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Empowering Economic, Stability Summit puts focus on former felons

Former felons are in need of any help that they can receive when re-entering society. That’s the point Shelby County Government was out to make during the Empowering Economic Stability Summit. by Kelvin Cowans
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Former felons are in need of any help that they can receive when re-entering society. That’s the point Shelby County Government was out to make Wednesday during the Empowering Economic Stability Summit at the Benjamin L. Hooks Public Library.

Plenty of breakfast food and juice filled one table while opportunity rested at the other ten or more. Different employers, apprentice programs and transitional living specialist were on hand to inform and assist all who participated.

 Stephanie E. Short, employment coordinator for the 3R Project, and Debbie Barrett. program coordinator for the Fatherhood Program, are on a mission to help the incarcerated re-enter society. (Photo by Kelvin Cowans)

While some former inmates gripe about the next step in their lives after prison, that wasn’t the case for the crowd gathered for the summit. You would’ve thought that they were giving out free Grizzlies tickets, but no, the order of the morning was constructive information and governmental awareness.

“We have grant funded programs at the division of corrections that are under ‘The 3R Project’ and this program is to ensure the economic growth for inmates as they come back out into society. The 3R Project stands for to ‘Rehabilitate, Re-New and Re-Connect,” said Debbie Barrett, program coordinator for the Fatherhood Program.

“Rehabilitate is understood because we are the correctional facility. We are also trying to renew the mindset of former inmates. Then there is Re-connect. They have families that they return to and great communities, so we are trying to lead them into being more about pro-social activities.”

 Here’s the background: the 3R Project is a collaboration between Operation Safe Community and Shelby County Government. It’s overall goal is to make Memphis and Shelby County one of the safest communities in the nation. The Fatherhood program is an intensive voluntary re-entry program that provides inmates with support for housing, behavioral and physical health services, life skills and employment readiness training.

“Anything that’s going to help them have a successful re-entry into society we deal with. We have several programs, which are 15-week programs, which offer a variety of classes. Including, but not limited to, fatherhood, economics, resume writing and more,” said Barrett/

“We teach them how to prepare for jobs and job assessment. They have to know that there is a certain way that you must carry yourself even when you walk into an interview. Employers are watching your every move, from how you wear your pants to your hairstyle of choice and body art. Some of these things will get you turned down before you even get a chance to speak.”

Barrett was asked if she thought that the efforts actually work, and whether those involved were making headway into the minds of those who have crossed the law and do not belief America ever has shown them love.

 “This is our third year having this summit and we have had over 1,500 people participate in this program. Is this program perfect? No, but are we effective? Yes. Our County and City Mayors (Mark Lutrell and AC Wharton) were on hand to sign a Joint Proclamation that they presented to our director in support of what we do. They agree that getting felons jobs, and most importantly, having them retain their jobs, is very important to them,” said Barrett.

“We are eager and relentless when trying to present our clients in the best possible manner. Our employment specialists make sure we continue to have Job Fairs and we do referrals. We want the public to understand that we are here to create opportunities. We are always busy, but our doors are always open.”

(Kelvin Cowans, aka Six-Four, can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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