For eight years, the city’s Offender Preparation and Education Network (OPEN INC.) has helped more than 5,500 ex-offenders and their families adjust from life in prison to becoming responsible citizens. Helping bad guys become good guys never has been a popular or fashionable cause, yet few other social endeavors are more important because of the ever-rising crime rate and high percentage of repeat offenders.
Ned Rollo, OPEN’s founder, hit the streets of Dallas nine years ago when he was just forty-eight hours out of a solitary cell in Louisiana. With his $10,000-a-year salary as a county CETA worker, he established an agency to keep ex-cons like himself from returning to the dead-end world of prison. Now OPEN has run out of money, a victim of hard times and the terrific competition for grant, foundation, and individual donor dollars. The office closed late in December, but Rollo and his assistant plan to continue their work from their homes.
“Groups like ours are on the edge even in the best of money-raising times because we deal with ex-cons. Blose people many consider the lepers of our time,” says Rollo. “Our citizens want public safety but they don’t equate that with preventive, curative efforts like ours-just lock-em-up and throw the key away measures.”
Through the years, OPEN has existed on generous grants from major city foundations like the Meadows. Hoblitzelle. Dallas, and Slemmons foundations and from private donations. But foundation monies are start-up rather than sustaining dollars; nowadays, as Ned Rollo knows. an agency that doesn’t pay its own way is likely to disappear.
So Rollo has a new plan to reopen OPEN INC. with money from convicts themselves. In mid-January. Rollo began selling a series of books, tapes, and newsletters in jails and throughout the Texas Department of Corrections. The materials deal with problems close to the hearts of the incarcerated- overcoming addiction, surviving prison life, understanding the judicial system, fathoming the adult probation process. The books sell lor three dollars each and will also be available to inmates’ families and loved ones.
As always, Rollo has spent countless hours knocking on local corporate doors to help out. His work has paid off: Etheridge Printing Company will print his first book, “Keeping It Together.” The Southland Corporation, the Trammell Crow Company, Texas Eastern Corporation, and others have agreed to underwrite the publishing costs of the four other books.
It’s ironic that OPEN is closing its doors just when this educational material is available. but Rollo refuses to lose hope. “We’re not quitting, not even losing momentum, but cutting our overhead, surviving this transitional period until we can pay our own way.” he says. “I can’t depend forever on the generosity of saints like John M. Slemmons who, alone, has kept us afloat the past year. When I began, the horse I had to ride was blind, crippled, and crazy. I rode it for nine years. Now 1 have to go on foot for a bit until we get a new horse.”