ATEF works to help the incarcerated

According to Community Education Centers Senior Vice President of Reentry Operation Steve Tomlin, the main goal of the Alabama Therapeutic Educational Facility is to help incarcerated people successfully assimilate back into society.

“If we could replicate this model all over the world, it’s something we would do,” Tomlin said. “This is a holistic approach to treatment for individuals who are preparing for re-entry back into society. We are preparing individuals to not come back into the system.”

ATEF is located in Columbiana, and residents usually stay at the facility for six months. ATEF is currently only open to men, although it has been open to women in the past.

During the residents’ first three month ATEF, they receive counseling that meets their personal needs.

“The first thing we do is try to break down that whole culture of how it was in the prison system” said Community Education Centers, Inc. Director Gary “We do an individual treatment plan to break that criminogenic thinking that they’re had in the past.”

At ATEF, vocational training, Adult Basic Education, General Education Development are offered to residents. All residents are strongly encouraged to have their GED before leaving the facility.

“This program is very unique. It lends into a culture that’s not readily accessible. We treat people the way that you would want to be treated,” Hetzel said. “The stigma of the word ‘inmate’ goes away.”

ATEF partners with Church of the Highlands to provide residents with opportunities to attend worship services and Bible studies on a weekly basis.

“We’re planting the church inside of these walls and help men and women here, and at other facilities, to develop a growing relationship with Christ,” said Church of the Highlands Volunteer Leader Jim Stefkovich. “We do not view the men here as projects. We view them as part of the church family.”

ATEF opened in March 2008, and is considered one of the largest employers in the city of Columbiana. The facility is described as the “largest of its kind in the region,” with approximately 115,000 square feet.

Graduate Scott Frye said he is grateful for everything he learned through ATEF. Because of his experience at ATEF, Frye has been inspired to start his own rehabilitation program.

“Honestly, I was upset with my classification officer for sending me here in the first place. Then I got here, and saw the program. It was awesome,” Frye said.

“I was given the tools and was able to put a plan together to succeed. I was inspired by ATEF to begin a program called Genesis, where we also help guys get out of prison, stay out and find jobs. We help with getting ID’s and social security cards, mundane things that we take for granted every day.”

Frye also spoke out against building larger prisons, and called for more small rehabilitation facilities.

“Would you rather have an angry, punished, more innovative criminal to be released into society, or a more productive reformed guy who has the tools to change his life?” Frye said. “We need more facilities like ATEF.”

Director Gary Edwards said he wants to raise awareness about ATEF and their mission.

“There are so many people who don’t know we are here,” Edwards said. “We’re really proud of what we do,”