One of my priorities has been to help pave a path to success for those who are re-entering society after a prison term. Today I’d like to talk about how we’ve addressed that. I also want to share the story of a man who spent his life encouraging young people to make good choices so they wouldn’t go to prison.
During my first year in office, we created Restore Hope, a program designed help inmates prepare for freedom. We needed an effective reentry system to give those coming out of prison a better chance of success, of getting a job, and of contributing to their community. Most importantly, by helping them succeed, we would reduce the risk that they would return to prison.
This also addressed a problem that isn’t as obvious but just as serious. Often when people enter prison, their children go into our foster care system. When we reduce the number of people going to prison, we reduce the number of children entering foster care.
Pathway to Freedom is a nonprofit faith-based program that works with inmates while they are in prison and after they are released. The numbers tell the story of Pathway’s success. Of all the programs offered in Arkansas’s prison system, the percent of Pathway graduates who return to prison is the lowest at 23 percent.
Now I’ll tell you about a man whose mission was to keep young people out of trouble so that they never needed a Pathway to Freedom.
Everyone seemed to know Dwayne Yarbrough. Most people called him Big D. You couldn’t miss him. He was 6-foot-7, and you could see his smile a mile away. Coach Houston Nutt first met Big D at a high school basketball game decades ago. Most people knew him from his security jobs at War Memorial Stadium and the State Fair, which is where I met him. At concerts, he was one of the big guys who stood between fans and the entertainers on stage.
But his day job was as an educator with the Attorney General’s office, where he worked for 23 years. His passion was to steer young people onto the right path. He created the program “Right Choices, Better Chances,” which he presented at schools and police departments all over the state. He trained law enforcement officers and School Resource Officers. He taught at the Criminal Justice Institute. Director Dr. Cheryl May praised his ability to convey his message and his method.
Larance Johnson, who recently retired from the Criminal Justice Institute, said Big D lived and breathed his mission. He was a gentle giant whose size and unexpectedly calm voice and manner could bring tense situations under control.
He was one of the early members of the Arkansas Safe Schools Association and served as president of the board from 2018 to 2020.
Big D died on Sept. 8 of this year. Family and friends attended a service for him at War Memorial Stadium. There’s no way to quantify Big D’s impact, but we can honor his work by sharing his mission to set our young people on the path to success so that they won’t need a path out of prison.