Volunteers Sign Up for Ex-Con Rehabilitation Program

It's three strikes and you're out if you commit certain crimes in Georgia, like armed robbery or murder. You get life without parole.

But area churches are getting together, hoping to intervene before it's too late. They want to reach out to those who already have two strikes against them.

About 100 people met at the First African Baptist Church yesterday to sign up for the program.

"When they get out, they will have no possibility of getting a job," said the church's Rev. Thurmond N. Tillman. "And they will need funds, but if they do another armed robbery they will get life without the possibility of parole."

Georgia prisons release about 18,000 criminals each year. Repeat offenders committed 74 percent of crimes in Savannah last year.

So some people are trying to take back the streets, volunteering to help inmates get back into productive society. People we talked with don't want to be reactive to the crime problem, but proactive, hoping to prevent the violence before it happens again.

Shalonda Raymond knows that crime can tear a family apart. Her dad is an ex-inmate, just recently out of prison. She recalled "growing up and realizing how important it was to keep in touch with him, keep the relationship strong."

Shalonda and the close to 100 people who attended the meeting want to help these ex-cons rebuild their lives and adjust to society. And they have a plan to do just that:

*They want to go to prisons to talk to inmates before they get out.

*They want to involve families in the new transition.

*And they're going to help inmates look for employment, housing and transportation.

"If they have income, a decent job, and if we have businesses willing to deal with these folks, then they will be able to take care of themselves and their families," said volunteer Brian Wilbourn.

These aren't just any criminals. These inmates already have two strikes against them. If they commit one more crime, they'll be sent to jail without the possibility of parole. An even greater reason why residents are reaching out to them physically and spiritually.

Shalonda believes family and community support made a difference in her father's life and will help other ex-criminals too. "That's what they really need to know, someone is there, going to help them get to the next place, whether it's emotional stability or spiritual stability."

The next step will be to train all of the volunteers. Church leaders hope to have the program up and running by end of the month.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com