Former Inmates Get a Second Chance

By Ashanti Blaize
|  Saturday, Feb 26, 2011  |  Updated 11:15 PM CDT
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The <a title=Texas Offenders Re-entry Initiative, started at the Potter's House, is giving former inmates a chance at a new beginning." />

Ashanti Blaize, NBCDFW.com

The Texas Offenders Re-entry Initiative, started at the Potter's House, is giving former inmates a chance at a new beginning.

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The Texas Offenders Re-entry Initiative (TORI), started at the Potter's House, is giving former inmates a chance at a new beginning. 

After seeing the need for a rehabilitation program for inmates trying to re-enter society, Bishop T.D. Jakes started TORI in 2004.On Saturday, 100 participants of the 12 month program graduated.

To walk a mile in the graduates' shoes, is to take quite a rough journey. Decisions each of them made in the past landed them in prison.

"30 years," said TORI graduate, Frank Jenkins Jr. "I done 30 flat and I've been out about 16 months now."

A year ago, standing 100 strong, the men and women who graduated Saturday decided to fight.

"To climb, to stretch, to grow and go, and turn my life around and stop looking back so I could see where I was going," said TORI graduate, Sandra Wagner. 

The Texas Offenders Re-entry Initiative showed Wagner the light she needed to move forward.

"It gave me a place that I could be around someone that understands where I come from and where I'm trying to go," Wagner said.

The program taught her life and job skills and gave her a spiritual foundation.

"One of the biggest advantages we have is the spiritual component," said TORI executive director, Tina Naidoo. "It gives you hope. It allows you to get past the rejection because unfortunately our society, our community is not so forgiving."

Decked out in her green cap and gown with yellow tassel, Wagner was ready to graduate to her new life Saturday. As she crossed the stage, the emcee spoke about her journey saying, "she has obtained long-term employment. She has received several promotions at her place of employment where she is now managing one of the departments."

The moment was so overwhelming, Wagner couldn't fight back her tears of joy.

"My family has waited a long time to see me fulfill my destiny," said Wagner.

A sentiment shared by Wagner's fellow graduates.

"This was the thing I've been waiting for, for two years," said TORI graduate, Delilah Shed. "So I finally made it, so I'm very proud of myself."

The graduates say now that they've made it this far, there's no looking back.

"Never again," said Wagner. "The last time I left was the last time."

According to the Bureau of Justice, 67 percent of former prisoners are re-arrested and 52 percent are re-incarcerated within within three years of their release. Naidoo says the TORI program has a recidivism rate of 8 percent.

"It only costs us 98 cents a day per offender, but it takes $50 for the state to incarcerate them," said Naidoo. "So rather than building more prisons, why not invest your money in rebuilding lives?"

More: Texas Offenders Re-entry Initiative

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