Cultivating hope through education in the Hoosier hills

(soft music, birdsong) – [Narrator] It’s a laid
back southeastern Indiana town nestled next to the Ohio River, just a bridge from Kentucky
and an hour from Louisville. The Jefferson County town of Madison, population 12,000, attracts tourists for its beauty, antiques,
and historic architecture, and attention for a problem that contradicts its
serene exterior, suicides. (dramatic music) In recent years, the county
has seen a rise in suicides. And city officials say drugs
are one of the triggers. – It is drug-related. People give up hope. – [Narrator] Madison and nearby towns confront common culprits
sweeping the nation, opioid abuse and drug addiction. – Nobody wants to be an addict! But, then they get desperate and they don’t have any way out. (buzzing) – [Narrator] But many people
with drug addictions here who survive abandon their hopes, dreams, and potential in jail. (dramatic music) They end up serving time inside the Scott County Security Center in nearby Scottsburg. They are people like 25
year old Dakota Fortner, behind bars for drug possession. He got caught trying to sell drugs to feed his addiction to
a powerful opioid, heroin. – It’s not a good life to live at all. It’s in the streets and wondering when you’re gonna eat,
where you’re gonna eat, where you’re gonna sleep. – [Narrator] Dakota
said he died three times from overdoses, but was brought
back to life with Narcan. Jail may have saved him. – I’ve learned a lot
about how to stay sober and had a lot of time
to think about my life. – [Narrator] And what life
has in store after jail. – Close to 80, 85% of every person that we deal with has a drug charge or a drug-related charge, whether that’s robbery, theft, murder. Who is going? Is it gonna be you or Brad? – Konnie McCallum is the
adult education director for River Valley Resources in Madison, a non-profit that helps low-income or disadvantaged Hoosiers get jobs. – And our mission is to help people find sustainable employment through education, training,
whatever means we can. I mean, to be honest, education
is the key out of poverty. (slow, sad music) – [Narrator] But the
devastation of drug abuse in some rural towns
contributes to poverty, lower levels of higher
education, and unemployment. – [Konnie] Recently,
we have started to work with second chance
people, which are people that have been incarcerated. There’s really nothing out
there when they get out. They struggle. – [Narrator] Jerry Goodin,
the new sheriff in town in Scott County has seen inmates collapse like a house of cards under
the weight of their past. – When they got out of jail, they couldn’t go back to their families because they had already
burned all the bridges with their families, okay? They couldn’t get a job
because they were a felon and then not a lot of people hire felons. And they had no education. So the choices that they had to choose from lead them right back into here. Our goal when I ran for sheriff was is to slam that revolving door shut. (bright music) – [Narrator] So Sheriff Goodin reached out to River Valley Resources
to help the inmates go from jail to jobs through education. – [Konnie] It’s the only way out. It’s the only way to break the chain. Education is the key. – [Narrator] River Valley
Resources knows education for inmates works because
it first had success with women prisoners at the
Madison Correctional Facility. The non-profit partnered
with Ivy Tech in Madison and the Indiana Department of Corrections to create an innovative
certification program. Women prisoners are earning
Ivy Tech certifications for higher-paying, skilled jobs. – You don’t have to go to
college you know four years. I mean that is like scary for people. But an eight week class, a couple weeks in a lab, that’s
all you need to get started. And this is a skills economy. – [Narrator] And women
felons are finding jobs at area industries that
are desperately seeking qualified workers because
of low unemployment. – Our area employers are
screaming for people, just screaming. And so we’re supplying a need. These women are getting out of prison and they are making $18 to $27 an hour in welding and manufacturing. (upbeat music) – [Narrator] So now the first male inmates in the state who signed up for the skilled worker
certification program through River Valley
Resources are suiting up, rolling up their sleeves,
and unchaining their minds. – When we got ’em into the jail, we had to change their
mindset and tell them that they are human, that there’s people that cares for ’em, there’s
people that love ’em, there’s people that’s willing
to give them the opportunity. All they have to do is stand up and say, “Hey, I want that opportunity. “I’m here, I wanna change.” – Some of them never have had support. Sometimes people never
even have heard “Good job. “Way to go!” So they feel like failures. They’re what we call in
adult ed wounded learners. – [Narrator] Wounded, but willing to hit the road to get
an education once a week, turning a new corner in their lives as they arrive on the campus
of Ivy Tech in Madison to complete a certification
course in welding. – Now, when you’re grinding,
do not go at an angle ’cause if it puts a gouge
in there, guess what? That’s a fail. So one time here or four. What’s the next number? – [Konnie] We’re giving people skills. Then be able to get a job that
pays more than minimum wage. So what we’re looking at
is a sustainable employment so that their quality of life increases. – [Narrator] This inmate, John Watts, fought for our country as an Army Ranger. – [John] I went to three
different conflicts, Operation Enduring Freedom One and Two and Operation Iraqi Freedom. (buzzing, upbeat music) – [Narrator] Now, he’s fighting for a second chance in life
after one bad decision. John served time for drug possession. – I want to be financially stable and be able to provide for my family. And move forward in life and kinda put all this stuff behind me rather then repeating the cycle. (upbeat music) – [Narrator] Welding training at Ivy Tech has sparked a
change in Neil Parson’s life. This father of three is serving time for DUI and drug possession. – You only know what you’ve lived. And now that we have this certification and we have this training, we’re now capable of living
a completely different life. I’ve talked to the school and I’m gonna go into industrial technology and
finish my associate’s degree. – [Narrator] And Dakota
Fortner hopes a new trade and a new outlook burnishes
a new image of him to those he loves. – [Dakota] I want to
be able to live my life and show my family that I
can be a good role model to my nieces and nephews and my family. (upbeat music) – [Narrator] As melted
metal transforms objects, education transforms lives here. – Education does level the playing field. – [Narrator] And Neil Parsons
calls his incarceration a blessing because jail
staff believe in him. – Everyone here treats you
like a person, not an inmate. So it means a lot and they
give you opportunities to better yourself. The sheriff, I actually
talked to him the other day and I thanked him for
treating us the way he does. He’s a very kind and genuine person. (upbeat music) – We’re not looking at
some pie-in-the-sky thing. We understand that this is not gonna work for 100% of the folks
that come through here. But this is an investment. This is something we
may not see the change in the first year or two years, but, five years from
now, 10 years from now. But I really feel like
deep down in my heart that it’s gonna make a huge change, not only in Scott County, but hopefully the surrounding counties. – [Narrator] The sheriff
believes communities can have impact when they
care for everyone’s success. – Before the class even finished, before the men even tested,
we had an employer come to the jail, hand the sheriff applications for all of the men. (upbeat music) – [Narrator] And graduation day from the welding certification program was a monumental moment,
a sense of accomplishment with more skilled job training through River Valley Resources to come. – I said I feel like I’m a
proud dad of 22 people here. ‘Cause I was very proud of those folks that had taken that step
to better themselves and had achieved something and was trying to make something out of life. That was, it made me very
proud as the sheriff. We’re getting folks in here
and we are reforming them. And it’s investing in the community. It’s making this community
a better place to be and a better place to live. (uplifting, upbeat music)

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