G. Scott Morris

The Rev. Dr. G. Scott Morris, M.D., is founder and chief executive officer of Church Health.

Hope 2 Hire is a step in the right direction in efforts to reduce high rates of recidivism

By Published: December 09, 2018 4:00 AM CT

At Phil Trenary’s funeral, I spoke about those things that I felt he would want to see happen that would move Memphis forward.

One of those was a program that trains incarcerated people to acquire a trade skill that will allow them to get a productive job and not return to criminal behavior once they’re released.

The program – known as Hope 2 Hire – launched with the financial support of Brad Martin and is committed to reducing the high rates of recidivism in Memphis and Shelby County’s re-entry population.

I pledged during my eulogy to attend the graduation for the program, and I kept my word.

On Dec. 4 at 3 p.m., I made my way to the Shelby County Detention Center. It was my first trip there. As I walked into the front gate, I felt anxious. I gave my name to the guard, who looked through a list. She found me and put a check by my name. She then told me I couldn’t take in my cellphone, so I walked back to my car and dropped it off. I had forgotten that this was a prison.

She buzzed me through and I was behind the outer fence. When another guard asked me if I knew where I was going, I felt like I had stepped back into first grade.

“I’m looking for the chapel,” I said sheepishly.

She led me in the right direction. I asked her how long she had been working there.

“Four years,” she answered.

I was curious. “What’s it like?”

“It’s like working at an adult day care,” she said with a smile. She then pointed me down a sidewalk and I walked the rest of the way on my own. I felt uneasy.

I walked into the chapel and was surprised by what I saw. It was decorated for Christmas. On the front three rows were men wearing blue caps and gowns, ready for graduation. I could tell they were excited.

I was greeted by Ron Wade, the CEO of HopeWorks, a not-for-profit program that works with recently incarcerated men, helping them return to productive lives after jail. His team oversees Hope 2 Hire.

The room started filling up. As I waited for the program to begin, I overheard an attorney who works for the sheriff.

“This program is phenomenal.”

The ceremony started late. I guess no one really had anywhere to go, so there was no hurry.

There were three categories of graduates: those earning certification in building construction technology, in masonry, and in logistics certification. Six women earned their logistics certification.

Each one had his or her name called out and then walked forward to shake the hand of the instructor. It was just like a high school graduation. People cheered, there were broad smiles and there was even a class clown. Four students had been released earlier and, understandably, chose not to stay around for the graduation, but there were 17 graduates present.

Ron Wade spoke of the power of acquiring a skill that will lead to earning an honest living in the real world. He let them know that we at Church Health will be glad to be their doctors once they are released.

At the end of the ceremony, one of the graduates gave a closing benediction. He prayed that they would have humble hearts, minds and souls and that this moment it would be “a turning of the tide” for each of them.

I sat and looked through the window of the chapel and could see layers of razor wire before the trees that were on the other side of the fence.

When the brief ceremony was over, I shook a few of the graduates' hands and wished them good luck. They let all of their guests have chicken and soft drinks before they began the celebration.

I then walked back out into the cold. There was no one outside that I could see, only me. It was a lonely feeling.

I went back through the gate and I took a deep breath as I was again free to use my cellphone or do whatever I chose. And my mind turned to Phil Trenary.

I know that he would have been there with me if invited. He would have been excited about the possibility. “Memphis needs skilled workers,” he would have said. “How can we train even more?” He would be working to grow the next class.

It was sad that he was not there, but there are now 17 people who have a new skill to use to make Memphis a better place for us all. Maybe the tide is indeed turning. I saw a small sign of it headed in a better direction.

They will start a new class just after Christmas.

<strong>G. Scott Morris</strong>

G. Scott Morris


Hope 2 Hire recidivism Shelby County Detention Center

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