Chattanooga reentry nonprofit partners with private prison company

Staff photo / Joe Jenkins poses for a portrait inside of Orchard Park Seventh-day Adventist Church on Feb. 9, 2021, in Chattanooga. Jenkins is the founder of the Brave Effect.
Staff photo / Joe Jenkins poses for a portrait inside of Orchard Park Seventh-day Adventist Church on Feb. 9, 2021, in Chattanooga. Jenkins is the founder of the Brave Effect.


When Lovest Carter got out of federal prison, he had a few goals.

He needed a good job, a new truck and enough money to buy back powerwashing equipment he sold before serving three years at a South Carolina prison for conspiring to distribute cocaine.

And he had a plan, thanks to the Brave Effect, a Chattanooga nonprofit started by Joe Jenkins after Jenkins himself left prison in 2018. With help from Jenkins and other members of the Brave team, Carter said he'd worked on his plan while still incarcerated. Now, Carter serves on the board of the Brave Effect.

"When Joe told me to write down the goals, it made me sit back and think about my life, what I really wanted to be like," Carter said by phone Monday. "I wrote my vision down. I was truthful about my past history, and now I'm doing great in life."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County program for frequently hospitalized, incarcerated now serving 31 clients)

Now, Jenkins and the Brave Effect are partnering with private Nashville-based prison company CoreCivic to provide reentry programs and mentorship at its Trousdale County prison. In Hamilton County, Jenkins works with people coming out of the county's jail.

CoreCivic already ran its own reentry programs before starting to work with Jenkins last year, including ones focused on substance use, mental health and behavior, program development director Rodney Quinn said by phone.

But Jenkins, who served his own sentence for cocaine distribution, can connect with people in prison more easily, Quinn said.

"I didn't see a lot of Black-founded reentry organizations," Jenkins said. "Or ones that came from the struggle, the survivors, those living in survival mode. You get these people who've been to college, they get all these statistics, but they come to us and they haven't dealt with the darkness, the pain, the dissociation from your family, everyone you dropped the ball on."

Instead of teaching from a textbook, Jenkins said, he realized he needed to teach from reality. When people come out of prison, they're often immediately facing a job search, bills like child support payments and a family expecting them to step up after being away.

He visits the Hartsville facility, outside of Nashville, to give presentations on how to prepare to reenter civilian life. Quinn said those sessions typically draw between 50 and 80 people.

During his second prison stint, Jenkins said, he worked out a process for his own reentry. He wrote down goals and guidelines, which became a book. The most important defining characteristic of his program is its focus on the individual — asking people what they want means they can be automatically invested in their goals, Jenkins said.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County sheriff: Jail, facilities need to grow with county)

"They were telling us what to do," Jenkins said. "Nobody ever asked us what we wanted to do."

 

The program also relies on one-on-one mentorship and provides some therapy for its participants, Jenkins said. There's also what he calls "immediate action response" — basically, access to a support network around the clock.

"Most organizations, after 5 p.m. on a Friday, their office is closed," Jenkins said. "So now you have from Friday to Monday to be all alone. That's more time to get triggered back into that old lifestyle. So they can tap into somebody to help make sense of what's going on."

When Quinn first reached out from CoreCivic trying to partner with the Brave Effect, Jenkins said it put him on high alert. What did this big prison corporation want from him?

"I saw one of his posts on Facebook, and I started trying to reach out to him," Quinn said. "I was seeing his videos and all the stuff he was doing in Chattanooga, and I said, 'This guy's got a message I'd like to get to our guys.'"

After months of persistence from CoreCivic, Jenkins met with Quinn in Chattanooga. They hit it off, Quinn said, and eventually agreed to work together.

In the past several years, Quinn said there have been more programs like the Brave Effect started by people who served time themselves (what some call "returning citizens"). Now, when he visits the Trousdale County prison, people often ask Quinn, "When's Joe coming back?"

"The tide has turned," Quinn said. "I think the industry as a whole is like, 'We can learn from them, they can learn from us.'"

In 2023, Jenkins estimated the Brave Effect touched the lives of about 2,300 people, up from about 2,100 the year before. That includes the program's participants as well as members of their households and community.

"We never want people to feel as if we 'only' offer our services to those who have been incarcerated," Jenkins said in a text. "Prison prevention is also our focus ... we can't heal the head and just trust that the arm will be healed."

Contact Ellen Gerst at egerst@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6319.


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