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DEAR ABBY: I'm a retired police officer who has worked in prisons with both male and female inmates.

Your response to "Alarmed Host," whose co-worker "Jane," wants to bring "Al," an ex-convict, to her dinner party, needs to be expanded.

While incarcerated, inmates live with other inmates who are often smarter and more experienced. This gives them many opportunities to enhance their skills. They become experts in deceiving those around them, including persons like "Jane," the naive young lady in "Alarmed's" letter. A host has a responsibility to protect her guests. Inmates are adept at listening and taking mental notes of information, such as that being shared by potential victims that can be used later to commit burglary, home invasions, identity theft, rape, assault, etc. Without behavior modification treatment programs while in prison, few inmates change on their own. -- NO NAME FOR OBVIOUS REASONS

DEAR NO NAME: Your points are well taken. The fact that Jane refused to disclose the nature of Al's crime is also telling. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Get out the wet noodle. "Alarmed" doesn't need to meet Al before the party; she should disinvite Jane immediately!

Almost 70 percent of convicts are repeat offenders, masters in the art of deceit. I know. I have worked with them. Many proudly display albums of "girlfriends" with whom they correspond and carefully catalog their assets. "Alarmed" has due cause for concern.

I once had an inmate clerk I'll call Russ -- very intelligent, quite handsome. Although he had only completed high school before his first conviction, I could explain to him a highly technical accounting procedure -- once -- and he'd turn in a perfect work product.

One day, Russ rushed into my office, exclaiming, "Boss, Boss, I'm getting out. I leave this weekend!" I asked him how many times he had been down. "Five," he said. "But one doesn't count because it was for parole violation." I congratulated Russ and told him, "You're a good worker. You're smart. I don't ever want to see you again." He thanked me and assured me I wouldn't.

Six months later, my inmate truck driver reported that a new inmate at Diagnostics had asked him to tell me that he wanted his old job back. You guessed it -- it was Russ.

Friend "Jane" needs help. It's true that Al has paid the debt society has imposed upon him. But the relevant question is, "Has he changed?" -- FORMER PRISON EMPLOYEE

DEAR FORMER PRISON EMPLOYEE: You're right. But let's not forget that some people DO change. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I am an ex-con, a former drug dealer. Although I abide by the law now, I am still paying for what I did. I have a hard time finding work, living arrangements and living a normal life.

"Al" needs a break. You're never done with your time when you must tell everyone you're an ex-con. You're looked down on, no matter how sorry you feel or how well you're doing. It's humiliating. I wish I could go back and do things differently, but I can't. And neither can Al. -- EX-CON IN ARIZONA

DEAR EX-CON: I understand that post-prison life is frustrating. However, as long as you refuse to allow your past to determine who you are, the lessons you have gained from it will make you stronger and wiser. Yes, there is a lot of bias, but if you have earned the respect of those who are closest to you, that is what's most important.

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