NELA business leaders get firsthand look at Angola's reentry program

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ANGOLA, La. (KNOE) - In a place many consider a death sentence, fro some is a shot at rebirth.

Courtesy: KNOE 8 News

"They have a very good chance of winding up here forever," Assistant Warden of Programming Gary Young said. "It's important that they see what life in prison looks like what long term incarceration looks like, and they have this vision."

It's a vision you can only see inside the gates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

"Over the years, it's grown to a very, very large program," Young said.

He's talking about re-entry - Louisiana's one-of-a-kind way to help non-violent, non-sex offenders make their way back into society.

The intensive two-year program starts with the mind and ends with the body.

"The first 90 days is an MRT, Moral Recognition Therapy-type program to work with the drug addictions," Young said. "We use a lot of professional-type testing, to ensure that we try to get them into the vocational skill that they will be successful."

It's know for turning criminals into welders, mechanics, and law-abiding citizens. Kevin Ramsey's one of those men.

"I wasn't responsible," Kevin Ramsey said. "I didn't take care of my responsibilities as a father as a husband as a son, none of that."

Ramsey's 16-months into the program. The Ouachita Parish native recently received his GED, is close to a welding certification, and has a new perspective on life.

"I feel like I have the tools now to get out and succeed, to be the man I need to be to be, the father I need to be, the husband I need to be now."

That change is due in part to people like Luther McFarland. McFarland's past is what put him in Angola for life. Now, he's a mentor, trying to change the future of others.

"I feel like I can understand what God feels, in a sense," McFarland said. "You know, when he sees one of us, you know, doing well and being obedient to him and applying the principles that you teach and then you see him just be flourishing, I love it."

McFarland and Ramsey are an unlikely pair, but one that so far, has worked. It's one that's put the state on notice.

"I think that their passion for what they do, speaks for itself," Jason Crow said.

Crow is a fabrication foreman at James Machine Works in Monroe. He needs skilled workers and says after seeing reentry with his own eyes, has his sights set on hiring.

"You're always hesitant to hire someone that's been convicted," Crow said. "But you shouldn't. I don't believe you should judge a book by its cover. People change. People need a second chance."

Tanya Pesek thinks so too. She owns Jim Taylor Chevrolet, and says a second chance for these men is part of their road to recovery.

"Just the word 'Angola' is scary to a lot of people," Pesek said. "And I want to really make sure that everybody understands that what we're doing is giving someone not even a second chance, because they may have never had a first opportunity to work in a field like this."

As they tour the facility, and shake hands with someone who may be their future employee, these business leaders realize they have a part to play in all this too.

"I think when you when you put these guys and give them opportunity to do right, i believe in my heart that they would do, right," Crow said.