by Carla Wade, WFAA10:55 p.m. CDT July 26, 2015
DALLAS — When inmates are released from prison, many don’t have jobs, a place to live or family to turn to. But through a program started by Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter’s House in Dallas, ex-offenders have been offered a new lease on life.
This year, that program celebrates 10 years of fresh starts.
Sunday morning Dallas criminal court judges were handing out diplomas instead of punishments.
“Many of those people walking across the stage have never graduated from anything,” Jakes said afterwards.
Bishop T.D. Jakes started the T.O.R.I. program. (Photo: WFAA)
The Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, or T.O.R.I., is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The program aims to rehabilitate ex-offenders. A decade and more than 10,000 ex-offenders later, Bishop Jakes said the results continue to amaze him.
“It touched me in a deep way,” he said. “That we kept the program alive sometimes literally by a thread and that it was worth it. That we were able to touch lives in powerful way.”
This year 135 T.O.R.I graduates have completed their educations and found jobs. Former NFL Player Ray Lewis, who has had his own run-ins with the law, gave the graduates advice as the keynote speaker.
The T.O.R.I. program, started by Bishop T.D. Jakes, gives ex-offenders a new beginning. Carla Wade has the story.
“Something must be birthed in you that says ‘I’m a conqueror,'” Lewis said.
He also talked about setting goals and leaving behind the bad influences that might have contributed to participants being incarcerated in the first place.
“Time to readjust your comfort zone,” he said. “Good is fitting in. Great is standing out!”
Ray Lewis was the keynote speaker at the T.O.R.I. graduation (Photo: WFAA)
Ladaryl Fisher is out of his comfort zone. He didn’t graduate high school or college.
“The last time I wore a cap and gown I was seven years old graduating daycare I think,” said Fisher. “And the odd thing about it, I was salutatorian then too.”
Then, and now. He’s engaged, works in construction and has a positive outlook after six years in prison for robbery.
“Whether you do good or bad, people are going to have something to say,” he said. “And I just focused on the pros, what I had in front of me. And it turned out good for me.”
Success is not measured just in the number of ex-offenders helped, but also in the number who have not returned to prison.
“The national average is about 63 percent that return back to prison,” said Tina Naidoo.
Naidoo is a licensed clinical social worker who oversees T.O.R.I.
“Over the last 10 years what we’ve seen is about eight to 10 percent,” said Naidoo.
She also said it costs taxpayers $60 a day to incarcerate people, but it only costs T.O.R.I less than $4 a day to rehabilitate ex-offenders.
Each graduate also walked away with a copy of Jakes’ new book, Destiny, which will be available nationwide on Aug. 4.
T.O.R.I is a program of the Metroplex Economic Development Corporation and is a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization. It was born out of The Potter’s House Prison Ministry.