Tim Terry killed his wife in 1987.
They were high school sweethearts with two kids, but Terry was deep into "thuggin' and druggin'," dealing cocaine and marijuana. His wife threatened to leave, and Terry killed her before attempting suicide. After the failed attempt, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Terry was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Today, Terry, now 49, is out of prison and working to give incarcerated men and women in South Carolina the chance to "break the back of recidivism" through housing, employment and mentorship.
In the years leading up to his release, he noticed the same men coming back to prison time after time. When they would return, he'd ask: Why is it so hard to stay out?
"They all said the same three things: 'I don't got no place to live. I don't have no job - nobody's gonna hire an ex-prisoner - and I don't have any mentor or support group that can help me through times of test or challenge,'" Terry said. "A light went off. You have to focus on those things."
Six years after being paroled in 2002, Terry started JumpStart, a prison ministry and re-entry program based on housing, employment and mentorship.
More than 1,000 men and women in South Carolina prisons have completed the JumpStart program and left prison since 2010, when the organization began compiling data on participants.
From cookies to Christ
Terry began abusing drugs and alcohol when he was 15, after his mother killed herself with the .22-caliber pistol he had received as a Christmas present. He ran away from home, married his high school sweetheart and became immersed in the world of drugs.
His wife already had left him once, and had only been back for two weeks before she threatened to walk out on him again. After killing her, he tried to overdose on heroin, but instead ended up serving a decades-long prison sentence.
For his first seven years in prison, Terry said he still dealt drugs, making thousands of dollars a week. But one weekend in April 1994, he was enticed to take part in a religious retreat by fresh chocolate chip cookies, "baked by grandmas in churches."
The retreat was led by Kairos Prison Ministries, which helps prisoners lead a life driven by Christian principles. Terry, who had "turned his back on God" after his mother's suicide, was skeptical.
One session leader, a man who had spent years in and out of New York's Sing Sing Correctional Institution, challenged Terry to pray for the first time in 14 years.
"I prayed to a god that ... I grew anger and hatred and bitterness towards. If he couldn't stop that .22 bullet from killing my mother, what was going to happen to me?" Terry said. "That's when something came inside of me ... from the top of my head to the tip of my toes, I felt a peace come over me and for the first time in my life, I knew I was loved and that God truly has forgiven me for what I did."
Terry stopped dealing drugs after the retreat. He followed a prayer and Bible study regimen and began to think about how he could keep himself away from trouble while helping others around him.
"It was like I was having a shifting in my thinking in my mind about hating everybody in prison," Terry said. "Now, I was concerned about a buddy of mine who was getting out the next week and three times before he had come back."
The seeds of JumpStart had been planted.
How it works
Inmates at 13 South Carolina prisons within two years of release can enroll in JumpStart's 40-week program in which volunteers teach submission to authority, personal responsibility and how to contribute to community, framed by Christian tenets. Not all who begin the program complete it, and the nearly year-long commitment helps weed out those who are not committed, Terry said.
Each participant who has made it to the end of the 40 weeks receives a folder corresponding to their success in the program. Those who receive green folders are cleared to continue with the program once they leave prison, and those who receive blue are as well, but are asked to serve as mentors until their release date. Participants receiving yellow folders are "close, but not quite there," and often go through the program a second time. Those receiving red folders have the most work to do.
Some inmates who may never get out of prison also complete the program in order to serve as mentors.
"The majority of us in here are doing a lot of time, so we welcome the opportunity to instill these values in these guys so that when they get out," said an inmate who is serving a life sentence for murder at Allendale Correctional Facility in Fairfax, S.C. "They understand: This is your chance. You need to stay out."
Names of inmates interviewed for this article are not being used under an agreement with prison officials.
Most of JumpStart's housing is in Spartanburg County, where 33 men stay in houses and mobile homes that have been renovated as part of JumpStart's work programs. Five men currently live in JumpStart housing in Allendale County and four in Charleston County, and the effort to secure more housing is ongoing. The program recently purchased a foreclosed former assisted living home in Spartanburg County for $16,500 at auction that will be renovated by JumpStart participants and used to house 16 men.
Tools to change
Once they have homes and jobs, mentors from JumpStart and other organizations help them learn how to keep a job, budget for their future and "have fun the right way," without alcohol or drugs.
The jobs JumpStart participants get are largely in manual labor and manufacturing, though others who have received vocational training in prison work in areas like horticulture and dog grooming, two programs offered at Allendale.
Allendale is the model of what a JumpStart prison should be, Terry said. All JumpStart participants live in a character housing unit, or CHU, where the community rules are painted on the wall throughout the building. Inmates quietly watch television and play card games in the common area. If the room gets too loud, inmates raise their hands until the noise returns to an acceptable level. Some inmates are allowed to foster dogs and cats for six-week periods through a program offered through Barnwell's Animal Advocates shelter.
JumpStart and the CHU began in Allendale in 2011 with 128 men, according to Warden John Pate. The program has ballooned to more than five times its original size in the past three years. Pate and inmates say the programs have made a huge difference in the prison.
"Warehousing of inmates doesn't work," Pate said. "You've got to give men the tools to change themselves. You can't change anyone, but you can give them some tools to change themselves before they get out."
Inmates in 13 South Carolina prisons participate in JumpStart programming. If they satisfactorily complete the program, they can receive housing and job placement once they are released. The program is run by Tim Terry, who served 15 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter after killing his wife.×