A Dawson County man is one of the first inmates to participate in a new jail program designed to increase his chances for success once he is released.
Non-violent inmates selected for the program are released daily from the Hall County jail to take classes at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, and then returned to jail.
Calvin Blackstone, 34, a Dawson County resident, has a 43-page rap sheet that includes possession of methamphetamine, theft by taking, reckless driving, receiving stolen property, driving without a license, criminal trespass, failure to appear, obstruction of law enforcement and multiple probation violations.
Its no secret, he said. Ive been locked up a lot.
His first offense was misdemeanor theft by taking in 1997 and eventually led to his first felony conviction for drugs in 2005.
Hall County Warden Walt Davis came up with the idea for a new re-entry program focused on education and job training.
We know from years of experience that the number one factor in recidivism is lack of a job, Davis said. We hope that by providing inmates with an education and a job, we can increase their chances for success.
IT TAKES PARTNERS
Called the Reentry Accountability Court Transition (REACT) program, it partners local technical colleges, businesses in need of specific skills sets and inmates with opportunities.
This is great for our mission of workforce development, said Dr. Dana Nicholas, associate vice president of academic affairs at Lanier Techs Oakwood campus. There is a huge need for welders, and that is the field Calvin (Blackstone) has chosen to go into.
Blackstone said it is an amazing opportunity.
I never wouldve had an opportunity to go to college if it werent for this, he said.
Four inmates are now taking classes at the Oakwood campus. Six more are expected to start in the next six months.
Of 320 offenders returning to Dawson and Hall counties, 120 could be eligible to participate in the program, according to Warden Davis.
Weve been very selective, Davis said. We look at their offenses, their institutional conduct, and prior employment history to see if the person is appropriate for the program.
INMATES HAND-PICKED FOR PROGRAM
Blackstone was serving five years for a meth-possession charge at Coastal State Prison in Savannah.He also worked construction as a framer.
I went to Coastal and started a rehab program set up inside the prison, he said. I got all your drug and alcohol awareness and self-help classes and motivation for change.
While I was in that program, I heard, OK, Blackstone, pack it up. I was stunned; I had no idea. I asked them, Where are we going? And nobody would tell me. We got here and they started explaining this REACT program to us.
Warden Davis said inmates were hand-picked.
We selected inmates who we felt could have the greatest chance for success, he said. If things go well, well roll this out across the state. In the long run, it saves taxpayers money so there isnt a revolving door in and out of jail. And, ultimately, the inmates have a chance at landing good jobs, and then are able to support themselves and their family and become taxpaying citizens.
In an unusual move for corrections departments, inmates are brought back to the communities where they lived.
It increases their chances for success, Davis said. They need a support system and they want to be with family.
Blackstone said he was burned out on programs that promised him the world, but didnt deliver.
The REACT program removes all the excuses, he said. I used to blame everybody else. But if Im not successful in this program, the only person I have to blame is me.
Blackstone grew up in foster care and was bounced to relatives homes.
His mother was killed in front of him when he was 7 years-old, and his father, he said, was never in his life.
My mom was shot in front me in an argument over $20, Blackstone said.
At the time, he lived in Conyers.
When I finally got to Dawson, I met this family and different friends when I was at Dawson County High School. That was the crazy thing, he said. Before I knew it, I was having dinner with them.
In the middle of his sophomore year, he dropped out of DCHS and headed to Hilton Head, S.C.
He returned after two years because he missed his family.
Dawson is this tight-knit community and just a place thats happy to take anybody in, Blackstone said.
He also has a 5-year-old son, Brayden, who recently started kindergarden.
Hes as beautiful as they come, Blackstone said. My goal is to someday have a three-bedroom, two-bath house thats mine, he said. I want to be a good father for my son. Hes my world. Hes motivating me. When this is done, Ill be able to support him and be the father I never had. In his eyes, Im a superhero. I dont want to let him down.
Lanier Technical College assures parents all students on campus are safe.
The safety and security of our students, staff, and visitors is a priority of Lanier Technical College. The College is very aware of the situation, and we are confident that all precautions are in place, Dave Parrish, Lanier Technical College Director of Marketing and Pubic Relations, said. I have a high school teenage daughter, and I would be comfortable with her being on campus.
Professional law enforcement officers are on campus at all times. The college has many emergency protocols in place to be able to deploy officers as needed instantaneously, Parrish said. All of that ensures that the population of the college are well-protected at any given time of day or night.