New programs helps transform the lives of felons

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - A team with the Horry County Detention center is trying to make the community a bit safer. They're doing it by giving a group of young felons the chance to transform their lives.

Edgar Sheppard is a participant. He says he sold drugs on the streets.

"I ended up me being locked up again and again, violating my probation," explained Sheppard.

Juwan Harrison is also in the new reentry program. He says he's been in prison for living the gang life.

"I was known for shooting or robbing. I was heading for an early death," added Harrison.

Both are in the new youthful offender reentry program at the Horry County Jail. Like Sheppard and Harrison, participants are repeat felons from Horry and Georgetown counties. They've committed crimes that are considered to be nonviolent and are between the ages of 17 to 25. Instead of serving a full sentence, they volunteer to complete this three phase program. Sheppard and Harrison are in phase one. The program's director Gareth Bashears says it's all about treating addictions, counseling and teaching a new way of thinking.

"Accountability and responsibility. Most of them don't have that at all," said Bachears.

"It's just showing me good morals," added Sheppard. "I'm still learning on how to make a better life for myself," said Harrison.

After about nine months, they move on to phase two. The inmates are released from the special jail facility and back into the public. They're required to find jobs, a place to live and attend counseling. Bashears says they're still closely monitored by law enforcement.

"And they begin to get a support system and reintegrate with their families," said Bashears.

He says Horry County launched this pilot program six months ago.

"So far it's working well,"

Soon Harrison and Sheppard will finish phase one. They say they're ready for a shot at a new beginning.

"I've got little cousins that look up to me and follow right behind my footsteps. I don't want them to see the things that I've seen and go through what I went through," said Harrison.

"Just a whole new life you know. Something different. Just trying to do the right thing for myself this time," said Sheppard.

Within the next two months this youthful offender reentry program will grow. The Bashears says there are plans to add eight participants.

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