Savannah pastor targets youth, ex-inmates with program

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Nearly 15 percent of homicide victims in Savannah since 2011 were younger than 20-years-old.

Pastor Thurmond Tillman at First African Baptist church reaches out to teens and people getting out of prison. When it comes to violence in Savannah, these two groups are committing crimes at an alarming rate.

"Everybody matters. Everybody. We need to make sure that every life counts," said Tillman.

That's his mission in all he does to help convicted felons with life after prison.

"Many people don't realize that 97 percent of all people incarcerated return home. With that, they need to return home to hope and possibilities," said Tillman.

In Georgia, nearly 30 percent of felons who get out, are convicted of another crime within three years. Metro Police have said before in shootings here, a lot of the victims and suspects are repeat offenders. They're destined for an early death or life in prison. Tillman started Healing Hands of Savannah to do two things. First, he tries to prevent death or life in prison. Second, he wants to make sure people in prison don't go back when they get out.

"We try to do our best to make sure people are not to a point of desperation where they will say 'I just cannot make it. I can't do it. Nobody cares. Nobody wants to help,'" said Tillman.

His program pairs up these ex-inmates with companies for work. Tillman said giving them that employment encourages them not to get back into a life of crime.

"Part of having money is, in fact, being employed so people do want to get jobs, but what's even more important than money and jobs is having a positive relationship with other people," said Tillman. "If people who are positive and people who can help, and people who can have good attitudes, would be around people who are depressed and don't have a good attitude, that could make a difference in people's lives."

When it comes to young people and violent crime, Tillman said the struggle is connecting with the families to give them the support they need.

"We've all seen with high recidivism rates, that does not help anyone. Prison is not really a place for rehabilitation," said Tillman. "Incarceration is not the deterrent it used to be. At one point, incarceration was 'wow please no I don't want to get caught. I'm not doing anything wrong because I don't want to go to jail.'"

What's most important, he said, is for everyone to get involved at some level.

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