A Barton County man with a record of drug arrests appeared in Barton County District Court recently for a different reason: to hear that he’d officially completed his sentence with Community Corrections and the court was granting early termination of his probation. More than that, Judge Carey Hipp used the occasion to congratulate Oscar “Oz” Usoro for turning his life around and using his time to help others.
It wasn’t always clear which path Usoro would take.
On May 11, 2016, a Hoisington school took precautionary measures as law enforcement officers raided a nearby home. The narcotics search warrant turned up unspecified drugs, paraphernalia and cash, and Usoro was arrested for distribution or possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school. He was arrested for possession again in 2017, with an added charge of endangering a child, and in December of that year he was sentenced to three years of community corrections.
Usoro graduated from the poverty program then known as Circles of Central Kansas in 2018 and is no longer in poverty. He spoke at the second Circles graduation, telling the audience he’d joined because “I wanted a better life for my sons and myself.” He said he found useful information as the class looked as 11 resources for getting ahead, such as developing social capital.
Also speaking that night was Quenla McGilber, a member of the local Circles steering committee.
“Poverty has a lot more to do with than just finances,” McGilber told the graduation audience. “There are a lot of smart folks that just need some help.” The graduates, known a Circles leaders, bring a lot of know-how, resourcefulness, self-reliance and generosity to the table, she continued. “If there is a zombie apocalypse, these are the people I want in my corner.” (Circles is now Barton County Resolve Poverty Core Community.)
Usoro didn’t just use what he’d learned to help himself. He helped start the new Rise Up Central Kansas group, a community outreach that is helping agencies such as the Health Department, Juvenile Services and The Center for Counseling and Consultation understand how trauma experienced by children shapes their lives as adults, and how agencies can use the information to help their clients thrive in the face of adversity.
Corrections Officer Tyler Lehmkuhl spoke of Usoro’s determination on Feb. 28 when Usoro appeared in the courtroom to have his probation terminated early.
“In my nine years in Community Corrections, no one has worked as hard as Oz,” he said. He completed drug and alcohol treatment and now helps teach classes. He graduated from a poverty program, helped start Rise Up and now has started a grief support group.
The grief support group meets from 6:30-8 p.m. every Tuesday at First Christian Church, 5230 Broadway in Great Bend.
Barton County Health Department Director Shelly Schneider also spoke at the hearing.
“I have known Oz for two years,” she said. Usoro, who lost a child, helped start the grief support group. He also had a son taken from him when he was arrested, and has recently regained custody. He has started a “fatherhood initiative,” a class for Barton County fathers. It’s a program Usoro is uniquely suited to facilitate as someone who has “been there.”
Amy Boxberger with Central Kansas Community Corrections also spoke at the hearing. “He volunteers to help with other clients,” she said. “He has a willingness to learn. He’s just a rock star.”
Boxberger said she was encouraged to see what can happen under the supervision Community Corrections is intended to offer. “He’s made changes for himself and his family.”
Judge Hipp noted that Usoro did more than complete the demands of the Community Corrections program. He also took on more than was required, voluntarily.
“It is rare that I get to applaud somebody and tell you, ‘good job,’” the judge said.
“Thank you for taking a chance,” Usoro said.
Hipp concluded, “He’s not only changed himself, but is making a change for others.”