At Dakota County jail, volunteers are helping inmates get a second chance

  • Updated: April 19, 2014 - 2:11 PM
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Bill Postiglione, 76, left, and Gaby Postiglione, 53, not pictured, taught fractions and decimals to inmates at the Dakota County jail in Hastings. The father-daughter team come to the Dakota County jail three times a week (Bill comes in a fourth day, too) to teach GED and college prep classes to inmates.

Photo: Photos by DAVID JOLES • djoles@startribune.com,

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With GED classes, social etiquette training and life coaching, contract workers and volunteers aim to keep inmates from coming back.

On this particular day, Bill and Gaby Postiglione are teaching a dozen or so inmates at the Dakota County jail about fractions, decimals and percentages.

For some it’s easy; others don’t immediately grasp that four-eighths is the same as one-half is the same as 50 percent. With patience and humor, the father-daughter team take the men through it step by step and there are smiles and laughter all around when the light bulb goes off.

“Mathematics is not about numbers,” Bill Postiglione tells the class. “It’s about relationships. If you understand the relationships then you can solve almost any problem.”

The Postigliones have been teaching GED and college-prep classes at the jail three or four times a week for the past 16 years. Both know that their work is about far more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

So do the others — like Jeff Wynne, 47, who brings in celebrities and motivational speakers to talk to the inmates and spends time one-on-one with the men “to make a difference.”

“We don’t make any bones about it,” said Bill Postiglione, 76, a retired instructor at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. “We want to give them alternative behaviors. If they have something that’s going to be a goal for them and they work toward it, it’s going to help them change their lifestyle. If they go back, they’re going to be a frequent flier. We don’t want that.”

There are dozens of other volunteers and contract workers, too, who come to help the inmates learn how to function in society when they finish their jail or prison sentences. The myriad programs include social etiquette classes to teach the men how to look someone in the eye, how to shake hands, the proper attire for a job interview or even table manners. There are also Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, job and motivational fairs, parenting classes and Bible study.

Wynne brings the perspective of an ex-offender himself. He was born and raised in Hastings and was thrown out of school in the eighth grade, he said. He ended up in a treatment center at age 12. He bounced from odd job to odd job and crime to crime until he ended up in the Dakota County jail in 2008.

He had “no direction in life, whatsoever,” Wynne admitted. “None, absolutely zero. I was on a mission just to be selfish. My life was about selfishness.

“I was on a mission to die,” he said. “The alcohol had taken over, the drugs had taken over.”

Then, from somewhere inside, something clicked, and through good behavior Wynne moved into the Inmates Motivated to Change (IMC unit). He started volunteering, scrubbing walls and floors.

“One of the things a guard here told me years ago, he said, ‘Get up in the morning, make your bed, say please and thank you, take a shower every morning even though you’re not going anywhere. Try that once.’ ”

Wynne wore a crisp blue shirt and tie when he visited the jail last week, and he repeated that guard’s words to inmates Shane Lloyd, Michael Dorman and Brandon Fraher outside the Postigliones’ class.

“Sometimes you have to go back to the basics of life to get it,” he said. “So when I went back to the basics of life, I did get it.”

By the time Wynne was released in 2009, he knew he wanted to come back. But this time it would be to make a difference.

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  • Every week, a dozen or so volunteers pass through the doors of the Dakota County jail to tutor inmates, help them learn basic social manners and more.

  • Bill Postiglione, rear right, and Gaby Postiglione, center, come to the Dakota County jail three times a week (Bill comes in a fourth day, too) to teach GED and college prep classes to inmates.

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