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Free to Live: New program to break cycle of recidivism and boost local construction

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 21, 2020 at 9:57 AM

Good Samaritan Ministries has launched a job training program intended to break the cycle of addiction, relapse and recidivism and reverse a labor pool decline that is impeding the local construction industry.

Leaders of the ministry and a group of program partners including area churches, law enforcement and city leaders introduced the Free to Live program Thursday at a public celebration.

Speakers included Will Crumley, president of Foxfire Development and vice president of the Johnson City Area Home Builders Association, who said he has worked with some of the men who will take part in the program and believes it will be “a home run.”

Good Samaritan Executive Director Aaron Murphy opened the presentation with figures to illustrate the need for the program:

• Average annual cost to incarcerate one person, $26,000;

• Statewide recidivism rate, 48%; and

• Number of people who return to incarceration within two years of their release, 50%.

“Good Samaritan Ministries has a plan to interrupt this cycle by intervening in the cause of relapse and recidivism,” he said. “Free to Live is a 12-month program equipped to rehabilitate with spiritual care and mentoring, sober living, job training and life-changing development.

“It is 12 months of training in the basic skills of construction for an industry that is in great need of workers as a result of the retiring generation of baby boomers, he added.

Murphy said the program would involve on-the-job training in carpentry, mechanics, plumbing and electrical, “with mentoring and support for sobriety to break the cycle of relapse, recidivism and incarceration and help men become productive members of the community and the country without reliance on government programs.”

Paul Baggett, vice chairman of Good Samaritan’s board of directors, said interest in the program can already be seen among the ministry’s staff and program partners, including local police, the spiritual community, the business community, city and county leaders and three local universities.

“Addiction and incarceration cost just about everybody in the community, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our friends,” Baggett said. For men who come back into the community from treatment and incarceration, there are barriers in housing, education and employment that contribute to their re-using and going back to jail.

“We recognize the courage of the young men in our program who have to recover in the community. This is hard work they are doing. It takes perseverance, faith and discipline. And we have some pretty strict rules they have to stick to. We’re going to be here to support them every step of the way. And when they fall, we’re going to be here to pick them up. It makes me proud to be a part of this organization,” Baggett said.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock and Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner also offered support for the program, while Crumley emphasized the need for the workers it will provide.

“We are facing a labor shortage in the construction industry,” he said. “The housing boom has exposed a real lack of skilled and unskilled labor in our community and the wide reaching effect it has. Contracts have been deleted or cancelled.

He said the labor shortage impacts the quality of projects, and in the nonprofit community, “there is a whole generation of people who can not afford to have their homes repaired. And there are tricks and skills that have been passed down from one generation to the next that are being lost forever as experienced workers retire and no one replaces them.”

He said Free to Live gives the construction industry the opportunity to share skills and use its job sites to teach. And, he said, the program allows that teaching “without the risk of putting on payroll people who start strong but cannot continue because of addiction.”

In his work with Free to Live job trainer Scott Parker and a few of the program participants, Crumley said, “I’ve had a sneak peek at this program and I can see from my perspective this is going to be a home run.”

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