Christopher Burck spent four months behind bars in Clay County on a violent charge involving alcohol.
A week before being released, Burck said he had no direction and nowhere to go.
“I’m not from here originally. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland, and all through my sentence, I was planning on having to go back, and I did not want that,” Burck said.
That’s when he turned to a voluntarily program being offered at the Clay County jail. The program, run by Elevate Life Church, is also available in Baker County and will soon expand to a third Northeast Florida county.
“I think, when they’re in, people need hope. They just need to believe that things can be different,” said Tim Staier, lead pastor at Elevate Life Church.
The church streams weekly services into jails as part of a program meant to steer inmates away from re-offending once they are released.
“We always tell them, ‘You’re not a project. You’re family. And when you get out -- and you will get out -- when you get out, we’re here for you,'” Staier said.
Burck’s been out of jail for four months and is now attending college and has a job.
“I never saw my life in this direction,” Burck said. “It’s a complete change for me. It’s awesome.”
Baker County Sheriff Scotty Rhoden said the Elevate Life program is one of several offered in his jail to encourage inmates to better their lives.
“Being the sheriff, you’re there to help people and make a difference in their lives and make a difference in our community,” Rhoden said. “Being part of programs like this, I feel like that’s what I’m here for -- to help people and these programs, that’s what they’re doing, helping people.”
Once inmates are released from prison, Elevate Life helps them with transportation, finding a job and other personal issues to help them stay on the right path.
Similar programs are also run in many cities across the United States.
The Elevate Life program will be expanding in the next few months. News4Jax will share that information when the plans are finalized.