is only a men's outreach in San Diego, but Lord said he and his wife, Peggy, are laying the groundwork for a women's outreach that might be in operation soon. There are about five women's programs in the state.

Lt. Sandy O'Neill, administrative assistant to the superintendent at Donovan, said M-2 is "very worthwhile and working very well at Donovan. It offers a lot to inmates who are confined, who have no one to visit them and gives them a positive influence from the community."

O'Neill said she has seen the program's success when she worked at the California Institution for Men at Chino and at the California Rehabilitation Center at Norco.

"I can't say I've seen dramatic personality changes, but by having someone come in to visit, it provides a different recreation from someone who's positive from the community and who will provide support when they are paroled."

Kindschi, a retired custodial supervisor from the San Diego Unified School District, joined M-2 in December, 1987, after Lord made a video presentation about the program at his church.

'Knew It Was Lonely'

"I just had the desire to meet someone who needed a visitor," Kindschi said. "I knew what the place was like, and I knew it was lonely."

The general criterion for prisoners who apply to participate in the program is that they have been abandoned by their family and friends.

For this reason, volunteers are carefully screened and trained before being matched with one of Donovan's 3,248 inmates, Lord said. "We don't want prisoners already deserted by the world to then be deserted by the volunteers. The volunteer walks in when the world walks out."

The volunteers receive extensive training, which includes orientation seminars and learning listening skills. There is also ongoing supervision and support groups.

Kindschi was matched with Porch and met with him almost every week for six months, until he had open-heart surgery after a stroke in June.

"Now, I go about every 10 days," Kindschi said. "I think so much of Clyde; I just want to give him all the time I can."

He sends Porch books to read and writes to him regularly.

"When he gets out, I'll do what I can to help him find a job. . . . I'll try to keep in contact."

Porch, 35, has been serving an 11-year sentence for manslaughter since 1986, when he stabbed a man to death during a fight at his job in Los Angeles. He hopes he will only have to serve five years, and he is working as an educational porter at the prison school to cut his time. He wants to earn an associate's degree in general studies from Southwestern College and is also thinking about going into the ministry when he is released.

Wants to Volunteer Some Day

Nicknamed "Preacher" by his friends, Porch said the program is great but there aren't enough sponsors.

"I made myself honorary M-2 coordinator for my building," Porch said proudly. "I know 50 inmates who want friends, and I want to be a volunteer in the program when I get out."

Porch said he and Kindschi get along so well because they both share the same commitment to God.

"I wanted a Christian visitor. I just figured I'd get along better with a Christian. This program lets me know somebody cares about me, no matter where I go. That makes me feel good; everybody has to have somebody."

Volunteers admit that there is bound to be some apprehension, felt by both inmate and volunteer, when meeting their matches for the first time.

Paul Smith, a 35-year-old fire captain at the Imperial Beach Fire Department, said that when he first visited his match, "I was a little apprehensive. Everybody is on both sides of the table. People say to me, 'Why do you go to see these lunatics? They're not worth bothering with.' And even I didn't know what to expect, but he was a regular guy. He just made a mistake."

Volunteer Norm Graham, 50, of Lakeside said his first response to visiting his match was "fear and trepidation . . . of the unknown. I wondered, How do you handle this? I wondered, Is he a con artist? We often feel that if we put our hand out to help someone, it's going to get bitten."

But after three months, Graham, a self-employed businessman, was so comfortable he brought his wife with him to meet his match, Vernon DeMoss.

Friendship a Key

"It's a good experience for the whole family," he said. "The basis is helping a man get his life back together through friendship."

DeMoss is now like a member of the family, and calls them frequently.

DeMoss, who is serving the fourth year of a five-year burglary sentence, said the program has helped inmates he has known stay out of prison once they get out.

"It's the best thing that's ever happened out here," DeMoss said. "Everyone I've known who's been involved in M-2 hasn't come back."

Graham, like Kindschi, joined M-2 after seeing a presentation by Lord. He visits DeMoss about three times a month, three to four hours each a time.

DeMoss said that having an M-2 sponsor has helped him to change his opinion of himself and the potential for his life.

"I didn't feel like I had a chance," DeMoss said. "But I figured, if they care, maybe I've got a chance."

"They're taking time out of their lives to make other lives better--through companionship, through becoming friends. They don't just drop the relationship when he's free. We're lifetime friends now. After M-2, I'll eat out of garbage cans, I'll sleep under bridges before I come back to prison."

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