Jail inmates given second chance by learning new skills

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A group of inmates serving time in the Fort Bend County jail has something be proud of. They've graduated from a program that will give them a career when they get out.

They completed more than 100 hours of HVAC training through a partnership with Wharton County Junior College, and passed their state EPA certification.

"The opportunity came along for me to come to this class to try to gain some type of skills or knowledge to where I can be reintroduced to society and not be stuck in a criminal element," says Kenneth Richardson.

Richardson says he's been in and out jail. He's hopeful that when he leaves this time, all he learned in the jail's HVAC program over the last 12 weeks will keep him out for good.

"I have basic skills to go out in society and make an honest living. And that's very rewarding," he says.

Tuesday morning, he was one of 10 inmates that were a part of the jail's third graduating class.

The program doesn't accept any inmates who have been convicted of a sex crime or any aggravated crimes like robbery or assault.

Sheriff Troy Nehls says this is part of the rehabilitation process that is designed to prepare them for decent paying jobs to support their families.

"These aren't juveniles," says Nehls. "I don't truly believe they're going to want to go work at a fast food restaurant with a uniform on and a hat. So we have to find them and teach them skills that would be more applicable to what an adult male would want to do."

Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale was the keynote speaker. His main point: "what you did yesterday doesn't matter."

"Life is all about overcoming obstacles, looking forward and not backward, and work is life's greatest therapy," he said. "Go out there and work, and learn to love your job and good things will happen."

Todd Neely owns Temperature Pro in Fort Bend. He hired a graduate from the last class and says it's something more businesses should do.

"It is about second chances, right? And you know, you want to talk to that person and really understand are they really serious about changing and making a difference," Neely says. "There really are those individuals that really do make that change and impact and work really hard. So why not give them a second chance?"

The Sheriff's Office says they will roll out a similar class focused on welding early next year.
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