Knox County Detention Facility program teaches inmates how to turn life around

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) The Knox County Detention Facility is helping turn lives around, by offering the men and women behind bars classes to teach them basic life skills.

The program is called Focus Group Ministries and it's making a dramatic change in hundreds of former Knox County inmate's lives.

Men like Brad Austin and Shane Whittier, who spent most of their lives looking for drugs and never caring what others thought about them.

Both were in and out of jail on several occasions, but were never able to really clean up their lives. Try as they might to get out of that lifestyle, they kept going back to it once they were released.

But then Focus Group Ministries came along.

"We teach them, this is not the end. This is the beginning," Rev. Jeff Hunter explained.

Hunter is one of the leaders for Focus Group Ministries. He says when men come in and start the 12 week program, most are hurt and angry.

"We see issues from guilt issues and remorse issues and things that they're dealing with," Hunter said.

But throughout the 12 week course, the men are giving the chance to open up to one another. They are also taught about finances, how to be a better father, mentoring and other life skills.

For Austin, the program made him do a 180 degree turn in life.

"Everything just started to change," Austin said. "I've gone back to school. I study Bible and ministry now. People that knew me a few years ago would think that that's just crazy. And it's who I am today, it's who God intended me to be."

As for Whittier, he now has a job again and hasn't gone back to drugs. Instead, he's filling his time focusing on what God wants him to be and do with his life.

"I know now, and I can say 100%, as long as I put God first in everything I do, I ain't gotta worry about it," Whittier said when asked what's different in his life.

And the numbers show this program works. In East Tennessee, the number of inmates who return to jail within three years after being released is about 70%.

The jails that Focus Group Ministries teaches classes in, that number drops to less than 20%.

"We show them hope. They see hope and they start understanding there is a life for them, and there is a real possibility for them....and no longer go back to that type of a life that they were in," Rev. Hunter said.

Focus Group Ministries is a Christian based program, but also offers secular classes and training for those who prefer it. The classes are also offered for women.

For more information on Focus Group Ministries, log onto their website at

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