GREENE COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- More than half of the inmates in most of our local jails have been there before, stuck in a vicious cycle of recidivism.But the Greene County jail has graduated dozens of people through a unique program aimed to break that cycle.
The program is called “Correctional Career Pathways,” connecting non-violent offenders with paid work opportunities while still in jail. Since its start in 2015, 57 inmates have gone through the training and five now have full time jobs with the company they started working for while in jail, according to Greene County jail administrator Roger Willett.
We talked with one inmate who said he now has purpose, and a future outside of jail.
“I can look back over the past two years and see my self in hindsight on the bottom rock bottom, to where I am today it’s a miracle,” Scott Burger said. He has been an inmate at the Greene County jail since April of 2014.
“I was in an endless, hopeless cycle of alcoholism estranged from my family living in a tent in the woods,” Burger said. “Living day by day with no ho hope.”
Two years later, Burger is still in jail but has a paying, full-time job at a local manufacturing company.
“There was hope for me, and it has totally changed my life, this program. I’m actually enjoying my life.”
Life change is what this program aims for, to break the cycle of recidivism and give these inmates purpose.
Without support on the outside, “They run with the wrong crowd, they come out and you release them from jail and they have no job, they have no money, they are going to go back to their comfort zone,” Willett said.
“It’s actually breaking destructive cycle in our lives for something to live for,” Burger said.
To qualify for the state-funded program, “They have to show responsibility, a willingness to work, and a willingness to want to change,” Willett said.
You have to get your GED, qualify for the program, complete 30 hours of classroom work and instruction, then hopefully get hired.
“The unique thing about this program is that they’re actually able to earn an income and establish theirselves in the community and hopefully develop work ethic so they can break the cycle to keep coming back to jail,” Willett said.
“Through this program and hard work I’m in touch with my family again, my children, I’ve paid off all my court costs and fines, which I never dreamed that I would be able to accomplish,” Burger said.
“I tell our students if you could see your mug shot when you came in to picture today of who you are I don’t even recognize them,” program instructor Kim Gass said. “They’ve just grown into amazing folks.”
“I’m just amazed over the past two years what I’ve become,” Burger said.
He said he sees a future with his current job, even after he serves his time.
“I’m planning on staying with them for many, many years,” Burger said.
The program exists in partnership with Greeneville Adult Education, ASG temp service, and DTR- a local manufacturing company in Greene County. Last week, the state awarded a 25,000 dollar grant to the program. Willett said this will be used for a new classroom space, and educational tools for the inmates.
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