June kicks off program to help keep offenders from returning to prison

MEMPHIS, Tenn.- The State of Tennessee is taking a stronger stand, hoping to help keep recently released prisoners from committing crimes and returning to jail.

Sunday, June 1st, marks the start of a new program, designed to just that. It’s called Take One.

Electric emotions ran high inside the Mark Luttrell Correctional Center Sunday morning. About half of the inmates at the State Prison packed a makeshift sanctuary for morning worship; singing, shouting praises and supporting each other.

Tonjala Woodears was one of them. At just 18 years old she was locked up for aggravated kidnaping and aggravated robbery. 16 and half years later, Woodears says she`s not the same person now that she was back then.

“I used to fight all the time. I kept going to set, which is prison inside of prison,” said Woodears.

She credits God as the reason for her change.

Every first Sunday of the month, volunteers come into prison to help hold service. But now the state, with the help of volunteers across Tennessee, is taking the prison ministry even further. Church volunteers will pair up with an inmate one on one to help mentor them in the outside world in the Take One program.

“A lot of time prisoners find church in prison, but they don`t have that same support system when they leave,” said Neysa Taylor with the Tennessee Department of Correction.

“Knowing you have church you can go to. People you can call, that`s wonderful. That`s more than I ever had,” said Woodears.

For nearly 20 years, Chaplain Alma Harris has watched inmates come and go from state prisons. She says the first year they’re released is incredibly important.

“They kept returning. I had a prayer, ‘Lord God we need some help.’Take one is a miracle,” expressed Harris.

For Woodears, who gets out of prison in 2 to 4 years, she calls the take one program, Hope.

“Are you worried about what`s going to happen once you walk out those doors?” asked WREG’s Elise Preston.

“No, I`m just going to stay strong and believe. That`s all I can pray about,” replied Woodears.

At least 50 faith based organizations across the state are already involved with Take One.

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