Felix Harris, Vice President of the K.A.U.L.’s Housing and Community Development

By Mac Arthur Howard, III

KNOXVILLE, TN — The American prison system is meant to hold criminals apart from the rest of society, to keep them separate and isolated until they have served their time and are ready to reenter the public as newly productive members of society. Unfortunately, the current conditions of incarceration negatively and greatly affect an inmate’s ability to do this.

One person alone can end up being imprisoned for well over two or three decades. All of that time is spent almost completely cut off from the outside world – its advancements and developments in technology, the economy, and even basic social interaction. Some may think that this is the point of the prison system, but that line of thought ignores the secondary purpose of prison: to rehabilitate criminals into law-abiding members of their community. This is where the Knoxville Area Urban League, or K.A.U.L., hopes to step in with their RISE Reentry Program.

The RISE program is a three-tier program focused on helping men and women, young and old, reenter the workforce after their years in prison, including reconnecting with their families and fully reintegrating into their communities.

“We want to offer these people another chance at living their lives,” said Felix Harris, Vice President of the K.A.U.L.’s Housing and Community Development. “We want to help them acquire the necessary skills and give them the opportunities that they’ll need to catch up with the rest of the world.”

The first tier of the RISE program is focused on ensuring the inmates are ready to begin their reintegration. They are first contacted through email or mail by K.A.U.L., inviting them to join the program before their release. If they accept, the inmates move on to the second tier once they are released from prison. Each now-former inmate has their individual case and needs evaluated before discussing and agreeing to their responsibilities within the RISE program. On the third tier, once the former inmate is fully a part of the program they are given job opportunities with partnering companies and are given access to both online and in-person workshops and training sessions to learn and refine the skills needed to maintain their positions.

Every member of the RISE program has their success measured by a personalized Individual Workforce Reentry Plan. 

The former inmates work with K.A.U.L. staff to set specific career goals for themselves to achieve while employed. These goals are followed up over a three, six, and nine-month period to ensure the program members are readjusting to society and the workforce.

“While we are offering them the tools and opportunities,” Harris said, “It’s up to the program members to hold themselves accountable and stick with the goals and milestones they set for themselves. If they can do that then we believe they can fully reintegrate and live full and productive lives.”