By Crystal Burns
Men and women involved in the Gibson County Sheriff’s Department work-release programs recently organized a drive to collect, pack, and distribute schools supplies to 88 children across the county.
Daniel Herrera, who is incarcerated at the Gibson County Correctional Complex, and Cody Novem, a resident of The Orchard House, a transitional home for Gibson County jail inmates, serve on a committee of work-release individuals and helped lead the efforts to help those students whose parent or parents are in jail.
The committee took their idea to collect school supplies to the Vineyard Church, and members agreed it was a good idea. Then, they asked work-release participants for permission to take a little money out of each of their checks to fund the project. The final step was getting Sheriff Paul Thomas to give the green light.
“The sheriff is the whole thing that makes it work,” Herrera said. “He’s got a huge heart.”
Herrera works in maintenance at the correctional complex, and Novem is working at PRI in Milan while living at The Orchard House. Novem has a fulltime job offer at the company when he leaves The Orchard House. He said life at The Orchard House is going well.
“You really can’t beat it, to be honest, for the situation I’m in,” he said.
Both men said giving jobs to those incarcerated helps them reclaim their worth.
“You give a man a job, you give him a sense of pride and accomplishment, and boom!” Herrera said. “It has a trickle effect.”
To find out how many county children would need school supplies, the committee asked sheriff’s deputies to place a note on the kiosk for inmates to contact their families with the date and time to pick up their child’s backpacks stuffed with supplies. Herrera said he hopes the gesture would show those parents in jail that life isn’t all bad.
“We want to show them a little bit of love and built unity, lives, and families,” he said.
Leaders with the sheriff’s department, The Orchard House, Vineyard Church in Milan, and Alliance Staffing provided support along the way.
Stan Nunley plays a dual role, working at Alliance Staffing and attending Vineyard Church. He said the work-release programs are successful because local factories and businesses are willing to give them a chance. His pitch to potential employers is that the work-release individuals will be on time, have good work ethics, pass their drug tests, and are dependable. He asks employers to start with three people from the work-release programs.
“It’s been a great thing,” Nunley said.
The Orchard House opened in 2019, and the jail work-release program started earlier this year. Inmates involved in the programs have already paid $122,000 to the county and almost $40,000 in back child support and court fines. The recidivism rate has dropped from when Thomas was first elected in 2014 to 12% currently. Thomas said the 12% reflects the participants in the jail’s Tennessee College of Applied Technology and work programs, which is almost 180 people to date.
Thomas has routinely said the majority of inmates released from the Gibson County jail don’t reoffend but get behind on their court fines and fees because they’re unable to obtain employment and are locked up again. His goal is to help them learn job skills and go to work while still in jail, so they can begin paying back their fines before they are released. Some may even leave jail with some savings accrued.