David Black, Family Financial Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, teaches a 90-minute course entitled, “Establishing A Financial Foundation,” to a class of 10 women at the Vernon County Jail on Tuesday afternoon. This was the second time Black has taught this class. He will lead this and other finance courses on a bi-weekly basis at the jail as part of the sheriff’s effort to help people stay out of jail by providing them with job and life skills.
Sooner or later, nearly all of the prisoners in the Vernon County Jail will be released into society. To be successful on the outside, they will need a number of so-called soft skills or work-readiness training which include such things as how to interview, showing up for work, being on time and getting along with difficult people, whether they are supervisors, co-workers or customers.
Said Vernon County Sheriff Jason Mosher, “They will also need to know how to manage money other than by stealing, selling drugs or by relying on payday loans and pawn shops.”
This last needed skill is the reason behind the “Establishing A Financial Foundation” class taught by David Black, Family Financial Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. For Black, who has a Master’s of Business Administration and serves Vernon and four surrounding counties; Tuesday afternoon was his second one-hour class at the jail.
“The first class was earlier this month and with all the questions it went about an hour-and-a-half,” said Black. “I think they were interested in what we covered.”
Tuesday’s class was even livelier as 10 women prisoners filed into a classroom in the jail.
Knowing that one of the most requested treats by prisoners is ice cream, the Sheriff put the students in a good frame of mind by providing cups, vanilla ice cream and root beer to make a root beer float.
Once all were seated, Black had a quiet and attentive class as he opened with one of his favorite quotes, “Learning how to handle money is just as important as making it.”
He went on to cover four areas: getting a transitional job, creating a spending plan, keeping your money safe and avoiding money traps.
Introducing the last topic, Black held up his hand and asked, “How many of you ever got a pay day loan or used a pawn shop?”
All hands shot up.
“And how did that work out for you?” asked Black.
Several called out, “Awful.”
“Tell me,” said Black pointing to one who had spoken aloud.
“I pawned an air-compressor which cost over a $100 but he only gave me $8 to pawn it,” said the sole person in the third row.
“And what did it cost you to get it back?” continued Black. “I bet it cost you a lot more than eight dollars.”
“Yeah, it cost me like $15 for the compressor and it cost me a lot of trouble because the compressor wasn’t mine to begin with.”
Amidst laughter, another called out, “Doing things like that is why you’re here.”
Being a skilled teacher and with the experience gained from his first career, Black waited for the laughter to die down and with all eyes on him asked, “Do you see why they’re called money traps?”
Every head nodded in agreement.
Realizing he had a teachable moment Black said, “Mistakes happen to everyone.” He paused and said, “Everyone. But smart people learn from their mistakes and change things for the better, both with money and with life.”
Heads nodded; message received.
Besides having a background in finance, his first career made him a natural fit for teaching in the jail.
“Before I got into finance, my first career was in law enforcement,” said Black. “Altogether I put in about seven years with about three of those with the Joplin Police Department as a member of the patrol and the Special Response Team before joining Greene County.”
Mosher and Chief Deputy Shayne Simmons had been discussing the need for various short term classes when Simmons attended a monthly meeting of the Vernon County Resource Group in place of the sheriff.
The VCRG consists of people from businesses, law enforcement, social service and religious groups across the county who have committed themselves to tackle various problems including public transportation and jobs for those released from jail.
At one particular meeting, Black mentioned the classes he has available through Extension and would be glad to teach. After the meeting, Simmons spoke to Black and that led to what are, for now, bi-weekly classes on finance at the jail.
Following Tuesday’s class, Black said, “The first two sessions were the same material and everyone in each class was female. In two weeks, the next class will be with males. The chief (Simmons) and I talked about varying things up so we cover other topics but all of mine will be on finance.”
Black knew the material and clearly was at ease with his class.
Also on hand was Tonya Raines, program specialist with MU Extension for SkillUp, a state job-training program which is a partnership with the Missouri Department of Social Services, Missouri Job Centers and the Missouri Community College Association.
Raines was on hand to explain how those receiving food stamp benefits may be eligible for scholarships for short-term job training programs.
“It’s a case management program and for those who qualify, they can get up to $10,000 in short-term job and career training/education and even some equipment needed for a job as well as child care assistance,” said Raines.
Asked for examples by the class she spoke of help getting a commercial driver’s license and learning to drive a truck or becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant and then moving on to being a Medical Technician, Medical Assistant or Licensed Practical Nurse.
Several asked for contact information.
Shortly after the class ended, the sheriff returned from having served a search warrant.
Mosher said the purpose and goal is for those in class not to return to jail.
Said the sheriff, “And if we’re not seeing them in here because they’re not breaking the law, that’s a burglary report we’re not taking, that’s a drug house we’re not having to kick the door in on. The bottom line is we’ll increase safety and decrease crime in our county by helping people realize there’s a better alternative and route they can keep on choosing.”