All too often, offenders become part of a vicious cycle, going in and out of jail. It’s a cycle that can be incredibly difficult to break without adequate support on the outside. But Greene County’s involvement with a pilot program hopes to make a difference.
It’s called “Correctional Career Pathways,” a $43,000 grant program funded through the Tennessee Department of Labor that connects non-violent offenders with a paid work opportunity while still in jail.
News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern was the first reporter to sit down with the inmates who will start work at a local industry next week.
Ten women recently graduated from the program after completing 30 hours of classroom work and instruction. Several News Channel 11 spoke with said the life skills and support they received in the class may mean the difference between going back to jail and a fresh start with a real opportunity to succeed, they’ve been missing.
“I did about six months last year.”
“I did nine months.”
“I did it big… 6 years at 30 percent.”
“Us being at rock bottom is – us being able to build from that. And starting from nothing is what we’re doing,” inmate Tabatha Britt told News Channel 11.
For Britt, rock bottom is simple. Painfully simple.
“Being here. Drugs, and just – drugs.”
But so is what she pinpoints as setting the tone for success.
“They believe in us. That’s really what gets us, is they believe in us and they want us to go far,” Britt said, of the program directors.
But going far in life begins with a first step, a hurdle these women have struggled to clear.
“They are the brightest, and they are just – I can’t say enough about them. But still, once they get on the outside, they have a record,” Kim Gass, Supervisor for Greeneville City Schools’ Adult Education program said, calling the pilot program the tool set they’ve been missing.
“It’s not always just about ABCs and 123s,” Gass said. “It’s about helping that individual find success for their life.”
“I’ve learned slow down my process of thinking,” inmate Katherine Davis said.
“I didn’t know how to take people or their reactions until I went to the class and understood what i was doing myself wrong,” inmate Tiffany Norton said.
“Stopping and thinking, it’s not just a one day consequence. It’s a whole life. Drug addict again, it’s not just one day. It’s my whole life,” Davis said.
“This gives them an opportunity to go to work and earn money to pay back the county, they are earning money to pay back any fines or fees that they may have while they’re still incarcerated. They have an opportunity to establish savings, to build for family upon their release,” Gass said.
“Coming out of jail with a job is going to mean the world. It really is,” Britt said.
Greene County Jail Administrator Roger Willett helps hand-pick inmates selected for the program, and knows firsthand what a rare opportunity this is for the many who have nowhere to turn upon release.
“Every day we see individuals that are released and – and you know what they’re up against,” Willett said.
Often, no support system, no finances, and no job.
“This is something that hopefully they will be able to use to get that help and to establish their self in the community,” Willett said.
The community and its involvement is exactly what Willett believes will make this program different – a real contender to help break the high level of recidivism.
“There’s enough community leaders on board right now, that it’s not going to be a ‘fly-by-night’ program,” Gass said. “I think it’ll be, Greene County really has a powerful program that’s changing the lives of families. And that’s ultimately our goal.”
Willett said they’re waiting to release the name of the company partnering to work with the inmates until they actually start on the job to gauge how the program works. He and other county leaders are in talks with other local companies as well.
The plan is to alternate between female and male groups of 10 individuals to start with. The first group of male offenders begun their first class Tuesday.
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