Former Bengals star helping Butler County inmates find a path

David Fulcher, former Cincinnati Bengal, has expanded his prison ministry to Butler County Court Street Jail where he counsels inmates in his M.A.N.A. (Mentoring Against Negative Actions) program. Fulcher’s wife, Judy, counsels women in the jail. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
David Fulcher, former Cincinnati Bengal, has expanded his prison ministry to Butler County Court Street Jail where he counsels inmates in his M.A.N.A. (Mentoring Against Negative Actions) program. Fulcher’s wife, Judy, counsels women in the jail. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Former All-Pro Cincinnati Bengals safety David Fulcher has been working in prisons for the past two decades to help inmates become better people.

Six months ago, he and his wife, Judy, began helping those in the Butler County Jail.

And the message he has preached to southwest Ohio inmates is common sense.

“I grew up on common sense,” said the California native whose dad was a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. “Everything I talk about makes sense.”

Fulcher has operated his Mentoring Against Negative Actions program for 15 years. Most of that work has happened in the Hamilton County Jail, but for the past six months he has mentored male prisoners twice per week in Butler County. His wife, Judy, mentors female prisoners.

The program is part of the intensive outpatient program in the jail and funded by a $40,000 Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison, or T-CAP, grant from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

“I talk to them as if they’re my son,” Fulcher said. “I’m not playing. If you don’t want to be here, then get out. If you want to be here, then you better listen to me. I’m going to help the guys who want to be helped.”

Fulcher touches on all aspects of life. How to find a job, and get a Social Security card, driver’s license or state ID. How to be a law-abiding citizen.

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It starts with changing the inmates’ views of themselves because perception is reality, Fulcher said.

“One of the toughest things is getting them to believe that they’re not a criminal, and changing that thought process,” he said.

It can be difficult because they hear that they are a criminal or a felon, so they fall back into old habits, Fulcher said.

“It’s a fight to get them to change,” he said.

Some have quit the program, or were kicked out. So far, one program participant released from prison has obtained a job.

One of those inmates is Eric Wilson of Hamilton. He said drugs including cocaine, meth, crack, heroin and marijuana led to his breaking the law.

“I did everything,” he said.

Crimes committed in two Butler County communities — West Chester Twp. in June and Hamilton in September — landed him back in jail, charged with theft, receiving stolen property, failure to comply, striking a police officer with a vehicle. He pleaded guilty to failure to comply and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Other charges were either dismissed or ignored by the grand jury.

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This latest stint, which Wilson said is his “eighth or ninth time in jail,” is different because the MANA program wasn’t in Butler County previously. He ha been in the program since October and signed up because he “wanted to make a change in my life.”

“I was living a life of crime, basically,” Wilson said. “Drugs, theft, all kinds of different things. Anything bad, I was into it.”

Wilson said he sees the improvement happening because program participants are segregated from the general population, which Fulcher said reinforces positive messages and isn’t done in the Hamilton County Jail program.

“Nobody can say anybody has changed until you get out. That’s when the real test begins,” he said.

By using the tools learned in the MANA program, Wilson said participants would “have a path for success. If you fail, it’s because you want to fail.”

Being in jail is “rock bottom” for Carrington Clark, an inmate from northern Hamilton County. He first declined to be in the program, believing it was for those strung out on drugs. He later asked to join because he “didn’t want to miss my blessing.”

“We all got something to recover from,” said Clark, a father of eight children.

He said being away from his family has “been destroying me mentally, physically, emotionally. I’m never, ever, ever putting myself in a position to be away from my family ever again.”

Clark has been in and out of prison a few times. He has been convicted of drug and assault charges and was put back into jail after violating parole for nonpayment of child support because of a misdemeanor assault charge.

Like Wilson, he has never been in program that teaches him life skills and goals, and he not only wants to leave a positive legacy for his children but help others.

“We’re still here to help one another, and that’s what I think I’m here for,” he said.

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Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones was “very skeptical” because he has seen little success from similar programs over his 45 years in law enforcement. Fulcher was only able to pitch his program to the sheriff’s jail staff because of the late Fairfield City Councilman Ron D’Epifanio’s endorsement of the former Bengal.

Jones said his jail staff called him “the real deal” and encouraged him to give it a chance.

Fulcher and his wife have been given 12 months to run their programl.

While the inmates and jail staff are supportive of the program, Jones said, “The proof will be in the pudding.”

He wants to see the Fulchers succeed. Success will be measured by whether inmates leave the jail, get a job and stay out of trouble while taking care of their families. And he needs to see “just one every now and then” succeed out of prison.

“He is working it,” Jones said of Fulcher. “He is so motivated, and he’s got such a story, these guys listen to him. I’ve seen it. And they communicate with him. I think it’s going to be a great program.”

ABOUT MANA

Mentoring Against Negative Actions, or MANA, is designed to empower adult inmates and change the direction of their lives, and the lives of their families.

Program participants learn life skills that promote healthy behavior.

Led by David and Judy Fulcher, the MANA program works with the Hamilton and Butler county sheriff’s departments, and in Columbus.

Each individual graduates — complete with a ceremony — after all of the classes are completed.