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Reentry facility opening in Knoxville hopes to keep former inmates from returning to prison

The program is called Men of Valor and their program will provide housing, counseling, work placement and chances for former inmates to successfully reenter society.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A program that helps former inmates reenter society successfully and stay out of prison opened its doors in downtown Knoxville on Monday. The new Men of Valor facility will house 30 formerly-incarcerated men after city leaders contributed around $500,000 to the project, from the Affordable Rental Development Fund.

Men of Valor is a faith-based program that already has a facility in Nashville. The Knoxville facility is its second location. The program includes discipleship classes, "training in biblical values and morality," job-readiness training, anger management, counseling and one-on-one mentoring.

The reentry program takes 90 days, during which time the program also helps former inmates find secure employment. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and other leaders attended the opening of the program's Knoxville facility.

"To whoever says that I can't, whoever says I won't, then I will, and just being here is a success in itself," said Michael Ramey, a former inmate who spent 33 years in prison. "Doors get slammed in your face. There's no pretty way to say, 'I just did 30 years in prison, will you hire me?'"

He was charged with first-degree murder in 1988 and sentenced to life in prison when he was 17 years old.

"It's hard to see a future after that," he said. "I was hopeless."

The Men of Valor program hopes to help him find the future he wants through the new facility by helping him get the basics for functioning in the world.

"All the necessities that come with parole — checking in, being able to stay out of trouble, being able to pay your fines, getting your ID back," said Genevieve Turner, the reentry coordinator of the program. "There's a lot that people don't think about."

In Tennessee, 46% of offenders return to prison within three years of being released. However, Men of Valor leaders said about 15% of participants who complete their 12-month aftercare and reentry program return to prison.

"To seeing themselves as homeowners, as people who have means, people who have healthy partnerships and relationships," said Turner.

Thirty former inmates will move into the Knoxville facility in October. It's called Valor Way and the staff there said they are looking for volunteer mentors to help out. To find out how to volunteer in Knoxville, visit the Nashville website. To donate, click here

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