Rehibilitation program helps ex-inmates stay out of prison
By Jamie HudsdonEdited by Alexis Arnone Posted April
GREENVILLE - William Davis Harrison left prison in September 2004 with the clothes on his back and a good chance of ending up behind bars again.
But because of Greenville's Soteria World Outreach Ministry, Harrison, 46, now owns a home and a roofing business.
Released from prison in 2004 after serving seven years of a nine-year sentence, Harrison was not allowed to return to his home state of Alabama because he was on a two-year probation.
"I had nowhere to go. I didn't know anyone from South Carolina," Harrison said.
Harrison represents the state many inmates find themselves in: unable to smoothly re-enter society after being behind prison walls.
Repeat offenders account for one-third of South Carolina's prison population; most recidivists return within three years, according to the S.C. Department of Corrections.
With more than 23,000 inmates in state prisons at a per-inmate cost of $13,000, repeat offenders are costing the state nearly $100 million a year.
Department spokesman Josh Gelinas said South Carolina has no state-funded halfway houses, most prisons refer just-released inmates to privately funded halfway houses around the state.
"Everything we are doing is trying to get them back into society," he said.
In addition to jobs and education programs for inmates who earn the right to participate, the state also has a re-entry plan for "violent and high risk" inmates ages 17 to 35. The
Going Home Serious and Violent Offender Registry Initiative is a year-long rehabilitation program before release.
Jerry Blassingame, founder of the Soteria World Outreach Ministry, said it is easy for ex-offenders to fall back into a life of crime because so few opportunities are out there for former inmates. He was one himself.
Blassingame began Soteria while serving a 20-year sentence on drug charges. He said that in March 1999, while still in prison, God gave him a vision to start an aftercare ministry to help former inmates get back on their feet. That June, Soteria World Outreach Ministry was born.
"People need to know people in a structured program deserve a second chance," Blassingame said.
Blassingame said finding jobs and transportation are a former inmate's biggest hurdles when returning to life outside of prison.
He said nonprofit, Christian ministry is literally there when a person leaves prison, often picking up the just-released person in the program's bus.
People referred to Soteria by prison officials stay in one of the program's six transitional houses. The program provides food and clothing needs and helps former inmates receive technical training, substance-abuse counseling, job placement and transitional housing.
Occupants usually spend six months to a year in the house. They are required to keep house regulations, have weekly contact with a program mentor and pay a weekly $50 program fee.
The nonprofit reported $102,000 in revenue in 2005, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service. Soteria spent $81,000 for its programming.
Since its start, the program has helped 250 men and women re-enter society as law-abiding citizens. Blassingame said of the total number of ex-offenders, about 10 percent return to the corrections system.
Harrison said he is grateful for Blassingame's efforts.
"Jerry shook the bushes to find resources for this ministry," he said, "It makes me want to give back. Once I got on my feet, that is what I did."
Harrison became one of the house mentors as well as the resident adviser for the six Soteria transitional houses.
"If you don't know any different, then it is easy to fall back into crime," Harrison said.