After a career in the medical field, Tom Adams has been a recruiter and owner of a staffing agency, TJA Staffing Services, for more than 30 years. Little did he know that his work would evolve into helping Michigan prisoners looking for a fresh start.
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Adams is president of Southfield-based nonprofit Chance for Life, where he and fellow Detroiter Jessica Taylor, executive director, visit prisons to teach inmates mediation and communication skills.
“If you have faith and you have a will to be different, there are people such as us that are here to extend our hands and to help you become a new individual,” Adams said. “We teach you how to process information differently so you don’t make the same mistake and go back to prison. It all starts with learning who you are and then being able to go out and motivate your family and motivate your neighborhood. But above all things, that God is over all. We give all our glory, honor and praise to God in everything we do.”
Taylor added: “That takeaway is: ‘Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ And that’s carried out throughout the program.”
It all started in 1999 when Adams launched a transformation project at the Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit in partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections. That’s where 25 inmates — leaders from religious and prison-based organizations — were chosen to participate in the organization’s first training program.
Since that time, Adams and Taylor, who has a background in public service and mediation, have expanded the program to nine Michigan prisons, including Huron Valley, Lakeland and Jackson correctional facilities. Participants learn mediation skills that they then pass on to other inmates. The goal is to reduce violent incidents within the prisons and to help inmates transition to life in the community once they are released.
“We train them to be mediators, and therefore, they can practice those skills,” Taylor said. “Because when they’re training, they’re actually teaching it back to themselves as well.”
The people Adams and Taylor have helped include LaDonna Cummings. Cummings, 49, served nearly 18 years at Huron Valley after she was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder in the 2005 shooting death of her children’s father. She was released this year and says she plans to help train juvenile offenders through the Chance for Life program.
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