NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Returning home from prison can be tough. Just ask 72-year-old Thomas Mitchell Jr.
“Did you ever see that movie Back to the Future,” he asked, “these people are coming at me from the left and the right. That's exactly how I felt.”
He said he was locked up for 39 years for robbing a business and everyone in it.
But when he got out, he came to the Tennessee Prison Outreach Ministry’s new Re-Entry Center on 136 Rains Avenue.
The center officially opened Sunday in a former church building.
“We've got new carpets, new ceiling, new painting, new furniture, new bookcases that we built,” said Executive Director Thomas Snow, showing NewsChannel 5 around the building.
Word got out before the official opening, and 60 people had already visited to use the center’s services.
Snow said they hope to give the 120 people released from Davidson County Jail every day, and more released around the state, skills to help land jobs and counseling for former inmates and their families: a clear path to a new life.
“Many of them have good intentions, they want to do well but they lack the support system on the outside,” Snow said.
The Ministry helped Mitchell land a job with a temp services company.
“I feel very proud when I get a (work order) ticket, I go put in the 8 hours. It’s not lots of money you know, but it’s honest money,” he said.
The Ministry’s program lasts one week and includes a big emphasis on teaching released citizens computer and interview skills. Many have been locked up since before computers and smart phones entered mainstream society.
With a job, former inmates get a new purpose as well as a way to pay back fines and child support that accrue during incarceration.
“You never think of it this way but I believe this will do more for this community than police precincts and buildings for the government quite frankly,” said Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall. Hall said there weren't many options for released inmates and the Ministry would be filling a major void around Nashville.
The Ministry called it a holistic approach: serving the body, mind and spirit to keep people from falling back on old habits.
And for Mitchell, a dad, it's a chance at self-pride as he reconnected with part of his family whose life he missed behind bars.
“Every day I get up, I just thank God,” Mitchell said, “I’m on the phone at least once a week talking to my grandkids as well as my son.”