WREG goes inside 201 Poplar Jail unit and meets offenders working to better their lives

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- WREG is giving you a special inside look into a group of young, Shelby County men who are working to turn their lives around while in jail.

The men are part of the Youth Offender Unit of the Shelby County Jail. On Friday, they performed a play about the Sanitation Workers Strike on Memphis.

The actors are young men ages 18 to 25. The majority of them didn’t commit violent crimes but somewhere in life, they went down the wrong path. For privacy reasons, we can’t show you their faces but we can share their story.

"I’m trying to do something positive because I’ve been getting recognition for negativity for most of my life," said one inmate.

The 20-year-old man we talked to was the author of the play. He’s been in the jail for a year after he was convicted of robbery. Talking to him today, he’ll tell you he’s a different person.

"This right here is really the best thing that ever happened to me. The annex,the youth part. There’s so many opportunities here so I try to reach out to them," he said.

Counselor Tamela Hayes helps provide those opportunities to the 50 or so young men living in the unit.

"We do book reports, simple as introducing to new authors, music therapy, listening to Mozart, country," she explained.

Hayes said the sheriff had the idea to put these young men together, still allowing  them to have contact with the outside world.

"While they’re here they reach out outside of these walls to the young men, their fellow affiliates and say 'Hey, it’s okay. I’m changing, you can too,'" said Hayes.

Friday's play has been in the works for the last three weeks. But this author said he plans to do more. He’s not just a playwright but also an artist. He shared with us some of his recent work.

"It feels great. It’s something I never experienced before. I feel like I can do way more. Way more beyond this," he said.

His goal is to leave jail life behind before the summer and plans to continue writing and sharing his new, positive mindset with others.

"This is just the beginning," he said.