A “Second City” Second Chance: Returning, Not Recidivating

by Stephanie Zerweck
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Lougwin Spann entered HBI’s program at Sheridan Correctional Center, in Sheridan, Ill., in 2014, during a three-year prison term. The Chicago native returned to the facility on September 12, 2019—this time to speak before a congregation of government, church and business leaders, and later in the day, current program participants themselves, about his successful completion of the center’s drug rehabilitation and HBI residential construction trades programs and current employment as a roofer. Having exchanged the title of “inmate” for that of “guest” as part of the facility’s open house, Spann acknowledged the visibility on the road to this change didn’t begin so clearly.

Photo by Joe Hoffman, Hoffman Media Inc.

Finding Shelter at HBI

Spann said, at HBI, he found an environment in which he could thrive.

“Everything that helped me get to where I had to go, I did it,” said Spann. “HBI, Mr. Ricky, Ms. Bonnie, Mr. Eike, they were there. Chief Robinson was there for me, you know, this whole institution gave me an opportunity- Well, it gave me- It gave me a kick-start.”

At the HBI program, Spann said, he was offered continuity in that he had everything to work with, the same as he would be working with out in the world. The program also uniquely encouraged the growth of his confidence through in his performance and ability to help other students.

”You’re working with saws, you’re working with tape measures–you’re working with all different types of tools,” said Spann. “That’s pretty much all I’ve did all my life is work with my hands, and they gave me an opportunity to come inside and do that.”

However, Spann stressed that just because HBI offered a supportive environment, it wasn’t easy.

“Don’t think that you’re going to run out and kick-it with your guys, ‘cuz you’re at HBI,” said Spann. “No, no, no, no, no, they didn’t play that. You either want it or you can move on.”

Spann looks forward to others replicating his success.

“It could help a lot of guys who want it, said Spann. “[.…] You come in here, you see all the staff members and whatnot trying to help you. It could help them, besides just being locked away all day. It’d be a chance to get out and learn something. Cutting wood—some guys may enjoy cutting wood now. So, now, they’re going to go home and take their HBI certificate and OSHA that Mr. Eike and Ms. Bonnie wrote up for them and [a potential employer might say] ‘oh, you been gone a little while, but you been doing something, huh? And Give him a shot.”

According to HBI President and CEO Ed Brady, the industry has 350,000 vacancies to be able to do just that.

Sheathing Before Shingling

Now a union roofer for Knickerbockers, the second largest roofing company in the State of Illinois, Spann was quick to respond, “the pay,” when asked about his favorite thing about his current job. According to him, the key difference between his final incarceration and times previous was the intentionality of his steps and mindset, formed by his desire to succeed.

“I was received with open arms, because the guy that left wasn’t the guy that came back. My behavior in the past on the roofing was a “ground zero.” My behavior today on my job is way up and plus, because I have some positive thinking. I think positive about my job, I treasure my job.”

Not even his first post-Sheridan position, before working for Knickerbocker, Spann was employed at General Motors in 2015 as a forklift operator—a multi-feat of employment not typically easy for those identified as having a criminal record.

“I had the opportunity in 2004, I just didn’t apply the right principles to keep going,” said Spann of the training he received. “But, when I got here to Sheridan in 2012, I was burnt up, I was done. I needed help. I found help being here for three years and I took it. And now, not being [at Sheridan], I use it every day.”

With a passion to save lives, once he’s done with roofing, Spann wants to help counsel Sheridan residents, like those in HBI’s residential construction trades program, as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (CADAC).

“Who can talk about recovery more than me? I’ve been there, I done it. But, when you come in a program where you can get help and you try it on, and you want it–you’ve got to want it from your gut—and you want it, it’ll pan out just fine, yes it will.”

Spann emphasized that he’s not alone at his current height of successful thinking or career placement.

“There’s a lot of guys out there doing well,” said Spann. “It just so happened that I was one of them who stayed in contact with Sheridan. A lot of guys go out and just say, ‘forget it, I’m doing good.’ That’s cool too, on their level. But, on my level, I stayed in contact with the HBI people. They helped me out. Some students who go out and don’t do what they’re supposed to do, but the ones who come in here, such as myself, there are more of us out there.”