- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) - Bennie Turner said when he was released from prison, he went through the same fear most prisoners go through.

Where am I going to live? Where am I going to work? What am I going to do?

These questions ran through Turner’s head constantly. He spent the last 15 years in prison and wasn’t accustomed to life outside the bars. So much had changed between 1994 and 2010.

Turner’s fears were quickly turned to hopes and dreams in an unexpected way.

State Rep. Johnny Shaw, who is also the pastor at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Stanton, took Turner under his wing and gave him support, a job and a new life.

“He gave me that support and safety net that I needed,” Turner said. “He gave me a job at the church as a janitor and now I’m grounds keeper.”

Turner told his story last week during a prayer breakfast held by the Tennessee Department of Corrections to announce its creation of the “Take One Program.”

The program is the brainchild of Shaw, D-Bolivar.

“When I saw the stats that we release sometimes up to approximately 1,200 inmates per month across the state of Tennessee, as a whole, and half or more of them go back, I thought then that there was something we ought to be able to do to make our communities safer and to save money,” Shaw said.

His idea took him to local churches.

“That’s what the church is about,” he said. “Church and state is separated, but at the same time church and state can cooperate and make life so much better for our community and for our state.”

Shaw’s idea for the “Take One Program” was well-liked by Commissioner Derrick Schofield of the Department of Corrections and they quickly began working on it.

Assistant Commissioner Bill Gupton was also at the breakfast to explain the program.

“We want churches and faith-based organizations around the state to come together to agree to take just one offender and their family for one year past post-release,” he said.

The idea is to have church leaders become mentors for the released inmates and to hopefully lower their chance of recidivism.

“And to provide support, maybe clothes if they need it, transportation if they need it, childcare if they need it, point them in the right direction for health care,” he said. “Just to be their friend in the community to help them ease that re-entry process. When you leave prison, a lot of these guys don’t have connections to the community, they have no one.”

The group will be holding prayer breakfasts across the state for local faith-based and nonprofit organizations to learn more information about the program and to possibly sign up.

Shaw said Jackson is the second breakfast they’ve had and that the response from churches has been overwhelming.

“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback and a lot of people are contacting me saying they want to join, they want to help,” he said.

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