64 ex-cons use a local program to get a fresh start

A graduation ceremony Thursday night was the first of its kind in Memphis.

64 ex-offenders went from being felons to being on parole. They all walked away with a certificate after finishing a program to help them get back on their feet.

“Incarceration costs money and rehabilitation saves dollars." That is an old saying among city planners.

The hope is these men and women who graduated from the Office of Re-Entry have had enough of the crime and prison life, and they will now move on to be productive members of society.

"I wanted to make a change in my life for my family. I am married and I want to do better in life,” graduate Carmelita King told FOX13.

The rehabilitation program provides classes on life skills, help with job placement and even courses to help ex-offenders manage their finances.

"They taught us the relationship between being poor and being rich, and they taught us the reason why things play out the way they do in life for poor people is because of the choices we make," one of the graduates said.

One of the speakers at graduation was Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.  His advocacy for criminal justice reform earned him an invitation from the White House to attend President Barrack Obama’s last State of the Union Address.

“Every dollars that you invest in something like this has a return of at least two. Certainly from a humanitarian standpoint, we've got to invest in these lives. But from a cost effect standpoint, it makes sense,” Luttrell told FOX 13.

The goal is to help these ex-offenders make a personal vow, coupled with the right choices, so they never return to jail.

64 lives are now on the right track to make Memphis a safer city.

"Yeah it helped me a whole lot,” King said. “That’s how I got my job. I am loving it.”

The second class for the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Re-Entry has already started and applications are being accepted for a third one.