Chris Myles conducts his work day just like everyone else.
He’s up at 5 a.m., and he hustles to eat and get ready for work.
He leaves at 6:15 a.m. and commutes into George Town, where he works for the Phoenix Group as the company helps to construct a new desalination plant at Cayman Water.
He works in the hot sun for most of the day, and he’s on his way back home by 6 p.m.
The only difference comes at the end of the day, when he goes back to Northward Prison.
Mr. Myles, 38, is one of four inmates involved in the prison’s Fresh Start program to be back in the community and working on a daily basis. He said the program, which was initiated to give inmates a chance to learn vocational skills, has given him a new perspective on how he lives his life.
“It feels good to get up every morning and know you have something to do,” said Mr. Myles, a father of three. “I look forward to it. I go to sleep every night looking forward to getting up in the morning. By the time I go back in, I get something to eat and do some exercise and call my kids. Then I sleep. By the time I close my eyes, it’s 5 o’clock again. I jump up, make breakfast and get ready for the day.”
When it started last May, Fresh Start sought to create exactly that kind of story.
Three companies – Encompass Cayman, the Phoenix Group and Clan Construction – initiated Fresh Start with a class of 12 inmates learning carpentry and construction. Now, four graduates of that class are out in the workforce. Two of the four have been released, and two commute from Northward.
The Phoenix Group employs both Mr. Myles and Donnovan Petterson, another Fresh Start graduate.
Brent McComb, one of the directors of the Phoenix Group, said that he’s been passionate about vocational training for years, and he brought Fresh Start to Northward at the request of former prisons director Neil Lavis. Now, more than a year later, Mr. McComb is thrilled with the way the program’s graduates are performing in their jobs at Cayman Water and at the South Sound boardwalk.
“It’s been phenomenal seeing these guys on the job site and how hard they’re working and how appreciative they are to have the opportunity,” Mr. McComb said. “On the South Sound job, it was coming to a close and we had 10 guys. The foreman had to get down to a small crew and he got to pick who he wanted to keep. He kept the guys from the Fresh Start program because of their work ethic.”
The first stage of Fresh Start involved erecting a 30-foot by 30-foot building that will ultimately become the program’s teaching facility. The 12 inmates involved in Fresh Start are now working on exterior siding, stucco finishing, interior framing and drywall. Mr. McComb and the program’s instructors hope to teach lessons on mechanics, engineering and plumbing at some point in the future.
Mr. Petterson, a father of nine children, has found full-time employment with the Phoenix Group since his release, and he’s hoping to set a positive example for his friends at Northward who are looking for a better life.
“I must give thanks to Mr. Brent and the Phoenix Group, Clan Construction and Encompass,” Mr. Petterson said. “Fresh Start means a lot to me because it made a great change in my life. Right now, it’s working for me. And I wish the day will come that I can give back to the Fresh Start program.”
Mr. Myles, who is in Northward on a burglary charge, can hope for a stable future. He has skills now that he did not have before he went to prison, and he said his family is thrilled with his new direction.
“My kids love it. My wife loves it. She gets to see me every day,” he said. “She picks me up in the morning and she drops me off in the evening. I’m in a better state of mind now. I’m ready now to have a full-time job and work to provide for my wife and my family. I always wanted to do that, but it was hard to get a job at the time. I was looking for a job for like two years but couldn’t find a job.”
His co-workers at Cayman Water have treated him with respect, Mr. Myles said, and his peers at Northward have noticed that he’s turned his life around. Every day, he sees the building that the Fresh Start class built at Northward and he’s proud to have put the work in with his hands.
“A lot of people in there are asking me if there’s any work out here,” he said on Wednesday. “They say, ‘I’ve stopped doing all the stuff I was doing. I really want to train and get with the program.’
“A lot of the officers, I think they’re happy for me. I’ve been trying hard. I have my family and my family means the most to me. I’ve been trying my best to stay out of trouble and get a second chance.”
Mr. Myles said that Northward’s staff is helping the inmates improve their lives, and he singled out Aduke Joseph-Caesar, the prison’s deputy director responsible for rehabilitation. He said Ms. Joseph-Caesar looks forward to achieving rehabilitation for inmates, but the journey to a better life always starts from within.
“It’s just up to you to make up your mind and really want to make a change,” he said. “It changed my whole state of mind since I’ve been doing it. Now, I feel I’ve got more hope when I get out.”