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A second chance: City’s reentry program at Hilaman Golf Course has a success rate of over 70%

Published: Apr. 17, 2021 at 3:00 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Adjusting to life after prison can be difficult; the City of Tallahassee’s reentry program has a success rate of over 70%.

More than 500 men have come through the program in the last 14 years, and 75 have been hired in City departments after being released.

Buddy Driggers, the Service Manager of Fleet Operations, and Jan Auger, the General Manager of Golf Courses for the City, spearhead the program.

Many work at Hilaman Golf Course.

In golf, a mulligan means another shot, or a second chance.  Driggers and Auger have made Hilaman a place of second chances.

“I might not have ever broken the law, but I’ve gotten plenty of second chances,” said Auger.

“We find employees through the Department of Corrections work release program and utilize them to run all aspects of the golf course, maintenance,” said Driggers.  “One of the benefits of the program, is this is the best job interview you’ll probably ever have. We say every day is a job interview.”

Participants spend between four and twelve months in the program.

“At the end of their sentence, they usually move on to another area. During the time that we have them here, we do everything we can to give them marketable skills and train them so that when they reenter society, they’ve got a leg up,” said Driggers.

The men who have gone through the program shared their stories with WCTV.

Sharodd Baten is originally from Fort Lauderdale; he moved to Tallahassee to be closer to his brother.

He was released from prison in 2015; when he came to his interview at Hilaman, he wore a suit.

“When I came here, my friends that I’ve met in prison, they were laughing at me,” said Baten.  “They were like, man you ain’t gonna get hired, you ain’t gonna get hired. And I was the

first one hired. It was because I had the suit on; they knew I meant business.”

Baten says that was the first job he’s ever kept.  He now works three jobs, including one at the Technology & Innovation Department for the City of Tallahassee, and is finishing school, with one class left.

“Once the City gave me an opportunity, there was no turning back. That’s what made me feel like a man today,” said Baten.

He has a three year-old daughter and an eleven year-old son; he hopes to be an example for them.

“I want to set that prime example for my son,” said Baten. “That’s how you stop the cycling of the doors.”

Barry Parrish entered the program in 2019.

“I messed up a lot of my life. So, my background is a big challenge all by itself,” said Parrish.  “And these people, they just didn’t see it.”

Parrish works part time at Hilaman on the weekends; he’s also worked for the Parks & Recreation Department at Cascades Park for about a year.

“They’re loving. Like, it was something that you wasn’t used to. So you wanted to learn more, like, they put that drive in you to want to learn,” said Parrish.

Reginald Reddick has worked for the City’s Underground Utilities for almost a year, after spending six months at Hilaman.

“Since I’ve been here, it’s been a life changer for me,” said Reddick.  “It was family here, so, they embraced it. They embraced the guys, you know, like me.”

Elijah Vickers worked at Hilaman for almost a year; he’s now been at the Solid Waste Department as a Residential Trash Truck collector since 2015.

“It’s a blessing to even have a job like that, considering where I came from,” said Vickers.

He commends the program for helping him get back on his feet.

“It’s a great opportunity, and it can lead you on a path of where you’re trying to be at,” said Vickers.

He also volunteers his time at Hope House, paying it forward.

Dwaine Holloman has been in the Golf Department since 2012, working his way up.

“Then I got to an equipment operator. Then I moved to foreman, then I moved to small engine mechanic,” he said, explaining his path.  “I keep all the equipment going.”

Holloman has two grandchildren.

“It [the job] gave me stability, support my family,” said Holloman.

Tiant DeWindt is now the Supervisor at Jake Gaither Golf Course; he began the program in 2013.

“For us, it’s like a joy to see others coming behind us doing the same thing and making it,” said DeWindt.

Multiple other participants pointed out DeWindt and Holloman as mentors.

“They’re just two of the nicest guys,” said Parrish.  “They tell you what you need to do to stay on the right track.”

The group is bonded by shared experience.  DeWindt says they have a group message that pings two, or three times each week.

“The biggest challenge, first of all, is who would give an ex con a job, a chance, an opportunity?” said DeWindt.  “The City of Tallahassee, bless you. Thank you.”

DeWindt is originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands, moving to Tallahassee in 1996.

He has three sons; one will graduate high school this year, his second oldest is ready to graduate from Lively Technical, and his oldest works full time.

DeWindt and others hope their children will learn from their choices.

“I wish that one of these days, my group, my friends, my brothers I like to call them, that we all could get together, and our kids could get to know each other,” said DeWindt.

Auger and Driggers’ passion shines through when they speak about the program.

“They’re humans, they’re just like us. They want the same thing. They want a job, they want safety; things that you and I want, they want. And I want to help them get that,” said Auger. “You have hope for people and you want them to do something with their lives, and you learn to really like them, and you understand their story.”

“The more that you get to know these young men, you become invested in their success,” said Driggers.

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