Jose Huerta watched his daughters grow up in pictures.
Huerta served 12 years in a Kansas prison, almost completely disconnected from his family and the outside world.
“That was the hardest thing for me,” Huerta said of his daughters. “Because I missed them so much.”
Since being released in February, Huerta has transitioned into a life outside of prison through the Mentoring 4 Success program, an initiative first envisioned by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
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The program mentors offenders so that they can safely return to the community. Since Mentoring 4 Success began nearly three years ago, the Kansas Department of Corrections has matched more than 4,100 offenders with mentors.
Huerta said he is looking forward to celebrating the 18th birthday of one of those daughters this weekend.
Brownback and Mentoring 4 Success representatives spoke to media Friday morning about their search for more mentors.
“The state of Kansas should feel good about this initiative,” Brownback said. “ (Offenders) need a little love and they need a little hope.”
About 5,000 people are released from prison each year, mentoring director Gloria Geither said.
“Imagine someone not having contact with the outside world for years,” she said, “then being released on their own. Not having anyone to talk to. Not knowing where to begin to make a new way of life.
“A mentor can help that person get connected with the community again.”
After offenders are released from prison, mentors can help them write a resume, get a job and find a place to live. Other times, they just listen, Michael Bussell said.
Bussell is a mentor for Kyle Kelley, who served time for attempted murder before his release eight months ago.
“I get more out of it than Kyle does,” Bussell said. The offenders “know that when we talk, they’re going to throw things at me and I won’t have answers. But I listen. I might throw out a few tools, a few suggestions.”
Since his release, Kelley said he has been living with a brother and sister-in-law. He has a new job with an asphalt company. After the presentation on Friday, a man approached Kelley with a business card, suggesting job opportunities in Phoenix.
“It’s very humbling, having a second chance,” Kelley said. “Because when I went to prison, I didn’t think I would have anything like this. I thought it would be so hard that I wouldn’t be able to get on my feet again.
“This is like a second lease on life for me, really.”