Auto technicians find success after Hampton Roads jail work training program

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — From incarceration to a career — that’s the goal behind an inmate training program at the Norfolk jail.

To date, 27 people have graduated and gone on to become successful mechanics in the community.

10 On Your Side caught up with some of these auto technicians.

After graduating from the program, the men got to work and they’ve been thriving ever since. They said the program gave them a second chance they’re forever grateful for.

Working on cars has always been a passion for Mike Williams and Anthony Sexton, Jr.

“When I first started learning how to work on cars, it was straight nuts and bolts,” Williams said.

“My all-time high was to turn wrenches,” Sexton added.

The two men said they never thought they’d be where they are now.

Williams and Sexton were incarcerated at the Norfolk jail when they heard about the Priority Inmate Technician Training Program. It’s a partnership between Priority Automotive, Tidewater Community College and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office that aims to give nonviolent offenders valuable trade skills upon release.

“I was hungry. I was hungry for a new beginning so I worked hard,” Sexton said.

That hard work paid off.

Now, the men work full-time at Priority Chevrolet in Chesapeake.

“I couldn’t wait to get back to work. I was excited,” Williams said. “Every day is something new.”

They said the program opened a door that put them in the driver’s seat to a new beginning.

“I didn’t have any direction before I was incarcerated so right now it’s just smooth. Life is good!” Sexton said.

Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron is excited to keep the program going.

“We know if you get a job out in our community that has a living wage with it, you’re less likely to be a repeat offender and end up back in our jail,” he said.

Baron hopes to see similar programs expand to other jails.

“We can really make a difference across Virginia and maybe across our nation,” Baron said.

Dennis Ellmer, the businessman who started it all, said its a win-win for everyone.

“More than anything else I’m proud of them because they’re the ones that did the work,” Ellmer said. “Now they’re assets, not only to Priority, but to the community in general.”

Their past in the rearview, the men have their sights set on new career goals.

They hope more companies might consider paying it forward.

“I’m just glad that they took a chance on us because that’s all we need is a chance,” Williams said.

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