MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When a Shelby County inmate left her work release site earlier this month, it prompted a local search that lasted about 24 hours before she was caught.
While county officials would never confirm where the inmate worked, employees at a Waffle House in Lakeland confirmed to WREG that she worked there. The employees said she never caused any issues and prior to her escape, she simply walked out once her shift ended.
An active inmate preparing breakfast food at Waffle House may sound unusual to some, but county officials and activists alike say the public has nothing to worry about, and the inmates are taking proper steps to successfully re-enter society.
Pastor DeAndre Brown, executive director of Lifeline 2 Success, an organization that helps inmates re-enter civilian life, said is something extremely important for inmates to get a dose of reality before they leave incarceration.
“Work release is a unique opportunity that allows an individual a chance to be in the community in a real way and still not have the freedom to do exactly what they want, but it helps them get a gauge on what life will be like when they’re actually released from prison,” Brown said.
A spokesperson for Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said work release is a key element in inmates finding jobs once they leave prison, and she said inmate who go through work release are less likely to return to prison.
Brown said giving inmates a chance to work on their own provides a morale boost and a hope of something better after prison.
“When you are incarcerated, and all you see is bars and the same people, the ability to get out of that environment on a regular basis helps to provide hope,” he said. “One of the things this population really lacks a lot of times is hope. If you can provide hope for individuals, that makes their re-entry opportunities even greater.”
Brown said not only does it give a positive experience to inmates, local employers can also benefit by having a dependable employee.
“It provides them with an employee who wants to be there and hopefully has the ability to do the job in a great way,” he said.
Another aspect of work release Brown hopes brings peace of mind is that the program only allows inmates in good standing to participate.
The spokesperson for the county said only inmates who will be released back into society can participate. The inmates must have “a minimum security classification and meet certain sentencing requirements.”
“The individuals that get this opportunity see it as an opportunity,” Brown said. “They really want to have a better life when they come home from prison, so they end up in a lot of cases being the best employees.”
Work release income goes straight to the families of inmates, and Brown said that can give them the drive to not repeat the cycle of incarceration.
“When you can give an individual the dignity of work and provide them the opportunity to take care of themselves and their families in a meaningful way, you can provide purpose, and work does that,” Brown said. “Without those things, it’s virtually impossible for a person to succeed when they come home from incarceration.”