Fresh start: Virginia inmates graduate from community college in Norfolk

Graduates at a Virginia community college included 14 inmates who completed a special automotive program.

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Graduates at a Virginia community college included 14 inmates who completed a special automotive program.

Inmates from a Virginia jail traded their jumpsuits for more scholarly attire Monday night.

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Graduates from Tidewater Community College included 14 inmates from the Norfolk City Jail, who wore blue caps and gowns as they completed a special program that will land them jobs in the automotive industry when they are released, WAVY reported.

The inmates, all within six months of their release, finished a certified automotive repair training program, which was created to help nonviolent offenders make the transition to a career after finishing their sentences, according to WTKR.

"My family is very excited. They will be here tonight to cheer me on," inmate Terrence Lee told WAVY. "The struggle is over now. I'm here. I'm here where I'm supposed to be."

The inmates have been taking classes twice a week and work at a training center in Chesapeake three times a week, the television station reported.

"This is special. These guys have worked so hard to be here," Beno Rubin, director of the Regional Automotive Center, told WAVY. "They have matured and grown as technicians, as students, as people."

The new graduates will be hired on as full-time technicians at one of 14 cooperating area dealerships, WTKR reported.

"A guy in my situation, normally, when I'm re-entering back into society, my opportunities are few, so this right here is a golden opportunity to have a viable career, so it really gets no better than that," inmate Damion Britt told the television station.

According to Norfolk Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Michael O’Toole, getting back into society can be a roadblock for inmates.

"One of the biggest hurdles we see is getting a job. If we can get them a job and be successful, we don't see them coming back," O'Toole told WAVY.

Lee agrees that a fresh start is important.

"If they check the felony box on the application, don't just look at them as a felony. Look at them as a possible CEO or maybe the next mechanic or next manager of your business," Lee told WAVY. "Everybody deserves a second chance."

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