Un-learning anti-social behavior is key to program


A client who can’t change some basic behaviors probably isn’t a good fit for CTSI, (Correctional Transition Services, Inc.) according its founder and executive director, Paul Kustermann.

The non-profit agency, located at 1901 44th Ave. N., is in its third year. Its goal, in part, is to discourage people from returning to a life of crime and substance use. The staff includes social workers and chemical dependency counselors who work with clients who are seeking to unlearn their anti-social behaviors.

CTSI’s Day One outpatient treatment program is geared toward a chemically dependent criminal offender; services include family therapy, anger management, vocational programming, personal financial planning, and therapeutic recreation classes.

Kustermann, a former police officer and wellness counselor, said he founded CTSI after growing frustrated with chemical dependency programs that neither targeted risk factors (such as the likelihood that an ex-convict would return to a criminal lifestyle) nor addressed the root issues behind their substance abuse.

“The programs address using itself, but not why people use,” he said. “You need to get to people’s deep-seated core beliefs, which in most cases are familial and even generational. It’s a hard thing to impact. Our program model addresses each area of someone’s life.”

Kustermann said his research showed that working with clients in the community, as opposed to an institutional setting, is more effective. Also, he said, prisons are ill-equipped to provide inmates with good coping skills when they get out. “Prisons can’t be all things to all people. They can’t punish and treat at the same time. They push people out of the gates who haven’t fundamentally changed; they’ve just suspended their activities for awhile. That’s why we have recidivism and constant criminal activity.”

CTSI is a state licensed chemical health provider that receives client referrals from Hennepin County. In 2008, the organization worked with 117 clients: 87 percent of them male, 13 percent of them female. The majority of offenders were African American or white; a small percent (4 percent each) were Hispanic or American Indian. The average length in the program was 85 days.

A week’s calendar for the facility runs Monday through Friday, 8 .m. to 7:30 p.m., with group meetings or classes including career guidance, chemical dependency group therapy, family therapy education, fundamentals of recovery, relapse prevention, and anger management. There are also recreation classes, such as yoga, art therapy and therapeutic recreation.

CTSI staff member Ken Dean said, “We have a lot of clients who come in here who have never thought about the ramifications of not having an education. They haven’t considered what happens after sobriety. This program is structured for people to take responsibility. We provide the tools, they do the work. When guys leave here, their mind is focused on going forward, not backward. They know they have a job to do.”

The group talks about treating women with respect, he added, and CTSI staff has invited speakers from the Sexual Violence Center on Fremont Avenue N. to talk to clients.

The male clients attend a group called Male Restoration Group, which focuses on recognizing things that have happened in the past and learning ways to move forward as a productive member of society. Dean said, “I’ve heard guys say, ‘I’ve got sons, and all this time I’ve been leaving them by the wayside. If I don’t see to them, they’ll end up worse than me, just like I ended up worse than my dad.”

Kustermann said that out of 300 men they’ve served in recent years, only two have been fathers actively involved in their children’s lives.

CTSI staff strives to help clients address their vocational and educational needs and their family dysfunction, he added. “They need to learn to socialize without alcohol or drugs. Chemical dependency is rooted in something. A lot of times, it’s trauma: abandonment, parental neglect, trauma inflicted on them or that they’ve seen. Typical group therapy might not be the best place to uncover this. One of our clients shot his father. Another saw his mother gang raped when he was five years old. One was a child soldier in Sierra Leone; at the ripe old age of 14, he was slaughtering people with a machete. One client was introduced to the narcotics trade by a family member; his job was to run drugs from house to house.

“It’s not that these people are necessarily victims,” Kustermann added, “but they have been traumatized. They might know the difference between right and wrong, but they don’t see it in their own lives. It has never been shown to them. Trauma is manifested somehow, some way. People keep it at bay by abusing drugs and alcohol.

“Many of our young men have been raised by overwhelmed single mothers who have their own challenges. The boys have been left to the influence of the streets. They want acceptance. Our clients, from ages 18 to 20, have already been involved in the lifestyle, committing multiple criminal acts with no fear of the consequences. They are not deterred by an 8 to 10 year prison sentence. It’s part of the life.

“It’s such a huge issue,” Kustermann said. “We are trying to assimilate people back into the community. It’s an overwhelming number. Minnesota locks up 9,000 people a year, and about 6,000 transition [get out] every year.”

CTSI screens prospective clients before accepting them, he said. “We want some commitment to change up front. We want them to articulate what they want. It’s a long, hard process. They have to turn around 20 to 30 years of bad data and information. They have to be willing to apply themselves and make some changes.”

CTSI does not take sex offenders, Kustermann said, but does take people with assaultive and violent histories.

“People who are so mired in the lifestyle and have a propensity for violence in treatment centers and in the community are not a good fit. We have a responsibility to the safety of our staff and our other clients.” Once they’re in the CTSI program, he said that staff is always carefully assessing their progress.

“Especially on the North Side, there is the gang influence. There is a way of dress associated with people affiliated with gangs. They wear their hats cocked to one side, their pants are sagging. If you’re willing to change, you should be able to change those things. If not, you need to go back; you’re referred to probation.”

Kustermann said his family was originally from the North Side. He left Minnesota to serve 10 years in the Army. He worked as a police officer in Atlanta, Georgia, and was the wellness director for the Florida Department of Corrections.

“When I came back to the North Side, I didn’t think some of the services being offered had much likelihood of producing results. Intentions might have been good, but funds have been squandered and the outcomes were not there. There was a lot of low-level drug use, street crime, prostitution. Things were not changing enough to restore a good quality of life in this community.”

Kustermann said that in the two years CTSI has been operating, he has seen some positive results. “We have nine young men in college, six of them in their second year. We have people working, people who have made initial changes up front. The potential of these people is just phenomenal. If you give the right services at the right time to the right people, the benefit they can bring to their community is incredible. Just one person making a change can impact their immediate family, and future generations.”

For information on CTSI, call 612-588-7530 or go to the CTSI website.