For the first time, Alabama inmates are going out into the world more prepared than ever to live, to work, and to become successful. That's because of the state's only transition center. It's called Life Tech, where women leaving prison can go to learn real-world skills.
Those who have been successful at it graduated Saturday. WSFA 12 News was there four months ago when the first class arrived and was there again Saturday when they left.
When they stepped off the bus four months ago, after being locked up in Tutwiler Prison, they didn't know what to make of this new kind of place--a transition center. All they were told by the parole board is that they weren't ready to face the outside world. They were paroled here to learn new skills like gardening, culinary arts, computers, as well as self esteem.
Resident Teresa Partlow says she's learned a lot. "I'm an addict. I have no self esteem. I had nothing," she said. "Today, I realize I can do things. I can do things with my life now. This facility has taught me that."
It's been quite an emotional ride for these fourteen residents. They've lost five of their members who were sent back to prison because they either violated the rules of the facility or of their parole.
Resident Wendy Parker remembers, "It really broke us down when the first one went back and we saw her have to be out in handcuffs. It was awful to lose anybody out of our group because we all were real close."
They're close because they were the first class to enter Life Tech and they will be the first to leave after graduation. Teresa Partlow expressed sadness over those who were missing. "I would like to open with a moment of silence for our members who we lost along the way," she said during the ceremony.
Resident Amanda Williamson expressed her appreciation for what's to come. "I can only speak for myself when I tell you how grateful I am," she said. "First of all, for my freedom but also for the opportunity Life Tech has given me to be the woman, mother, and daughter I'm meant to be. Thank you."
And, when it was all over, they knew they were really celebrating the beginning of a new life--a life they say they've learned that they can have now, even after serving time prison.
Although some of the graduates left the center Saturday, most of them aren't leaving for home until Thursday and they have already made plans for a reunion on August 12th of next year.