By Fadia Patterson | Spectrum News
Published June 7, 2021
TAMPA – As a first time offender, Andre Jones says he was facing up to 35 years in jail and probation.
“It pretty much made my life take a whole 360,” said Jones.
Now the father of three young boys is living his dreams because he is gainfully employed as a result of the life skills, job training and mentorship offered to R.E.D. graduates.
“When I first caught my initial charge I was a juvenile and by the time I went to court I was 17 and tried as an adult,” Jones added.
All that is behind him because he was given another shot. Second chances are something the R.E.D Program has mastered since its launch in Atlanta. The restorative justice program is free to all participants. All applicants are vetted and screened for eligibility for the program by prosecuting officials and prospective employers.
“You could be 20, 30 years removed from this crime, but when they pull up your record you still look like a criminal,” said Director of Programming Zeus Luby.
Luby says this program is a better alternative to probation. Expunged records once the program is completed by offenders is another component to the program’s success. Plus non-violent offenders are paired with employers upon graduation.
“It’s two-fold – you’re helping somebody out,” said BlueGrace Logistics President Bobby Harris.
This is an underserved population – according to Harris – which his company wanted to tap into when it launched its Diversity and Inclusion initiative last year. BlueGrace Logistics is now adopting the rehabilitation program to give non-violent first-time offenders a chance at gainful employment. The national company whose corporate headquarters are in Tampa says it wants to join the effort to reduce recidivism rates.
“You’re also helping people that have a lot to offer,” Harris said. “Give them a second chance and provide yourself with some of the most loyal workers and at the same time giving back.”
Following the 12-month program, Harris says graduates are eligible for a wide variety of jobs including I.T., Management and Customer Support.
“People want to work and they are out there, sometimes you have to change what you are looking for,” Harris added.
Tampa graduates of the R.E.D program can advance their careers at any BlueGrace locations throughout the country.
“Once someone gives you a real opportunity, where there is growth and good pay you have a different level of focus,” said Luby.
Andre Jones says the alternative program has impacted his life for the better.
“The way I used to think, my mindset on certain things is completely different. I guess it opened up a different view for me,” he said.
That renewed mind has given Jones the tools to make positive contributions to society, especially as a father.