WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — A program developed by The Justice Education Center, Inc., is giving a second chance in the workforce to people who were once incarcerated with violent offenses.
Tuesday was their big graduation day. Six stories of redemption.
“I’d rather be here than getting in trouble and doing stuff in the streets,” said De’Andre Wilkins.
Nine years ago, Wilkins' life was completely different.
“I went in for a robbery. I did seven years and I have been out for a little over two years,” said Wilkins.
His story is similar to every other one of his classmates like Charles Spells.
“This is basically a new life for me,” said Spells.
He said that after being in prison for 21 years, he’s been out for almost two.
“I’ve learned things like having a moral compass and really understanding the obligations of a normal citizen and doing the right thing,” said Spells.
With this comes new opportunities like being a part of the first class of ‘Second Chance’ graduates through Project Longevity.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” said Spells.
Established in 2012 in New Haven, Project Longevity is a gun violence reduction program that currently operates in the cities of Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury.
Their new program offers hands-on opportunities for these men to learn a trade and have access to union careers.
“I understand that there’s a push for more punitive things but we’ve got to realize that people come back out. They have to have an opportunity to succeed and this is one of those programs that does that,” said State Rep. Toni Walker.
These men got 145 hours of training, two nights a week and all day on Saturday over 10 weeks.
“It’s definitely kept me on track and focused on building a future for myself. Everything that they offer is really worth it and I feel like this is something a lot of other people should do,” said Wilkins.
Now, and forevermore they are graduates receiving their diplomas and formally joining the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Local 326.
“Spells’ mother gets to see how her son who was in the paper for a crime that he committed, but now she gets to see me achieve,” said Spells.
The Project Longevity pilot program was made possible by state funding allocated by the CT General Assembly. They are starting interviews for the next round of classes soon and hope to start the classes in April.
DeAndria Turner is a multi-media journalist at FOX61 News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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