NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — Taking a drive through downtown Nashville you can't help but to notice the cranes and construction crews, but a lot of those crews are made up of current and past convicted felons.
For more than two years, the Department of Correction and the Department of Transportation have teamed up in a federally funded program to give qualified inmates the tools to work in construction.
The Highway Construction Technician Certification Program is only offered at the DeBerry Special Needs Facility. The men must go through rigorous vetting, interviews, classroom work, internships and maintain a clean disciplinary record for at least a year before they can start work.
The program offers experience by combining class work with on-the-job training. Several area contractors like Bell and Associates and Jones Brothers are committed to mentoring the inmates and offered them paid training on local work crews. Coordinator Calvin Burden says the inmates go from making .07 cents an hour to up to $20.00 an hour. Without the program, many inmates leave prison with a $75 check.
More than 50 inmates have gone through the program successfully and Burden says out of 54 only one has returned to prison. Inmates tell Newschannel 5, they're just like another member of the crew working an hourly wage, with 401K benefits and paid vacation.
"It seems like a dream; how can you make this kind of money and work be able to send money home to your children," said inmate Donnie Brock.
Brock is serving a five-year felony aggravated assault charge, he says this program provides him a second chance in life and allows him to give back to his five sons.
Inmates like Nicholas Rucker who is serving a 10-year felony sentence for his involvement in an armed robbery says this opportunity is about starting over for his 9-year-old son.
"It just makes you feel good at the end of the day or to go back and see a project that you completed knowing that your efforts along with your crew made that happen," said Rucker.
The program typically picks 15 participants to work with four companies like Civil Construction and Stansell Electric. Those with Bell say it's about giving back.
"A relationship with TDOC, TDOT and us (Bell & Associates) just made perfect sense. We're huge proponents in giving back to the community and the thing about this program is it's a meaningful way to give back, it's a real second chance," said Rebecca Ozols, with Bell and Associates.
DeBerry will have a graduation on Thursday for this year's inmates who participated in the program.