Black River Falls, WI (WXOW)—The Challenge Incarceration Program is meant to help prison inmates prepare for release, and it's the same program that those two infamous escapees ran away from. 29-year-old James Newman and 18-year-old James Misleveck are alleged to have committed a cross country crime spree. The pair escaped from the Black River Correctional Center roughly a week and half ago.
To qualify for the program inmates need to meet some criteria, for example they can't currently be convicted of violent crimes.
According to the prison superintendent, James Newman was in the first phase of the program, but James Misleveck had just one month left.
The superintendent, David Andraska, says the prison has not changed the structure of the program since the escape, but officials are reviewing the incident.
More than 1300 inmates have completed the program and 75 percent of graduates are still out of prison, working and going to school.
Ryan Steinoff is one of those graduates.
"When this program was offered to me it was like a new lease on life. And then when I came here, it was a shock," Steinoff said.
Steinoff faced a five-year sentence when he was offered the chance to enroll in the Challenge Incarceration Program.
"You learn how to lift weights, how to keep stealing from people, how to keep fighting with people, how to keep using drugs, that's what you learn in prison. Here, none of that happens," Steinoff said.
But the five-phase early-release program is not a walk in the park. While it's minimum security facility, everyday is structured.
"They do have to earn their way out," Andraska said. "It is a very intensive and regimented six month program, where inmates are up by 5:30 in the morning and lights out by 9:30."
In the time between wake up call and lights out, inmates go to school, address drug and alcohol addictions, work in the community and participate in military drills.
"That gives us our nickname of a boot camp," Andraska said.
Steinoff graduated almost two years ago and says he uses the skills he learned inside every day.
"I took everything they gave me here and I applied it," Steinoff said. "And every time I did that, things in my life began to come together. I mean, if there were situations where I couldn't take the things they taught me and use them, I picked up the phone and called here. And they helped me and they talked me through."
Now he shares his experiences with current inmates, to encourage them to use the time in the program to reflect.
Steinoff is now a full time college student and signed a record deal. His song "The Untold Story" will be part of an anti-bullying campaign later this fall.
Steinoff says he was disappointed to hear about the two escaped inmates.
"It upsets me beyond belief," Steinoff said. "I'm outraged at what they did and, yeah, that it could affect this program, and just ruin the chance of changing inmates. And I don't think people get that that is what this is about."
In the eight years Black River Correctional has offered the program, only two other inmates have escaped. The most recent was five years ago.
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