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Jail hosts first MRT graduation

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 8/6/22

Bedford County Women’s Correction Facility hosted a graduation ceremony Saturday for nine inmates who are completing the MRT program.  

Commissioner Sylvia Pinson has been one of the …

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Jail hosts first MRT graduation


Bedford County Women’s Correction Facility hosted a graduation ceremony Saturday for nine inmates who are completing the MRT program.  

Commissioner Sylvia Pinson has been one of the facilitators of the program. When she first sat in one of the classes, she recalled, “I totally got engaged with the program. It’s exciting...Success will be their graduation.”  

And for many of the women graduating, completing MRT has been one of their proudest moments.  

“This is one of the first times I’ve ever been proud of myself...To come to a facility like this and have people like you guys to back us up and lead us like that...This is going to save a lot of lives,” said one of the graduates.  

Another graduate commented, “I have been in-and-out of the system a few times.” She said she was asked what brought her to the program during one of the MRT classes.  

“I felt very privileged to be incarcerated at the moment. And I will never change the statement... This is one of the proudest moments in my life. I am so proud of me.”  

Speaking at the graduation, Lt. Chris Cook, who leads the MRT program, said, “I hope at the end of the night y’all will see what a change these ladies have made . . . . I hope y’all are as proud of them as I am.”  

MRT, or Moral Reconation Therapy, is a program the jail piloted beginning last April. It consists of 16 steps and participants must complete the first 12 in order to graduate. The program is comprised of testimonials and questions that require participants to recount dark moments in their lives then come to terms with them.  

“When I interviewed these ladies to be in this program, I told them I could only offer them one thing and that was hope. I wouldn’t give them anything. What they got out of this program was as much as they were willing to put into it. And they put everything into it,” said Cook.  

Many of the ladies have been through unspeakable hardships—hardships they realized they put on themselves. But often times, there’s another classmate who’s gone through something harder.  

In that way, the ladies begin mentoring each other, according to Cook. “I didn’t even have to say anything,” Cook said.  

Cook said they tell each other, “You’re no different. Everything you’ve done, I’ve done. So, you can do this too.”  

“It was the first time when I looked at those ladies, they looked different. They were sitting up. They had their heads held up. They were carrying themselves differently. And it was noticeable,” said Cook. 

This is especially an accomplishment since the program is not designed for participants to pass each step the first time.  

In order to pass a step, a participant must give a presentation—like recounting a major life event or giving a testimonial. The other classmates then vote on whether the presenter met all the requirements and if she genuinely understood the step.  

Cook said it does a disservice to the presenter if classmates only vote yes. In the long run, not passing a step teaches the women to push deeper. It takes time. And it’s why it takes about four months to complete the first 12 steps.  

Ronnie Prince has been the jail administrator since the early 2000s. He heard about MRT last year and decided to send Cook to the training. When the program was up and running, Prince attended one of the classes, and said, “Those girls all had me tore up.”  

Desiree Mullis, founder of the Full Moon healing project and who leads a trauma class at the jail, added, “That right there is why these programs work. Because when you have somebody as passionate as Ronnie and Cook behind you to support the system, that is why this program at this jail is working so good.”  

During the graduation ceremony, inmates graduating from the program were able to visit with family members as well as say a few words. Through tears they thanked the jail staff for giving them such an opportunity as this.  

“To everyone who has been involved in this program—I personally want to thank all y’all for helping me save my life and change my ways. MRT and your support has brought me out of darkness in a part of my life when no one else believed in me...and you made me believe in myself again,” said one graduate.  

Another woman commented, “Unfortunately, I’ve spent about 20 years in places like this. And it’s never been a positive experience until now . . . .They really want to see change.”  

One inmate said, “I just want to praise Jesus for noticing my life and putting me in a place he knew existed to surround me with people who love me and care for me and help me.” 

“This is my first time in jail,” said one graduate. “But this program has given me a lot of life skills to seriously succeed now. I work. I make my own money. And I have great friends.”  

Through the MRT graduation process, she, along with four others, were able to secure jobs at Tyson while also serving their prison sentence. 

 Sheriff Swing added, “It’s our wish and our goal that everyone that leaves here is a success. If we do that, we’ve accomplished a lot.”  

Cook said this is their first MRT graduation, but it will not be their last.  

They also hope to expand the program to the public. Classes will be offered in the next couple of weeks at Gateway Church on Madison Street in Shelbyville.