Normally affable, employees and frequent customers at Elemental Coffee were celebrating in a dark way as they heard about their NW 8th Street halfway house inmate neighbors moving out Monday.
After repeated serious violations of policy, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections ended their contract with Catalyst Behavioral Services, the corporation that operated the facility.
ODOC officers helped inmates box up and load their belongings before they boarded a bus to transfer to another facility.
For several years Elemental, a hipster haven at 815 N Hudson Avenue, has been known as a welcoming place for those who used the coffee shop/roaster as their workplace and home away from home.
But, the women who worked there could not be blamed for celebrating.
The large halfway house operation that housed 106 inmates on the same block was locally notorious for their inmates who would float the neighborhood on bicycles and on foot with seeming nothing else to do except harass passing women.
Michelle Bui and Elena Hughes were two employees of Elemental who were open with Free Press about inmate behaviors they encountered regularly.
“They would follow me when I walked to my car,” said Bui with a disgusted look.
Hughes chose to joke about her regular encounters with the inmates.
“Who the hell is going to whistle at me anymore?”
She said it was a usual thing for inmates to whistle and call out “hey baby!” or “hey sexy!”
Brian Bergman has worked out of Elemental for several years. Even though he is now on the staff of a company and has an office, he still meets people there.
“People were saying this morning that the nice thing about [the halfway house] going away was that the cat calls were going with it,” said Bergman. “They are always calling out. Absolutely. Without question.”
But founder/owner Laura Massenat played it all down.
“We never had any real problems.”
ODOC issued a news release Monday morning listing the reasons for ending their contract with Catalyst Behavioral Services for the halfway house officially listed at 415 NW 8th Street.
“We had ongoing serious concerns about the safety of Catalyst’s operation of this halfway house,” ODOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh was quoted in the release.
“Catalyst’s failure to conduct necessary functions effectively at this halfway house allowed inmates to come and go without proper accountability. Private individuals could also access the facility without security’s knowledge.”
Major violations where two inmates went missing for long periods of time were listed as the major reasons for ODOC ending the contract.
Problems with oversight and counting inmates in November resulted in one inmate being found dead in Ardmore before the facility realized he was missing 16 hours after he left.
Another inmate walked off and was arrested four days later in Tulsa for armed robbery.
“Individuals were able to enter and exit the halfway house without security’s knowledge,” ODOC representative Matt Elliott wrote.
The agency’s rules require halfway house inmates to only be allowed to leave for a job, find employment or to attend church.
Case workers are supposed to approve any itinerary for even those activities.
Under ODOC rules, inmates can be charged with a felony for a “walkaway” if they do not return at the time designated on their itinerary.
Catalyst has been a contractor with ODOC for 14 years and continues to operate their contract halfway house in Enid.
Attempts to reach Catalyst representatives for comment Monday were unsuccessful.