Returning from Prison and Doing a 180

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We all know a 180 when we see one. Those transformations that literally mean going in the opposite direction, that figuratively mean you have turned your life around. From night to day, from a season of decline to a season of hope and opportunity.

When Tanyetta hit her 180th day on the job last week, it hit us that she’d done a 180. Crime and conviction, time and contrition, all were behind her – but still nipping at her heels – when she first made her way to Project Return. Tanyetta knew that she wanted to live right, get a job, not go back to prison, and build a new life for herself.

Easier said than done! It’s one thing to get a job, and another to do well at it. And Tanyetta is all over it. She succeeded in getting the job to begin with, no small feat, and she’s been making the grade ever since, scoring positive performance reviews and already gaining a pay raise. Extracurricularly, Tanyetta is rekindling relationships with her children, and working toward getting her own place.

One-eighties, it turns out, are everywhere. Project Return works with hundreds of men and women each year who are determined to leave behind a life of crime and start instead on the path to their productive, crime-free future. Terry came to Project Return after incarceration, knowing full well what his own history – and the rest of the world – might predict about him, but also knowing his own determination and desire to defy that.

Terry has done a 180. He started out by gaining employment in door manufacturing with PROe, which is Project Return’s transitional jobs program, and before long Terry parlayed that into regular long-term employment. The next hurdle for Terry was getting his own apartment, which is a mighty challenge when you have a criminal record. Last week, though, Terry went from making doors to walking through his own door, as he settled into his new place. He has turned his life around.

Then there’s Tyler. What does it mean to go from doing time in a federal prison for big city crime, to farming your family acreage in rural Tennessee? To see for ourselves, we caught up with Tyler, down on the farm, where his magic touch and youthful optimism – combined with the thoughtful planning and studying he did while behind bars, and the love and faith of his grandparents – bear fruit in the rows and rows of kale, broccoli, mustard and collard greens.

Tyler’s parole requires – for now – that he stay employed, so he works 40-60 hours a week in a factory on the night shift. He gets off from work just before dawn and heads straight to the fields where his hopes and dreams lie. From prison air to open air, from a caged existence to the green expanse of fertile land, Tyler has done a 180.

The City of Nashville just did a 180. A year ago, the City Council voted down a ban the box measure, and then a few months later a grass roots petition drive failed to get a ban the box referendum on Nashville’s ballot. This week, though, the Metro Civil Service Commission voted unanimously to remove the box – that spot where you check off if you have a criminal background – from job applications for most Metro government jobs.

We celebrate the one-eighties, and applaud the determined folk who make them.

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