Why We Exist


There is a new life to live after prison. And we are committed to the worth and potential of every person who walks through our door, to assure their successful new beginning after incarceration. Everything – every return, every job, every new beginning – is an opportunity.

Mass incarceration is one of the defining dilemmas of our day. Nothing about addressing mass incarceration can be effective, unless we assure that people have opportunities to succeed when they get out.

The US comprises 5% of the world’s total population, yet 25% of the world’s prison population. Incarceration is a growth industry in Tennessee. In state prisons alone, imprisonment increased by 11.7% between 2008 and 2017. Tennessee is 12th in the nation for per capita incarceration.

Project Return fights for the successful new beginnings for people returning to our community after incarceration.

Our vision is a full and free life after incarceration.

Our History

Don BeisswengerProject Return was founded in 1979 by two visionary Nashville leaders, the reverends Bill Barnes and Don Beisswenger, who realized the overwhelming obstacles that people face when leaving prison and returning to our community. Project Return has grown to an expansive, employment-focused agency with an extensive array of supportive services, assisting hundreds of returning men and women each year.

Bill BarnesIn keeping with our founders’ vision, proximity is fundamental, and all of our work – with our employment partners, our supporters, and the people we serve – is relationship-based. The inclusivity and transformational nature of our work is amplified by the innovativeness of social entrepreneurship.

Through PRO Employment, our first social enterprise, we create meaningful employment opportunities for the people we serve by hiring them ourselves. They gain real-world work experience and income as Project Return’s transitional employees, and then go on to become the proud and successful employees of Middle Tennessee companies, and a vital part of the workforce of this community. Through our second social enterprise, PRO Housing, we create affordable rental homes for hard-working men and women who’ve left prison behind.