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A home after prison

Home for rapists and murderers serves as ‘safety valve’ for Billings community

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Luke Lloyd

Luke Lloyd, a convicted sex offender, enters his apartment on the South Side on Tuesday, October 24. After serving ten years at Montana State Prison for raping a 5 year old, Lloyd lived at the Adullam House. The house is a sober living transitional space for people with violent and sexual criminal history. It is operated by a live-in married couple, Ken and Jody Cottrell, who saw it as their God-given duty to give men, like Lloyd, a second chance. The program can house 27 men at a time with space for five men through subleases. After living at Adullam for a year, Lloyd went to live in an apartment subleased by the Cottrells.

Ten years into his 15-year sentence, Luke Lloyd had no desire to leave prison.

“I’m doing great in prison,” he said, recalling his thoughts three years ago. He had friends and a job he liked building furniture. ”I had it made.”

Lloyd was locked up for raping a 5-year-old girl. He was originally charged with sexual intercourse without consent, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of sexual assault.

He got accustomed to prison, and when he was up for early parole he figured he’d be better off behind bars, finishing out his sentence. He’d only leave prison when he had to, and not before.

In prison, he at least had a sure place to live. Outside prison, finding dependable housing, especially for sex offenders like Lloyd, is a constant struggle. Landlords are justifiably leery, and many won't rent to convicts. And with jobs scarce for ex-cons, many can't put together the rent money plus deposit needed to get into an apartment. Many wind up living in week-to-week hotels, homeless shelters, or their cars.

That's more than just a problem for them. Without stable housing, numerous studies show that ex-cons are more likely to reoffend, and that's a problem for communities.  

Soon Lloyd heard about a place in Billings, Adullam House, that takes in sex offenders like him. Instead of getting out on his own and looking for a place to live, he’d be guaranteed a bed. That couldn’t be underestimated.

So he decided he wanted in. The house program director agreed, and the parole board signed off on the placement.

Lloyd left prison in April 2014, and has since stayed sober, gotten a full-time job as a manager at a fast food restaurant, and moved into his own house, which he sublets from the Adullam House. He credits the program with his post-prison stability.

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Adullam cookouts

Luke Lloyd, a convicted sex offender, places bratwurst sausages on a tray during the weekly cookout at Adullam House on Tuesday, July 11. Every week the house hosts a meeting and Bible study. "I don't study the Bible," Lloyd said. "So I was there for the house meeting and afterwards I would start to cook." His cooking became what is now the weekly cookouts at the Adullam House. "The house meeting went from a half-hour-long thing to hours and hours of getting together, talking and making friends," Lloyd said.

Ken Cottrell, the Adullam program director, says communities benefit from having a designated place like theirs for sex offenders to live, calling the house “a safety valve for the community.”

Chris Evans, deputy chief for probation and parole in the Billings region, echoed that thought.

“They’re going to be in the community,” he said, of sex offenders. “They’re not going to be locked down forever, for the most part.”

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Adullam House

A man and woman walk past the Adullam House, left, on South 29th Street and 2nd Avenue South on Tuesday, December 5. The House opened its doors in 2012 as one of the first wave of sober living spaces in Billings. Currently there are six men who live at the house. The tan house next door can house two additional men.

Adullam House

The Adullam House opened on Billings' South Side in early 2012 — one of the first in a wave of sober living houses to open in Billings.

There are now a handful of such homes in the city, often with live-in managers who earn no salary for their work. They might stay in the house rent-free and work an outside job to make a living, treating the residents of the house as family and adhering to the idea that a well-connected community of ex-addicts with shared struggles is the best path to sobriety.

Adullam’s model is similar, operating on a shoestring budget without grants or public funds. People stay for as many months as they need, with the idea of eventually moving out on their own and living independently.

Due to a shortage of offender-friendly housing in a city that receives its fair share of parolees, the sober living programs expand when possible — leasing out new houses that fill up quickly.

But in a few ways, Adullam is different.

While the house caters to people with violent or sexual criminal history, the folks running the house have no such past. Instead it’s managed by a live-in married couple who, in middle age, saw it as their God-given mission to share a roof with murderers and rapists, treat them as family, and resort to personal savings to keep the financially struggling program afloat.

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127 and counting

Several former and current Adullam House residents eat dinner together during the weekly cookout on Tuesday, October 3. "We are up to 127 men that have have lived with me and my wife," said Ken Cottrell, Adullam's program director. "If you were to ask me five-and-a-half years ago would we be this big I'd never would of guessed it."

Cottrell, Adullam’s program director, has never been to prison, but he’s no stranger to adversity. Growing up in Cleveland, he lost several family members at a young age, lived on the streets, and became addicted to drugs — meth, crack, heroin, “whatever,” he said. He has since become sober and deeply religious.

Ken and his wife, Jody, moved to Billings in 2001, when Jody was transferred from Seattle for her work at a shoe company. Adullam leases out various houses, including one for women.

Adullam serves a key demographic — sex offenders — who have the hardest time finding stable housing. Prerelease centers are reluctant to take them. Many sober living houses won’t, due to geographic restrictions on where sex offenders can live. The Montana Rescue Mission takes only lower-level offenders on a case-by-case basis at the men’s shelter and has a blanket ban on them — and on violent offenders — at the women’s shelter.

Adullam’s numbers show relative success: While 57 percent of offenders statewide made no return to a correctional program within three years of release from prison, 66 percent of Adullam’s men and women have done so. That number includes residents who stayed at Adullum for only a few days, after other housing plans fell through.

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The Cottrells

Ken Cottrell watches as his wife and Adullam co-founder Jody works on the computer in their office at the Adullam House on Tuesday, November 28. The Cottrells operate the House without grants or public funds, charging residents only $350 a month in rent. They do not turn people away if they can't pay. In the past, the couple has had to dip into their personal savings to keep the program afloat. "I believe we are just supposed to do this," Ken Cottrell said. "To give people a home and a second chance."

Money is a constant challenge for the organization. House residents pay $350 a month in rent, but no one gets turned away if they can’t pay. When the nonprofit comes up short on money for monthly bills, program members pray for help.

In calendar year 2017, the program would have been roughly $9,000 in debt if not for a cash infusion in July of roughly $20,000. That was money Cottrell took out of his retirement account, draining it and paying a tax penalty in the process.

The program can house 27 men at a time, with space for five additional men through sublease arrangements. Seven women live at the Butterfly House, a similar program for women that started two years ago.

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Joey Marez

Adullam resident Joey Marez, a convicted sex offender, rests his head after the house meeting at the Adullam House on Tuesday, October 10. Marez started living at Adullam after serving nearly 20 years at Montana State Prison. "With men with sex offenses and violent offenses it's very hard to find a place that will rent to them," said Ken Cottrell, executive director of the House. It's not unusual for a man to be in the back room on his third or fourth day and cry and ask to go back to prison, he said. The Cottrells take in violent offenders and level 2 and 3 sex offenders. "A lot of people don't realize the safety role provided for the community," Cottrell said. "Our mandate is if a man is going to be paroled, what is the safest way for them to parole where they have the greatest chance to transition."

The shock of re-entry

Most house rules are basic: No overnight guests. No drugs or alcohol. Abide by a 10 p.m. curfew, or give notice if you’ll be out later.

But the house is full of men who’ve been behind bars for decades, and some structure and authority is necessary.

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Sean Wentz

Sean Wentz looks on during the weekly cookout at Adullam House on Tuesday, July 11. At 19, Wentz was sentenced to 30 years in Montana State Prison for a double homicide in 1986 in Boulder, Montana. Wentz was released from prison in 2015 and lived at Adullam for a year. Now at 50 years-old, Wentz lives on his own for the first time, holds a job and is in a relationship. He credits Adullam for his success. "I basically grew up in prison," Wentz said. "The Adullam house has helped me in so many ways that when I got out of prison I had an instant family that loved me right away."

For instance, once when the Cottrells left for a rare weekend away, someone living in the house broke into the petty cash kept in the house office and stole $1,000. The money was never recovered.

“We are working with a population that you get burned a lot,” Cottrell said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s difficult.”

Emotional and social support is a big focus of the program. Cottrell said you can’t teach those skills — you can only warn people about the shock of getting out.

For example, a man who worked his way up the food chain in prison, had the top maintenance job and enjoyed status behind bars landed a dishwashing job upon release and now his boss is half his age.

Or a man sits down at a restaurant and sees, at the next table over, a woman the age of his ex-wife, or a man the age of his son, and he is struck with the sudden realization he’s lost decades of his life.

“It’s not unusual for a man to be in a back room on his third or fourth day and cry and ask to go back to prison," Cottrell said.

A neighbor’s support

Plenty of neighbors are unaware of the Adullam house, but most who know of it expressed support.

Toni Banister, who has lived next door to the main Adullam house for three years, supports the program and has grown to trust the men who live there.

Some of the residents offered to help her unload furniture when she moved in. Another made sure to warn her about a recent break-in at a house across the street. And she once gave a spare key to one of the men so he could let in a cable company worker scheduled to arrive while Banister was at work.

Asked if she’d ever had misgivings about living next door to a house full of violent and sexual offenders, she was firm.

“No, never,” she said. “Not at all. I’m glad that there are places like this for people like that.”

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.