NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Priority Automotive, Tidewater Community College and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office are teaming up to give non-violent offenders a second chance at life.
Local and state leaders unveiled a New Priority Technical Training Center, which will give 15 students from the Norfolk City Jail a place to train as auto technicians.
“Yes, it’s life-changing. It’s a great experience. It’s something I look forward to waking up every day to bettering myself,” said Aaron Brooks, who is a student of the program.
Brooks is incarcerated and has been to jail a number of times
He’s a part of the inaugural class and believes programs like this give those in jail hope to do better.
“If we all come to jail, and we all make mistakes, but if you come to jail with a program like this to help you, you look forward to it,” Brooks said.
Dennis Ellmer, the president and CEO of Priority Automotive, says it took three years for this program to happen.
He came up with the idea after taking a trip to Fiji and speaking with a tour guide.
“He says ‘I got my degree while I was in jail.’ I said explain that to me,” Ellmer said.
Ellmer says the tour guide told him upon receiving his degree, he had a guaranteed job once he finished his sentence.
Sheriff Joe Baron says 96 percent of those in jail will be released back into society, so good programs are needed to help them re-enter.
“We also know people are less likely to commit crimes and come back to jail if they have employment upon release,” he said.
Baron was joined by Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander and Governor Ralph Northam, who also agreed that more work force training is needed to better the economy.
And that can start in high schools and visionary programs like this.
“We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We go down the wrong path sometimes, but when an individual has paid back their time given to them by a judge or jury, the best thing we can do for them is to put them back to work,“ Northam said.
Trainees will attend class two days a week and work at the dealerships three days a week.
Following their second semester, the students will have a guaranteed job at one of Priority’s 14 dealerships. The will also have opportunity to continue their education at TCC.
Brooks says his class is working not just to get to that point, but to help classes that will follow them.
“If we all complete, we all do good to complete it so other guys can have the opportunity and join it to see the program is helpful,” he said.