Former inmates were applauded Sunday morning at T.D. Jakes' renowned Dallas megachurch as they graduated from a program designed to help them succeed and keep them out of jail.
"I feel like I'm accomplishing something when everyone told me I wouldn't have anything," said Lakitha Dardin, 31, who was in prison for nearly four years after getting involved with drugs.
Dardin was among 150 graduates who completed the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, a yearlong program that seeks to maximize the potential of former inmates for successful reintegration into society.
Thousands at The Potter's House witnessed the graduation.
"I'd like to see us stop the propensity that we have today to make a big business out of incarceration," Bishop Jakes said Sunday, according to The Associated Press. "I'm trying to show the benefits of rehabilitation."
TORI, founded in 2005, is a reentry mentoring program of The Potter's House, which reportedly draws some 30,000 weekly worshippers. It focuses on ex-offenders that may be experiencing hopelessness, lack of support, unemployment, psychological, social, mental, medical and/or substance abuse issues that might hinder them from succeeding and from becoming productive citizens. Comprehensive services in several areas including employment coaching, housing, financial literacy, substance abuse counseling, family reunification and spiritual chaplaincy are offered through TORI.
Nearly 1,000 people have completed the program.
"Through the redemptive doors of the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, we are breaking the cycle of prison reentry and restoring hope by providing ex-offenders with the necessary tools to help them successfully change their lives," Jakes said in a statement.
With nearly one-third of former inmates in Texas going back to jail within three years, the program is intended to reduce recidivism. Plus, it costs less to rehabilitate ex-offenders than to incarcerate them, Jakes said, as reported by AP.
"When an inmate comes back from being incarcerated and can't get a job or a place to stay, they're almost destined to recycle back into the criminal justice system," the pastor and entrepreneur said. "The church can play a role uniquely apart from the social services that are done in the secular system. It's very important that we put faith into this process because faith becomes the fuel that makes people have the power to change their lives."
The TORI program currently operates in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. About 40 percent of former inmates who start the program successfully complete it.