Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) _ A corrections officer gave a man a break. The man turned his life around. Big time.

Now those two men have been giving others a similar opportunity for two decades.

William Martinez of the Iowa Department of Corrections and David Goodson of Family & Children’s Council have been offering the program “Black Men of Excellence” for 20 years as co-facilitators.

The 13-week program, Goodson said, is “geared toward working with adult African-American men who have been involved with the Department of Corrections.” They may have been incarcerated, residing at community-based corrections facilities or on parole or probation. However, it is open to anyone.

Black professionals also will join the group, making presentations on their careers or simply joining in the discussion, Goodson said.

“It has empowered individuals, given them the tools and the information to help them lead positive and productive lives,” Goodson told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (http://bit.ly/WLdXBC).

Goodson started in the program as a participant when it was originally offered under the auspices of the Northeast Council on Substance Abuse, now Pathways Behavioral Services.

In the early 1990s, he was rehabilitating himself.

Goodson was arrested on drug charges after having served 18 months in prison in Colorado for robbery. Previously in and out of trouble with the law for years, Goodson swore off crack cocaine and turned his life around at that point, working as a counselor at NECSA. Martinez was his mentor.

“We built a relationship, a rapport, a mentor-mentee relationship back then,” Goodson said. “To this very day, we’re now friends and associates.”

They make a good team. Goodson’s past experience helps him relate to the program participants, “being a black man who was under the supervision of the Department of Corrections,” and Martinez has had decades of experience working with individuals with legal troubles.

The program is voluntary, Goodson said. But probation officers will make “strong recommendations” to the individuals they work with to participate. While it is open to anyone, the focus is on black men because of the disproportionately high number of black males having contact with the criminal justice system.

Martinez, a supervisor of probation and parole working with the Department of Corrections since 1977, started the Black Men of Excellence program locally in 1992 after seeing it operate in Des Moines. Goodson was in one of his first classes. A year later, he invited him to present the program with him.

“He was on probation at the time,” Martinez said. “We developed a unique relationship. David is a very unique individual, and the program had an immense impact on him. A lot of it is owed to his deep desire and deep motivation to a bigger calling. He had a lot of good family and friends surrounding him and encouraging him.”

Goodson holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Northern Iowa and is now working on a doctorate in leisure, youth and human services at UNI.

“It’s the same kind of thing I hope would happen with other guys, especially in the (criminal justice) system _ the same type of transformation and the same desire to want something different in their lives,” Martinez said.

For black men in particular, that transformation includes instilling in participants “a grasp of positive African-American values, positive African-American traditions” and applying those to their own lives.

It also gives African-American men a chance “to talk about and discuss issues and concerns, and help one another,” Martinez said. “No matter what the issues are, it’s good for them to sit down and talk and express and share and learn from each other, as well as from the facilitators.”

Due to staff turnover elsewhere, the Waterloo program is now the only one in the state.