By Robert W. Dalton

People who are trying to rebuild their lives after spending time in prison carry the burden of a lot of unflattering labels: Criminal, ex-con, jailbird.

Bladen Bates ’23 prefers a kinder label: Human beings.

Bates, an art history and psychology major from Travelers Rest, South Carolina, is an intern with JumpStart, a ministry that helps prepare people who’ve been incarcerated for re-entry into society.

“There’s a stigma on people who were incarcerated,” Bates says. “Some people only see them as criminals, but they are humans just like us. They deserve a second chance. Sometimes the only thing that separates us from them is one mistake.”

JumpStart was started at the Tyger River Correctional Institute in Enoree, South Carolina, in 2008 by a small group of volunteers with the support of the prison chaplain. Today, it has more than 150 volunteers who assist inmates in 17 of the state’s 21 prisons.

Each year, 1,000 participants enter the 40-week inside program. About 400 participants successfully complete the program and advance to the outside program.

The 12-month outside program provides a safe and stable environment for people in transition after incarceration. It offers low-cost housing; individual case management; access to physical, mental and dental health care; transportation to service providers, employment and shopping; permanent and meaningful employment; financial stability training; a recovery program for chemical dependency; and community engagement.

For those 400 who make it to the outside program, the success rate for staying out of prison is 96%.

“People are getting jobs, getting back on their feet financially and spiritually, and they’re able to be part of the community instead of being on the streets,” says Bates. “These are people who are going to give back to society because society is pouring into them.”

Bates’ role is to interview participants, volunteers and donors and to share their stories.

“I talked to one guy this week and he told me about arriving at the house on the day he was released, and there were all these volunteers hugging him and welcoming him with open arms,” Bates says. “That typically doesn’t happen when someone gets out of jail. They’re given a bus ticket to wherever they want to go and then it’s up to them.”

Bates’ ultimate goal is to go to law school. She took the LSAT this past summer and worked in the law firm of Ryan Beasley ’96 in Greenville, South Carolina. She hopes to work with him again this summer, and she’ll continue with JumpStart.

“People tell me how this program has changed their lives,” she says. “They are literally getting a second lease on life. That’s something I want to be a part of.”