Hope can make all the difference. So can a second chance.
Eight inmates at the Spartanburg County Detention Center now have more of both.
The women were the first to graduate Operation Educate.
The pilot program is designed to teach inmates job skills that will help them gain and maintain employment.
Tabitha Crisp lost her job after she was arrested in December.
“When I lost my job, everything went downhill,” she said.
The 34-year-old mother of three said she had always worked in the restaurant business. She said she had less than $100 after losing her job. Crisp said she was paid to illegally fill prescriptions. She has been charged with several drug crimes, including three counts of violating drug distribution laws.
Life had been spiraling down for Crisp before her arrest. She was using methamphetamine. And she was out of hope.
“I said, 'God, please get me out of this. I don't know what to do,'” Crisp said.
She was arrested two hours later. Jail, she said, probably saved her life. Crisp said she is sober and realizes what's important in life.
Crisp and other Operation Educate participants learned office and computer skills. They also learned about time management, problem solving, leadership and working under pressure.
Crisp said the program provided her with skills that she hopes will help her move forward after she's released from jail. Her two sons will soon turn 10 and 14. She missed her daughter's eighth birthday on Mother's Day.
“I want my kids to know this is not what life is all about,” Crisp said of jail.
She said incarceration has been a “blessing in disguise.” But now someone else can have her bed.
Angela Martin, 39, is charged with trafficking methamphetamine and a weapons offense. Martin said she was renting a room in a house at the time and said neither the drugs, nor the weapon that officers found were in her possession. She's awaiting her court date.
Martin said she was employed several years ago with a company that's since closed. She gained skills on the job, but said now she has certification to show prospective employers her abilities. Martin, like Crisp, considered the program an opportunity.
It wasn't until much later in the program, Martin said, that participants realized its significance. Along with learning job skills, Martin said they will have assistance finding jobs and access to treatment and other services after their release.
“I'm just trying to get on the other side of this,” Martin said.
Her boyfriend and son were there to show their support at the Operation Educate graduation ceremony on Wednesday. A day after the ceremony, Martin was still beaming with excitement. She said graduates were greeted with applause as they entered the room where the ceremony was held.
“I was just blown away that it was such a big deal,” Martin said.
Martin was happy that she made her loved ones proud.
Graduates also were excited that they will receive a complimentary haircut and color and outfits for work.
April Minter, 45, said she's interested in anything to better herself while she awaits her court date on several drug charges.
“I'm thrilled about it and everything they're offering us. …It involves everything we need to succeed in a new life,” Minter said of Operation Graduate.
She said it's difficult for job seekers with criminal records.
“It's really hard to find someone who will give you a chance,” Minter said.
She said a prospective employer through the program would already know her past. Minter said she would give an employer “110 percent” in exchange for a second chance. After spending a day or so with family, Minter wants to go right to work.
Lichia Oglesby, known as Lee, is a high school graduate. Oglesby, 35, said she's struggled with addiction since 18. She said she was sober for several years before relapsing on methamphetamine. She was arrested for property and drug crimes in December. Oglesby was recently sentenced and remains jailed and waiting for an opening at a rehabilitation center.
“I get to go home soon, and I'm so ready to get a second chance,” Oglesby said.
The program, Oglesby said, provided much more than job skills and certification. She said it made her realize people are on her side.
“It's like the community is giving us a second chance,” she said.
Oglesby considers it her “final chance.” She said she doesn't think she'll make it through another relapse.
“Today I want to live,” she said.
Oglesby said Operation Educate graduates have received support and hope.
“We're not bad people. We're people who made bad choices,” she said.
Oglesby is thankful to the jail and community for the program.
According to information from the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, which operates the jail, most inmates are unemployed and don't possess a high school education.
Operation Educate is an effort to reduce recidivism and give inmates an opportunity to learn skills that will keep them in the workforce. The program is made possible through the support of various people and organizations, including the jail, Spartanburg Community College, Upstate Workforce Investment Board, Vocational Rehabilitation and SC Works Upstate.
Jail staff thinks the program could potentially save taxpayers' money by decreasing the jail population, and significantly impact the lives of inmates and their families.
The eight graduates attended classes Monday through Friday — a total of 20 hours per week — for several weeks.
Deputy Robert Duclos works in inmate services at the jail. He said that the vast majority of inmates are unemployed and that's often a factor in their incarceration.
Duclos said the next round of Operation Educate will be offered to men. The new class could start at the end of June.
“Poor decisions of the past should not determine their future,” Duclos said.
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