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The crisis of a mother’s incarceration

Dawn Beichner

Dawn Beichner

By Sarah McCullough

Imagine a courtroom filled with people. The judge and lawyers are handling cases rapidly and defendants parade in and out one by one. Now imagine a woman who approaches the judge to receive a sentence in her case. Her children are sitting in the front row accompanied by their grandmother. After speaking to the judge, she is sentenced to 180 days in the county jail. She is led out of the courtroom without an opportunity to speak to her children, or say goodbye. They cry out for their mother, but are whisked away without understanding what is happening. In this case, the children will not see their mother again until she is released.

In McLean County, cases like this are typical. According to McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery, the jail is not as overcrowded as it has been, but there is high turnover among inmates and a high demand for beds. While visitation is allowed, the Inmate Handbook states families are only given 15 minutes to reconnect.

“Children who are away from their mother experience an immediate crisis,” said Dawn Beichner, an associate professor in the Criminal Justice Sciences department at Illinois State University. “This crisis is different when the mother is in jail as opposed to prison.”

Beichner and her team of researchers are looking into ways to introduce a program to help reunite these families – something McLean County lacks.

The only area facility that has a special program for mothers and children is the Decatur Correctional Center. “The (Decatur) program is wildly successful and achieves family reunification goals on a zero dollar budget. This program is the best available in the United States,” said  Beichner. The program has a zero dollar budget because it operates entirely on donations and volunteers. The facility has a nursery wing in a separate area of the facility that houses both mothers and babies.

Through interviews with current inmates and women who have been released, Beichner and her team are seeking solutions to help mothers become stronger and more reliable after their release. She envisions a short weekend program could be developed with activities that would involve both the mothers and their children.

“Depending on the age of the children, we will probably try to develop something dealing with the children’s loss, fear and anxiety,” said Dr. Beichner. The program may also help by providing mothers materials as they are released.

Through her work at the Decatur Correctional Center, Beichner said she has found women who participate in the family reunification program are glad to have the opportunity and see it as a privilege.

“Mothers are using all of their available resources to make the best of the program and have developed a network, or team, environment because they are all going through the same struggles,” said Beichner.

While a program structured this way may not be possible at the McLean County Jail, social programs can help. “Mothers can have a meaningful relationship with the people in their children’s lives. It’s not as easy as mothers have it on the other side, but it is being done,” said Beichner.

Although the main focus of the study is finding ways to maintain the bond between mothers and children, there are other goals the study hopes to accomplish. By interviewing the mothers, Beichner and her team are able to determine if other issues impact the mother being incarcerated. These factors could be substance abuse, previous child abuse or even previous sexual abuse. “There is so much overlap between someone’s victimization, their addiction, and then their criminal offending,” said Beichner.

A local program called Stepping Stones, assists female inmates who have endured abuse in the past. Stepping Stones is associated with YWCA and runs programs both inside and outside of the jail.

“Incarceration poses a lot of problems and creates a lot of consequences,” said Beichner. Once the study determines how many children are impacted by their mother’s detention, then a program can be built to fit their needs.

Beichner and her team are always looking for volunteers who want to contribute or get involved in the study. Participation is not limited to Criminal Justice majors; all majors are welcome. There may also be opportunities for course credit depending on the rules of each program. If you are interested in getting involved, you may contact Beichner at 309-438-8278 or by email at dmbeich@illinoisstate.edu.

Long-distance father, husband, Marine returns

The Rinkenberger family. from left. Kyle, Kaylee, Hayden and Ashleigh.

The Rinkenberger family. from left. Kyle, Kaylee, Hayden and Ashleigh.

By Julia Evelsizer
Kyle Rinkenberger felt the tears welling in his eyes. He clutched the phone to his ear while tired Marines, eager to call home, began lining up behind him. He was in Iraq, while 6,500 miles away, in North Carolina, his wife Ashleigh was in labor. Suddenly, she was pushing. Rinkenberger listened as his first child, Kaylee, came into the world, took her first breath and let out a cry.

Kaylee, now 8, sits on her dad’s lap hiccuping and sniffling. Her dad Kyle hugs her close, comforting her after a bite of cheese pizza went down the wrong pipe, startling her. “You’re OK, that happens,” whispers Kyle. “I do that sometimes, too. I just shovel all my food in at once and can’t get it down.” Kaylee giggles through her tears and returns to her own seat to finish her slice of pizza.

Kaylee, describes her dad as loving. His wife Ashleigh calls him determined. Another title besides husband and father Rinkenberger holds, is Marine Corps veteran. This title was not something he expected to carry at the age of 18.

Rinkenberger was born in 1986 and grew up in Pekin with his parents, Patt and Bill, and three siblings. In eighth grade, he and his family moved to Bloomington. He grew up loving sports and the outdoors. “I always wanted to be a baseball player when I was little,” said Rinkenberger. “And at one point a priest, because I loved being the altar boy in church.”

During his senior year at Normal West High School, Kyle met his wife Ashleigh.
“He begged for my number and then didn’t call for months,” she said.
“I was cleaning my room a while later and I found her number,” said Kyle. “I remember it was written in blue highlighter, and I spelled her name right. I remember those little details, but I can’t even remember where our first date was.”

With no plans for college, Rinkenberger went straight from high school to boot camp.
“I graduated high school in 2003 on Friday and left for boot camp that Sunday. I was a screwup and I knew the Marines would fix that.” His family, as well as Ashleigh were proud of his decision and supported him completely.

The couple married a year later on March 20, 2004. Ashleigh was 19, Kyle was 18. “I used the $800 in my college fund to buy her a ring,” said Kyle. A few months later, Ashleigh was pregnant, and Kyle was deployed.

The couple has lived in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona for the eight years he has been in service. While his pregnant wife stayed at home in the states, Kyle was overseas in the Al-Taqqadam airbase in Iraq. Better known as “TQ” by the troops, TQ is located 46 miles west of Baghdad. Taqqadam is the Arabic word for “progress.” Kyle’s work included piloting unmanned aerial vehicles. UAVs are used in special operations surveillance, or for work that is too dull, dirty or dangerous for manned aircraft.

Being a young, freshly married man in the military was tough. Maintaining his relationship with Ashleigh, as well as not being there when his first child was born,
did not come easy for the Marine.

Ashleigh worked hard to raise Kaylee on her own while Kyle was deployed. “The hardest part was having a long-distance husband and father for Kaylee,” she said. “But the pride of knowing what my husband was doing for our country made it easier to make it through each tour.”

While being away from his wife and newborn baby was hard, the darker elements of war weren’t easy either. “The two hardest days of being in the service were finding out a close friend of mine had died in combat and attending his funeral,” said Kyle.

Besides the hardships, he never once regretted becoming a Marine. “The best part was knowing that my work was a part of something greater and that I was helping fix a problem,” he said.“But anyone who wants to go into the military and make it out in one piece should remember to always shut up, listen and do what they’re told.”

While serving in Iraq a total of four times, Kyle and his fellow troops made stops in other countries including Ireland, Iceland, Germany, Romania and Kuwait. “I had a Guinness in Ireland,” said Kyle. “At the airport in Romania, we all hopped off the plane for a quick snowball fight. It was heaven after living in the desert for a year.”

In 2009, Kyle was stationed in Fort Huachuca, Ariz. He was able to witness the birth of his son, Hayden, on Jan. 4, 2010. “I almost passed out watching Ash get the epidural,” said the Marine.

After serving for eight tough years, Kyle made the decision to leave the Corps in order to spend more time with his growing family. The Rinkenbergers moved to Stanford in November 2012. Kyle is done serving, and is now proudly a Marine veteran. When Ashleigh asked Kaylee if she was ready to no longer be a military family, Kaylee replied, “We will always be a military family, and I will always love The Marines.”

Like many veterans, Kyle is currently working to find a job that makes him happy and provides for his family. Shortly after moving to Stanford, he earned a job at Randstad with State Farm. After working in an office for a year. Kyle knew computer work wasn’t for him, so he now hopes to attend classes at Heartland Community College as soon as possible.

“I never saw myself working an office job, but it happened,” he said. “After getting a degree under my belt, I’m hoping to snag something where I can work with my hands.” Kyle’s hobbies prove that he is a hands-on type of guy. He enjoys hunting, being outdoors, dirt bikes and woodworking.

After nine years and four tours of duty filled with much pride and pain, he says he will always be a U.S. Marine. But Kyle is happy to be a permanent and stationary part of his family’s life now.

Four-year-old Hayden, whom Kyle affectionately calls ‘pup’ runs up to his dad and plops a wad of purple Play-Doh in his palm, asking for Kyle to form a ball. He rolls the Play-Doh between his hands, smiling at his son, revealing dimples in both cheeks.

“I love being alive,” he said. “I don’t care how cliche that sounds. I am happy.”

Center stage leader provides big-name entertainment for ISU

Jenna Cusumano, senior journalism major and center stage chairperson at University Program Board.

Jenna Cusumano, senior journalism major and center stage chairperson at University Program Board.

By Olivia Gilbertsen

NORMAL – Adrenaline and excitement is what Jenna Cusumano chases. The roar of the crowd and the shaking of the floor from an eager audience awaiting the next celebrity guest is what keeps Cusumano going, she says. It makes all of her hard work worthwhile.

Cusumano is the center stage chairperson at the University Program Board (UPB) on-campus. Her main duties include planning large-scale events – such as a concert by All-American Rejects in 2012 – that draw big audiences to Illinois State University.

As a child, Cusumano always loved music. She looked up to her sister, who is 10 years, her senior, and copied her sister’s latest music obsessions, including the 1990s boy band craze. Her parents also pushed her to read and write as a child. This is where the blending of journalism, her college major, and her dreams for career began.

“I have been studying journalism since I was a freshman in high school . . . my dream was always to write for an entertainment magazine and bring joy to people with my reviews of movies, concerts or books,” Cusumano said.

She said in high school, her parents had tight work schedules, so rather than going on a vacation, she would take road trips to see concerts.

“Then once I got to college and joined UPB, I was opened up to a whole other side of the entertainment industry that I never knew existed . . . this is when I turned my passion to event planning all while still taking my journalism courses,” Cusumano said.

She began her journey with UPB her sophomore year. She expressed her love for getting to see behind the scenes of events. With her passion for music and entertainment pushing her, she moved up in UPB and received the prestigious title of entertainment chairperson.

“I worked on all the events dealing with entertainment. I planned the All-American Rejects and Boys Like Girls concerts (among other smaller events),” she said.

Cusumano is now the center stage chairperson. This particular committee focuses solely on large-scale events costing over $10,000 and bringing in thousands of people.

Cusumano said the two favorite events she has planned are a tie between a concert by Timeflies and a comedy show by Chris and Carly from the popular MTV show “Girl Code.”

“Chris and Carly was amazing because of the amount of people it brought out,” she said. “It was my biggest event ever and was really amazing to see something I worked so hard on bring joy to that many people. However, the Timeflies concert had an amazing energy . . . the crowd shaking the floor was something I will never forget.”

Although fiascos and stress are inevitable in event planning, Cusumano says it is something she has learned to adapt to.

“It’s all very hectic, but seeing the crowd enjoy events I have planned is the moment when it makes all the hiccups worth it for me,” she said.

Cusumano said she used to be concerned her degree will be in journalism, yet her dream job is in event planning. Now, she feels confident her strong writing background will help her to succeed in her event planning career.

“Don’t let your major discourage you from going after your dream,” she said. “I constantly have people tell me I’m crazy because I didn’t switch my major, but I am going to utilize all of my skills and live out my dreams to the fullest, and I encourage anyone else in a similar situation to do the same.”

Social worker hopes life experience saves others


By Joe Alberico

Elizabeth Helton

Elizabeth Helton

BLOOMINGTON – There may never be redemption for Elizabeth Helton.
For the 30-year-old social worker that’s OK, because she isn’t looking to rewrite her past. She’s hoping to change the futures of others.

Helton works as a residential unit coordinator for Chestnut Health System’s adolescent drug and alcohol addiction facility in Bloomington. She started there in September 2004, working her way up the ladder by obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at Illinois State University. But it’s her tainted past, littered with drugs, theft and an armed robbery conviction, that may leave Helton as the most qualified youth counselor in her organization.

“I just remember getting involved in drugs and alcohol pretty early on in my childhood with the people I started hanging out with,” Helton said of growing up in Joliet. “I remember going around the neighborhood, to parks and shops, and there being a lot of gangs. I was infatuated with it, and I thought it looked like a pretty fun lifestyle.”

In Joliet, Helton’s early years were unstable. A violent stepfather ruled the home that she, her younger brother and mother lived in, and Helton eventually sought an escape in an older crowd of friends. The immediate results were soothing, but the teen would soon find there would be a price to pay.

Helton spent seven years of her childhood living a double life. Robbery, violence, drugs and money engulfed Helton, and those who were aware, enabled it. To her friends, Helton was a tough, indifferent, criminal in the making. She was no stranger to armed robberies, often accompanying friends who had acquired firearms to hold up drug dealers and other individuals Helton and her friends deemed unsavory. She did what she wanted when she wanted to, and that was it.

But to her family, Helton was mild-mannered, intelligent and loving; just a typical teen working through some angst.

“My mom eventually stopped following me around and stopped trying to get me to change,” Helton said. “But I don’t think she knew how bad things really were. It wasn’t until the end that anybody really knew what was actually going on.”

The end came in the form of a life-altering arrest. On March 2, 2000, just weeks before her 17th birthday, a planned robbery went awry. Helton had obtained her mother’s pistol from their Peoria home, and handed it over to an accomplice. The two then proceeded to enter the home of a known drug dealer, where things quickly unraveled.

“I ran,” Helton said. “(The drug dealer) wasn’t afraid of the gun in his face and fought back. So I ran.”

Helton’s friend was subdued by the would-be victim, and police were soon on the scene. Fast-forward one year, and Helton was facing a Class X felony for armed robbery and 45 years in prison.

“It didn’t really hit me, what I had done, it didn’t hit me right away,” she said. “I remember talking to my lawyer, (Thomas) Penn, about getting out the next day, and he was sitting there talking about the next 45 years.

“It was right then that I knew it was time to make a change.”

Because she had no criminal record, and technically fled the scene before a crime was committed, prosecutors went relatively easy on Helton, She was convicted of a Class 2 felony and spent 90 days in the Peoria County Jail. When she finished her sentence in the summer of 2001, her perspective quickly changed.

“I didn’t do well in jail,” Helton said. “I had seen so many women that had made this life choice to come and go in and out of jail and I didn’t want that to be me.”

Helton has made sure it hasn’t. Through her position at Chestnut, she teaches teens in situations much like hers techniques and values essential to avoiding and escaping that lifestyle. While most rehab counselors are forced to evaluate a client’s situation from the outside, Helton says she can relate with addicts on the inside.

“I think it helps that the kids can see me as someone who has been where they are,” she said. “I’m not someone who is just teaching from books and manuals. I’m sending a message straight from where these kids are right now.”

The way in which she gains access to her clients’ trust isn’t something Helton is proud of. She conceded it as a useful tool, but stressed that she’ll never make up for the negative memories that have ironically put her in a more positive place.

“It’s my life. I’m never going to forget it, and there is no making up for it,” Helton said. “I did some very bad things growing up and hurt a lot of people.
“I guess now all I can do is teach kids how not to make those same choices, because it doesn’t always work out like it did for me.”

Design Streak ups game for graphic designers

By Tim Rosenberger

Take a stroll down the halls of the Center for Visual Arts building at Illinois State University and look at the posters pinned to the wall. One features a heart, against a mostly red background, made up of drawing and art supplies; another shows a man in a suit, a bowler sitting atop his TV head with an early 20th century-esque mustache growing on the front; a third depicts a small hill in the center, a religious cross sitting upon it and several trees and houses circling it. These are just three of many posters hoping to catch your eye; just three of the numerous works of art jostling and competing for your attention.

While all three posters and the others that surround them were made for different reasons, for different people and to promote different shows and events, they all have one thing in common. They were made by a special highly competitive design studio open to ISU design majors. This studio, which just celebrated its 30th birthday, is called Design Streak, and it is a place where students can get a taste for what it is like doing design work for real life clients and real life pay.

Ryan Tinsley, an ISU senior graphic design major, heard about the program through some community college friends, who had both been a part of the studio. He decided to join in order to experiment, showcase his own work and to be involved in a program that was like a mini design studio.

“It’s not built like a normal class where you just go and you work in class,” Tinsley said. “You’re on a deadline, you have to go home, you have to make something, you have to bring it back the next class and we just critique on it.”

“You work at a much quicker pace, and you also have to accept you may work all this time[…]on an illustration or a poster and then they come back and they may not be clicking with other people and you may have to start all over,” he said.

Getting into the program is not easy. Students must submit their portfolio before every semester and even then only a small number of students, usually seniors and some juniors, get chosen. Most of a student’s time is then spent talking with clients on and off-campus about work the client wants done, which the student gets two weeks to a month to complete. There are classes every Tuesday and Thursday, but these mainly focus on meetings and the critiquing of work.

“This industry is very complex, but at the end of the day it is a client-centered endeavor,” Julie Johnson, the instructor and art director at Design Streak, said. “Understanding the problem and developing a successful solution requires students to be curious, thoughtful, resourceful, creative and technically proficient. I encourage students to hone their skills and be at the top of their game.”

The work for these clients varies. Tinsley has been involved in design work for music festivals, branding for a traveling dog company, churches and a Shakespeare festival. Design Streak was also involved in the design of the Normal police cars.

When the studio gets a commission for a poster, or any design work, it hands the job off to the seven or nine students who currently make up that year’s program. Each student then goes home and comes up with his or her own design for the client. All the artwork by the students is then critiqued and the owner picks the one he or she likes the most.

Patrick Donovan, an ISU senior graphic design student who got into graphic design when he was a senior in high school and loves logo design and branding, has his own method for producing work.

“I start by listing words that relate to the problem I’m trying to solve,” Donovan said. “Then I look back at the notes from the client meeting and look at what is currently being done. Then I know exactly where I need to go to make the result different, unique and stand out from the pack.”

What the studio tends to do the most, however, is poster designs for ISU theater shows, work Tinsley thinks he excels at. The theater department depends a lot on what comes out of the studio. Tinsley describes the work as a little different, a little more creative and full of different art styles.

Those styles can range from photographs of objects and images arranged in a unique, attention grabbing way; stylized forms of character design done with well-defined pencil lines with color and inks thrown in; more paint like work; some works, to this writer at least, give off an art deco vibe; and some designs seems to combine styles.

“It’s just a unique challenge when you get a poster, because when you sit down with a director and they tell you what their play is going to be about, it’s your job as a designer to take everything that they tell you and try and incorporate it into a poster,” Tinsley said.

“You can rather get really close to what they’re thinking about or you may go the entire different direction and maybe miss the mark,” he said. “It’s a really interesting challenge trying to get a play to be attractive and make sense to the viewer and make people want to go see it.”

Coming up with these designs can be a difficult task. Students not only have to work fast but also overcome any creative walls they may run into when sketching out ideas. Both Tinsley and Donovan are familiar with facing those types of barriers. Whenever Donovan hits a wall, he finds it best to take a walk and get his mind off what he is doing.

“I’ve worked on posters where I’ve worked on them for weeks, and at the end, they’re just not working,” Tinsley said. “At a certain point, you just need to stop and just start something new.”

Tinsley thinks professors have a job in overcoming those walls, as well.

“It’s definitely nice for professors to also know when to stop and try something different instead of just [continuously] beating a stick over something that’s not [working],” Tinsley said.

Ultimately, however, Tinsley says success or failure falls on the student, which is how the curriculum at Design Streak works.

“It’s extremely competitive, you really have to want it, you have to have your priorities in line, you have to be willing to experiment; you have to be willing to do research a lot outside of class,” Tinsley said. “If you’re not working hard outside of class, if you’re slacking in class, you’re not gonna get anywhere.”

Tinsley exemplifies this work ethic. He has been involved in six design internships, two of them with Design Streak on two different occasions. The student’s tireless devotion has also earned him multiple awards and honors over the past few years.

Despite the hardships that come with the craft, Tinsley thinks he was born to be a graphic designer. He cannot imagine doing anything else, he said.

“There’s no other field out there that lets you get paid to be creative, have fun and create all day,” Donovan said.

Tinsley recommends Design Streak to every graphic design student coming into ISU. Even if a student cannot get accepted to the studio at that time, he recommends at least sitting in on some classes.

“It’s also helpful for students to see what they can do with graphic design, [to see] kind of the big picture, before they get to be juniors and seniors because that would potentially make them work harder to get that position (in Design Streak),” Tinsley said. “So, really everyone benefits from working towards getting into Design Streak.”