Project Return is a non-profit that helps provide support for those beginning a new life after incarceration. Right now, they have two locations in Tennessee, one in Nashville and the other in Chattanooga.
I spoke to Project Return's Operations Director Corey Richard about how they provide support to those leaving jail or prison. Richard says their primary focus is on employment because if people can work and support themselves they are less likely to go back to prison. Project Return helps individuals by helping them find jobs with either a referral partner, independent search support, or in many cases transitional employment. The non-profit also has hard skill programs, such as construction readiness. With this program, they pay participants a daily stipend, so they are not losing money while learning skills, participants will also receive an OSHA certification and NCCER certification after two weeks. Project Return is also working on a CDL program and is working towards bringing in a computer literacy class, as they help those in the program build up their resume.
Project Return also has a high-quality staffing agency. This is where they partner with local businesses to provide staffing in the form of their participants, and also provide transportation to and from those jobs with a fleet of vans that run through the city 24/7. They also take participants their paychecks every week and ensure they have clothing, IDs, food, and other supplies they may need. Their second enterprise, called PROPS, is a property make-ready company where Project Return employs participants directly where they will do commercial cleaning or landscaping. Their last enterprise program, Pro Housing, provides long-term housing for their participants. The non-profit buys a property in a neighborhood, pays its participants to renovate the properties, and rents them out to those in the program for an affordable rate. Operations Director Corey Richard says this program addresses that many landlords will not rent to someone with a felony or criminal record.
How do those currently in prison learn about Project Return? Richard says they physically go into the prisons and local jails at least once a quarter. During their visits, they go in with materials about the program, tell people how they can access Project Return, and answer any questions they may have.
It's also important to note that right now the state of Tennessee has an incarceration rate of 838 per 100,000 people, which according to Prison Policy, we lock up a higher percentage of people than any democracy on earth. Most of these crimes aren't even criminal offenses, according to Sycamore Institute, property crimes accounted for the largest share of entries to state incarceration in FY 2018.
If you would like to volunteer with Project Return, they have resume development days on Thursday and Friday, you will also conduct practice interviews and coaching. They also have food packing opportunities. Volunteers are also needed to answer phone calls.
For more on Project Return follow their social media pages below or head to their website with this link. To watch our interview, click here or scroll to the video below!
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My name is Jess and I love telling other peoples stories and bringing awareness to the community.