Manufacturing program helps local inmates succeed after jail

Program started a year ago; four men have graduated, earned college credit

AMHERST, Va. – Robert Barnes has been out of jail for three months and is a painter in the Lynchburg area.
“I’m just trying to stay sober, keep myself out of trouble and working,” Barnes said.
The 36-year-old said drugs were his worst enemy.

“I’ve been addicted to drugs pretty much my whole life, and they (it) always got me into the trouble I found myself in,” Barnes said.
While serving an 18-month sentence at the Amherst County Adult Detention Center, a manufacturing class gave him a second chance.
“I’m 36 years old and it’s about time I do something with my life instead of staying on the streets,” Barnes said.

The program -- created by Blue Ridge Regional Jail, Central Virginia Community College, Virginia Adult Education and Virginia Career Works started -- with women a year ago. Only one of the six passed.
Barnes and five others are the first men to graduate from the program.
“We learned a lot from the first go around,” Amy McCarty, instructor, said. “All of these students were very driven, very bright students. But this gave them a very quantitative way of seeing what they’re capable of.”
“I think all the guys are leaving here feeling more confident about themselves and their abilities to make it out there,” Cheri Almond, release program coordinator for Blue Ridge Regional Jail, said.

As for Barnes, he doesn't want to be painting forever. He hopes to get his career started in manufacturing soon.

“It's a stable job, stable career. There's always room to grow in there. And make myself a little bit better than what I'm doing now,” Barnes said.

Blue Ridge Regional Jail officials hope to continue this program next year.