SUMTER, SC (WIS) - A program in the Midlands is taking on the task of keeping former inmates from going back to prison. The Sumter-based initiative is called the Clean Slate Reentry program.
The program helps ex-offenders with housing and employment while providing an outlet to give back to the community all while they learn to succeed. The organization works to take part in a community project at least once a week. This week, they placed flooring in a home damaged by a fire.
James Quattlebaum and Clarence Montgomery Jr., who have served time, both helped with the flooring project.
"I served exactly one year," Montgomery Jr. said.
"I'm recently released from prison, I'm 27 years old," Quattlebaum said.
Now, however, they're serving a different kind of time with Derek Gamble, a former offender, who's now the program director for the Clean Slate Reentry program.
"Who better to teach somebody that has offended than somebody that has offended and has successfully re-entered society," Gamble said.
"A lot of people lose hope when they're incarcerated and they know that they have a strike against them so we had to, I had to come up with an idea to help and kind of offset what's going on," Gamble said.
Quattlebaum and Montgomery Jr. have not been out for long. The program has also helped them land jobs.
"I haven't even been out for two months and a half and I work at Ruby Tuesdays," Quattlebaum said.
The ultimate goal is to tackle an issue seen in communities throughout the country. It's a tough climb, but with added help, it doesn't have to be that way.
"We actually need more community partners, more resources and more second-chance employers to help these gentlemen get back on their feet and cut down on the actual crime level," Gamble said.
For now, they will learn to thrive, while giving back and serving time in a new way.
"It's about the person, you have to want to change," Montgomery Jr. said.
"They don't change this environment. Their mind. They have to change that environment. Then they have to change their surroundings, but they got to want it. Everybody knows that if your heart right, your limbs follow," James Quattlebaum said.
Since the program started in 2016, Gamble says 77 percent of those in the program have been employed within the first 30 days.