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Truck driver training program lets ex-cons leave past in rear view mirror

The program also helps the trucking industry fill a critical need for drivers.

CROSSVILLE, Tenn. — A second chance comes on 18 wheels for some inmates just released from Tennessee state prisons, thanks to a new program from a Knoxville trucking company.

TLD Logistics' "Changing Lanes" program works with the Department of Correction to recruit drivers behind bars. Once they've served their sentence or been granted parole, the company trains them to drive 18-wheelers and works with partner organizations to provide housing, transportation and food. 

"We felt like where our industry is and what these folks are looking for, it’s a good match up for both groups," TLD Logistics General Manager Chris Stephens said. 

For drivers-in-training, it provides a life-changing second chance. 

"It’s opened up a lot of doors for me. It’s given me an opportunity to have a brand new life," said driver Stacy Spivey, who spent more than five years incarcerated in the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex. 

"It’s changed the lives of the people around me. I wasn’t always where I needed to be for my family, for my children. And now I can be, and that means the world to me," she said. 

Driver Brittany Gunter said she hesitated to apply to jobs because of her criminal history. 

"Anything with a background check that comes up, it scares me — because my background is not a good background," she said.

Stephens said this program gives ex-cons a chance to work — making anywhere from one to two thousand dollars a week — and allows them develop a work history.

Driver Denver Young said he appreciates the chance to turn his life around.

"It’s time I grew up and did something with my life and this has given me that perfect opportunity," he said. 

It's also a benefit for the trucking company, which gets sorely needed drivers out of the program. In all, Stephens estimates the trucking industry needs 80,000 to 100,000 additional drivers on the road. So far, three dozen ex-cons are in the program, he said. 

"This could be a viable program for other companies. We’re hoping to be the standard that everyone wants to model after," Stephens said. 

He described the program as holistic approach that provides housing, transportation and counselor support to help the formerly incarcerated re-enter society. If drivers begin to arrive to work late, for example, he said counselors will be notified and intervene. 

"It's saying 'Hey we’re here with you to walk with you,'" he said. "We’re giving them an opportunity, we’re here to help them." 

Stephens said the state Department of Correction would like TLD to expand to program to its other locations across the state in the coming months and years.