Wednesday, March 29, 2023
AUBURN, Ind. – A visit to the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan was yet another “eye opening” experience for Mayor Mike Ley, as he continues to meet people “where they are at.”
Ley took a portion of his day on Thursday, March 23, 2023, to tour the prison with local resident Don Winsley, who has worked at the facility for the past 25 years. Winsley is head of prisoner skills development at the correctional facility helping inmates as they transition back into society.
Last fall Winsley was presented with the Michigan Department of Corrections Service Award for Service to his country. He served in the Army 1974-78 with the Pershing Nuclear Missile System missile operations and 1978-80 as missile data collection for the Applied Physics Laboratory/John Hopkins University. The honor took into his time with the Michigan Department of Corrections and his service to the Auburn community umpiring Auburn Little League.
Lakeland Correctional Facility Warden Bryan Morrison said it was a great honor to have Mayor Ley visit the facility.
“It was a great honor and testimony for the prisoners at Lakeland Correctional Facility to witness their hard work being acknowledged by Mayor Mike Ley on March 23,” Morrison said.
The tour of a state prison was Ley’s second after touring the Pendleton Correctional Facility and Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility in May 2021. Ley’s visit to Pendleton included a group representing DeKalb County’s law enforcement network. That group included DeKalb Superior Court I Judge Adam Squiller, who started the DeKalb County Addiction Treatment Court in 2021.
Ley has served as a representative on the drug court since its inception, mentoring those individuals taking part in the program in DeKalb County. The program’s mission is to help those with drug related offenses stay out of the prisons and penitentiaries.
“After touring a second facility I am still absolutely convinced we have to do everything we can to keep people out of our prisons and penitentiaries,” Ley said.
Built in 1985 the Lakeland Correctional Facility is a Level II state prison, housing males over the age of 18. The facility provides mainly dormitory-style housing, a contrast to Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana.
During the visit several of the prison’s educational and vocational programs were highlighted including the facility’s food service hospitality management program, giving inmates a chance to earn culinary skills they can utilize upon release.
Led by five-star chef Jimmy Lee Hill the program has been an incentive for thousands of inmates since its inception in 1988. Chef Hill started as the food technology instructor at the prison in 1989 after working as a food service supervisor at another facility for four years. Hill is also one of several chefs preparing food for the Detroit Lions, a position he has held since 2013.
“He (Jimmy Hill) Is a mentor, inspiration, spiritual leader and counselor at times,” Morrison said. “Jimmy comes to work with rehabilitation at the forefront of his agenda, giving his students hope daily. In addition, Jimmy teaches life skills to prisoners taking his food technology course while giving his students a second chance at life.”
The culinary arts program allows selected inmates to train under Hill’s leadership preparing meals that would equal the finest restaurants. As part of the program inmates prepare and serve meals twice a month for those correctional facility employees who wish to partake.
Hill said his students pay close attention to the finer points of cooking and dining.
He said the program allows those inmates who want the opportunity to grow within the walls of the prison to do so.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth in the guys that are here to grow,” Hill said.
The program is all about the journey and keeping inmates accountable for their actions.
As part of the program inmates earn culinary arts certifications that they can take with them upon release. A couple of graduates from the program have gone on to open their own restaurants. Another has taken his skills to locations around the world including Saudi Arabia and France.
Along with bi-weekly meals Hill’s students host an annual food symposium where he invites chefs and industry achievers to spend the day with his class witnessing their cooking and service methods and standards.
Hill said it is programs like his and others offered at the prison that are highly beneficial for those inmates who want to make something of themselves upon release.
“There are a lot of good things that go on inside these walls,” Hill said.
Another one of those programs is one that allows inmates to train dogs from local animal shelters as part of the Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan’s Correctional Companion Program. The program partners inmates with dogs from shelters for an intensive training program. The program brings in 17 dogs at a time into the prison for a 10-week course.
Once the dogs arrive at the complex, they are assigned to specially trained inmates who are responsible for their training and day to day care. Upon completion of the program, the dogs are ready to receive a canine good citizen certificate and are available for adoption into an approved home.
“The specially trained inmates take pride in their training sessions and accomplishments,” Morrison said. “In addition, the RSPM program teaches the dog handlers responsibility and rehabilitation skills. This is a great motivation for other inmates.”
The inmates have trained over 1,000 dogs since its inception. The dogs are carefully screened, fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered as part of the program.
Ley said it is programs like this and others offered at the Lakeland Correctional Facility that are valuable and needed.
“People don’t get rehabilitated through their sentences, it’s these types of programs that are impacting their lives,” Ley said.
Core programming includes violence prevention programming, Thinking for a Change, BRIDGES (domestic violence programming) and advanced substance abuse treatment. Elective programming includes, violence support groups, Cage your Rage and Chance for Life.
Winsley teaches two violence prevention programs, one being a three-month moderate risk program and the other a six-month high-risk program. He also heads a batterers intervention program called the Michigan Domestic Violence Diversion Program.
The prison’s culinary arts program will be highlighted in a documentary to be released later this month entitled “Coldwater Kitchen.” It first premiered in November 2022 at the DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival, held in New York City.
The documentary will be highlighted as part of the Detroit Free Press film festival on April 26 in Detroit. It will also be made available through the Detroit Institute of Arts and available to Michigan residents online through streaming services. For more information about the film visit coldwaterkitchen.film.
“There Is something so valuable to be gained by interacting with people where they are at in their life’s journey,” Ley said in commenting on his visit to the Lakeland Correctional Facility.