March 7, 2018
DeFuniak Springs, Fla— If resilience were a color, it would be the same shade as the sparks flying off a welding machine.
For the last six weeks in a large trailer hidden at the Walton County Jail, you could find six welding helmets hiding the faces of men in striped uniforms. Most are shy talking about it.
Why? Because these men, are all incarcerated inmates.
“I’ve got to break the chain from coming back and forth to jail,” said Kenneth Sanders, a 34-year-old from Walton County. “It was an opportunity and I took it.”
It’s an idea dreamt up by Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson to reduce recidivism – an opportunity for inmates to learn a new trade. In January the jail launched the “welding program” in addition to its other vocational opportunities like the “grow” farming program.
“If I can’t convince you it’s smart morally, I can convince you it’s smart fiscally,” said Sheriff Adkinson. “If one or two of these men don’t return to jail because of this program— it’s paid for itself.”
With the help of Northwest Florida State College, a large trailer was installed right in the back-yard of the jail –cutting down on any logistical issues. The instructor, Scott Bennett, has mentored the men along the way.
“This has been such a rewarding experience,” said Bennett. “I’m happy to see these guys graduate and hold their heads high.”
Wednesday’s graduation is a rite of passage. All six men are looking for nothing less than a new life; a chance to stop walking a path that leads behind bars and focus on the future.
“Its hard work,” said Bryan Grant, 37, of Walton County. “You have to earn it. But, it makes it all worth it.”
The six men were given a certificate of completion for the course. They include Sanders and Grant along with Anthony Harrison, 43, James Williams Jr., 35, Brandon Penree, 22, and Richard Birch, 52. Walton County Sheriff’s Office is working alongside NWFSC to help with job placement.
The next class is set to begin on March 26th.Related story: Inmates Eye New Future In Welding