KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Life after incarceration can be difficult to navigate alone. A faith-based program in Knoxville equips men who've been incarcerated with the housing, jobs and support they need to change their lives.
In Tennessee, roughly 50% of people released from prison will end up back there within three years. That number jumps to 70% at the Knox County Jail.
Men of Valor Knoxville helps men who leave prison stay out for good.
At the nonprofit's discipleship academy in East Knoxville, Aaron Cathey, Jason Hale, Sam Veals and Darrell Johnson are a few of the men learning to once again live outside of prison walls.
"It was hard for me personally to believe that people actually cared enough to want to see people like us do right and to have a future," Hale said. "Having these guys around, it really helps because I love each and every one of them. We have a bond that nobody can break."
Anthony "AC" Charles is the man leading the discipleship academy. He understands first-hand the struggles Cathey, Hale, Veals and Johnson face. "I'm formally incarcerated myself. I did over 10 years inside a prison myself," he explained.
Charles was introduced to Men of Valor in 2006 while serving his prison sentence. With the nonprofit's help, Charles chose a different path in life.
He now helps others living at Men of Valor's discipleship academy do the same thing. Those who are part of the academy live at a housing facility known as Dogan-Gaither Flats, named after brothers A. D. "Jake" and A. S. "Big Jake" Gaither.
According to the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, the Gaither brothers opened Dogan-Gaither Motel, Knoxville's first Black-owned motel in 1957.
Although the motel's original location was lost in the 1960s due to Urban Renewal, its second location is where Valor Way discipleship academy now stands.
"This building was restored to something beautiful. It's the same thing we help men do with their lives—help them build a foundation with Christ, brick by brick, we build them up," Charles said.
What was once a place of refuge for Black travelers during the era of segregation is now home to men of all backgrounds united by hope and faith.
"It's a lot of love," Johnson added. "It’s what we build our relationships on—love.”
Valor Way's Knoxville campus has been open for several months. They are searching for local companies willing to hire formerly-incarcerated men.
The organization's annual fundraising event will take place April 25. For more information on how the nonprofit helps mentor and support formerly-incarcerated men, click here.