Inmates tout state rehabilitation program

It’s about taking advantage of second chances and working to become contributing members of society, 60 graduates of the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility said during a Friday ceremony.

The graduates, dressed in black caps and gowns, walked across the front of the assembly hall at Columbiana’s ATEF Friday as they received diplomas for completing the six-month rehabilitation course.

During the program, ATEF employees provide intensive personal coaching to inmates charged with non-violent crimes in Alabama’s prison system. After completing the program, inmates can go onto work-release programs before possibly being paroled into society.

“I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, but that doesn’t matter when you get involved with the alcohol and drugs that lead you to prison,” said graduate Peter Utley. “The tools given to us here help us learn discipline and other small things that help us with the big things later in life.

“I am grateful to the staff here, because they pushed me to reach my potential,” Utley added. “That’s what this place is all about.”

While at the facility, the inmates are surrounded by posters displaying positive messages, and are taught how to become “contributing members of society,” said program Unit Manager Dr. Larry Chapman.

“The choices you make once you leave here will affect you, your family and your loved ones for the rest of your life,” Chapman told the graduates. “We need you out there with good jobs, paying taxes and being contributing members of society.

“We have taught you what the world can do for you, now go out there and show the world what you can do for it,” Chapman added.

Though the program is aimed at giving the offenders a second chance at leading a crime-free life, the inmates can only take the course once, explained ATEF Director Charles Hadley.

“For a lot of people, this is a second chance. But I must tell you, this may be the only second chance like this you get,” Hadley told the graduates. “Take what you have learned and use it to your benefit, because you can’t come back here. This is a one-time deal.”

But Friday, none of the 60 graduates had plans to return after they left the secured education facility.

“Our life story, though it may be filled with temptations, disappointment and failures, gives us something to grow on,” said graduate Derrick Ousley. “Let’s not let prison be the end of the road. Let this be our defining moment.”