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Originally published June 12, 2012 at 9:32 PM | Page modified June 13, 2012 at 7:41 PM

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Advice for inmates: Steer clear of guns

The state Department of Corrections has put together a presentation designed to educate convicted felons and career criminals about the serious legal penalties they face if they are caught violating the firearms prohibition upon their release.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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ABERDEEN — How difficult would it be to avoid firearms if you knew being anywhere near one could cost 15 years of your life?

For those incarcerated in the state's prisons, the answer may not be so obvious, according to inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Many are behind bars because firearms have long been an irresistible — and frequently tragic — part of their lives.

"I come from a home of gangs and guns and crime," said Rolando Coleman, 40, of Seattle, who is serving time in Stafford Creek for burglary. "My mom killed her husband in self-defense, and my father is in prison ... I hope I don't come back, but it's tough out there."

Coleman was among several dozen inmates who on Tuesday attended the Firearms Crimes Enhancement Program, a panel discussion hosted by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) and designed to educate felons about the serious legal penalties they face if they're caught possessing firearms after their release.

The presentation by members of various police departments, prosecutor's offices and DOC community-corrections officers, is also an opportunity to provide a little preventive outreach, according to Cmdr. Terry Morgan of the Redmond Police Department.

"We want you to get out of here and not ever come back," Morgan told the inmates, all of whom are scheduled for release before the end of the year. "But the bigger reason is that we want the killings and shootings to stop."

Morgan noted the recent rash of shooting deaths in Seattle, including the slayings of five people May 30 by gunman Ian Stawicki, who then turned a handgun on himself. Of 21 homicides so far in Seattle this year, 19 have been the result of gunfire. "I know in my heart there is not a person in here who condones the killing of a 4-year-old, or a 12-year-old, or a 22-year-old woman who had her whole life in front of her but was at the wrong place when someone had a vendetta and didn't know how to use a gun," Morgan said. "I know that nobody in here thinks that is OK, and we are going to stop it. And we are asking you to help."

According to Lt. Steve Maurer, of the Lakewood Police Department, many felons who have lost their right to possess firearms don't understand what that means exactly. Some are aware simply possessing a firearm is a Class B felony and could carry a sentence of up to 10 years depending on a number of factors.

In addition to the state law, violent or repeat offenders may be subject to federal laws that are even more restrictive, said Jesse Williams of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.

"If you are caught with a gun, or even a single round of ammunition, you are subject to a 15-year minimum federal sentence," Williams said.

He said prosecutors can see through all sorts of deceptive ruses.

"If you think you are not going to be charged because you put your gun in your baby momma's purse, or you got your baby momma to get a concealed-weapons permit, or you hid your gun in the engine, well, we're going to see past that," Williams said.

Maurer and the other panel speakers also warned that advances in the dissemination of information by law enforcement in recent years means criminals have far fewer chances to avoid detection.

The days of getting away by giving a false name are long gone, they said.

"You have a choice," said Maurer. "Do you stick to the laws and stay away from situations that are dangerous for you, or do you take the risk?"

Dustin Prater, an officer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the inmates that while a felony conviction prevents them from hunting with any kind of firearm, they are free to use bow and arrows, cross bows and to trap.

During the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations, inmates asked what types of weapons they are allowed to use. Pepper spray, mace, some knives and contact Tasers are legal, the speakers said. One man drew a few chuckles when he asked about nun-chucks, which they are allowed to possess, along with paintball guns, nail guns and concrete guns.

The panelists warned, however, that items that are legal to own can still be used illegally and land someone back behind bars.

"If you use an Airsoft gun to hold up a bank, that's going to go bad," said Community Corrections Officer Randi Unfred. Several of the participants in Tuesday's class said the presentation was helpful.

"I learned that I've got to be absolutely careful, be on my p's and q's," said Robert Marion, 35, an inmate from Tacoma.

Corey Mann, 24, of Seattle, who is scheduled for release from Stafford Creek in three months, said, "Yeah, guns ain't the way to go."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.

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