Rex Uberman, the newly appointed supervisor at Dozier School for Boys, is making changes. He wants the community involved like it was in days gone by.
Dozier in need of more 'normative culture'
By KATE McCARDELL
Jackson County Floridan
April 19, 2007
The young men at Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys can be just as valuable to the community as anyone else; they have futures ahead of them and people who love them, says Rex Uberman, the newly appointed, on-site supervisor of the Department of Juvenile Justice facility.
This conviction is why, Uberman said, it's necessary to open the doors of the facility and provide the young men with a sense of normalcy that will ease their transition back into the community.
Uberman said that taking action to form a more 'normative culture' is one of the steps toward uplifting the facility's program.
"Yes, the 161 men that are here have violated the law and now face consequences" said Uberman, "But truth of matter is, every one of these young men are going to be back at regular school, the street and at the mall, back in the community.
"Every one of these young men have mothers and fathers that love them and want to have them back home," he said. "They're not going to be in here for 20 years and while they are here, they shouldn't be shunned or hidden away."
Uberman wants theyoung men who are approaching graduation to know how to balance a check book, keep a job, and take care of themselves as adults.
"These guys need to be given the expectations of good behavior and of ways they conduct themselves as part of the community," said Uberman, "As they get closer and closer to leaving this facility, I don't want to be cooking their meals or washing their clothes.
"They'll learn how to be responsible young men of the real world," he said. "The young men who are 30, 60, 90 days from discharge are just as capable of behaving as well as any other citizen. And if they're not, we haven't done our job."
That's why, Uberman said, it's a good idea to get the community more involved in the program. He said that the high-risk designation that has been in effect at the facility for "as long as anyone can remember," would not pose a risk for possible community involvement.
"The way to do it is, kids come in high risk but they cannot remain high risk through their stay here. The whole system is built around a premise to move men from high risk to moderate risk to low risk," said Uberman.
"So while it may not be appropriate for some youths who have only been here for a short period to interact much with the community," he said, "young men who are at the end of their stay should have that opportunity and it would be safe and, I think, very positive."
Uberman said that currently all the boys are treated the same, despite any progress they make during their stay.
"Right now, when you come out to the campus, you won't be able tell the difference between the different risk levels," said Uberman.
He wants that to change.
"There should be different buildings with different levels and privileges," said Uberman, "The youth that are here that are close to discharge should be going to dinner and dressed for dinner in a respectful and appropriate manner. They shouldn't be dressed as inmates like they are now."
While Uberman wants to steer the facility from its "withdrawn, institutional" recent past, he has a strong desire to see the facility go back to the way it was in days long ago.
"I think we've lost some very special, unique qualities here that I want to see revived," said Uberman, "There was a time when the school was really integrated into the community. This community was wonderfully supportive of these guys. It's apparent that Dozier had become so much more withdrawn over the years and the community is not at fault for this."
Uberman recalled days gone by when the facility used to host a Christmas pageant on the grounds, for which families would load up into their cars and drive through the school grounds to admire a holiday story display.
"When people tell me that story, it resonates in me what the people of this community thought of the program," said Uberman, "It's just an amazing example of how we let in that support with wide-open doors."
He said that the facility has great potential, noting the vast amount of land and nice buildings
"Why can't the community come out here and have a picnic or a softball game? We're going to answer these questions carefully and maintain safety," said Uberman.
Uberman hopes to get volunteers involved in a variety of ways, from tutoring to mentoring and assisting the vocational program, from day to day activities to holiday functions.
He also hopes to bring back the community advisory board that the facility once used as a resource.
"We should have never let such a valuable commodity as that go," said Uberman.