Best Advice by Amy Barch (Charleston Regional Business Journal)

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is: “focus on what you can control.” It’s humbling to recognize how much happens in life that I have no control of. Instead of wanting things to be different – the way I want them to be, the way I expect them to be – I try to let go and accept things as they are. This practice helps me to not get overly angry and anxious by circumstances I can’t influence, like other people and external events. It’s also a powerful reminder that my actions are fully in my own control. By staying focused on my daily choices, I feel more grounded and am an all-around happier person. 

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Hicks: Turning Leaf is expanding, and that’s good news for everyone in SC (Post & Courier)

Amy Barch didn’t set out to become the director of a nonprofit, but she’s really good at it.

In fact, Barch just might change the world.

Six years ago, she opened the Turning Leaf Project with the wildly ambitious goal of keeping violent felons from returning to a life of crime after prison. And that’s important. Law enforcement officials will tell you that recidivism is one of the country’s biggest problems.

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Training the New Clinical Staff

We take our responsibility to the men we serve seriously. They deserve the best. That’s why training staff to deliver high-quality services is one of our highest priorities. Now that our Columbia team has been hired, it’s all about getting them ready. Each afternoon at Turning Leaf, our new hires are coached by staff veterans. Role plays. Coaching sessions. Teach backs.  

The thing is, we’re not just training mental health professionals. We’re also training formerly incarcerated men – program graduates – to deliver our services. We believe that they are the most credible of messengers to show people returning home from prison that real change is possible.  These men are now learning how to teach the same skills that helped them change their mindset, and their lives. It’s more than inspiring. 

Program Director Justin Evans and Founder Amy Barch have been hard at work creating and delivering a hands-on, three-month training program for the new staff. “Our program is unique in some ways, but it’s also very straightforward,” says Evans. “We follow the evidence and use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Core Correctional Practices, both of which have been around for a while. But what we know, and what we try to stress in our training, is that the most important part of delivering these types of therapies are the relationships established between participants and staff. The potential for change is amplified in a trusting relationship.”

It’s Time for Back to School Swag!

Summer is over here in the South and the school bells are a-ringin’. At Turning Leaf, we know what that means: field trips, sports teams, and school spirit weeks are just around the corner!

If you are a teacher, administrator, coach, librarian, or are in any way in charge of children, this can be an overwhelming time of year. There are so many things to do! How can you possibly remember to order t-shirts for your next event?

We’re here to help! Take a look at our brand new online catalog to choose from hundreds of high quality products, then send us your artwork and we’ll handle the rest. Your order will be ready on time and will meet the highest quality standards in the industry.

Ask us about our campaigns so you don’t even have to collect money ahead of time!

We can’t wait to earn your business.

Rigg

Drugs. Robberies. Guns. Violence. There are so many things for parents to worry about. Sometimes, all a mama can do is try her hardest and hope that someday her child will hear her.

That’s how it was with Rigg. His mama did everything she could to show a good way to live. But from the moment he, as a little boy, touched a hot stove just because his mama told him not to, it was clear Rigg would make his own choices, whether or not they were the right ones.

It took a while, to be sure, but after years stuck in the incarceration cycle and even more years running the streets, Rigg is finally ready to listen to his mama.

This is his story.

* * * *

Rigg grew up in the Liberty Hill neighborhood of North Charleston in the 1980s. Most residents were property owners and lived the straight and narrow life. The community was tight. Everybody was related to everybody else.

“We were a single-parent household, but my mama was a hell of a provider,” he says. He and his three siblings never went without a meal. The lights were never turned off. She worked cashier jobs and was always able to make ends meet. They lived in rental properties when he was a kid but she owns a home today, a fact he mentions with obvious pride.

But Rigg was a handful. “Out of all my mama’s kids, I might have been the smartest one,” he says. “But I do the dumbest things. I just always wanted to get out there to see things for myself. I was always going to do exactly what my mama told me not to do.” Case in point: the hot stove. “She told me not to touch it, but I did. Then when she came out, I said, ‘Mama, I touched the eye, but it didn’t burn me. It just depends on how long you touch the fire, whether you get burned or not.’”

It was the late 80s and early 90s, at the height of the crack epidemic. Rigg saw enough in his neighborhood to burn him. Liberty Hill had more than its share of drugs and violence. Dealers, too, whom Rigg idolized. “I’d see someone on the streets, and I’d think, damn, he’s got all the nice shoes, the nice clothes. One day I’m gonna be him,” he says.

He and his family moved to a “better” neighborhood when Rigg was a teenager. There, he found a group of kids who also liked pushing boundaries. It began with robberies and slid into drug sales. They started making money – more than his mama could give him – and it became an addiction. He brought weed into the house one night, hiding it in his pillow while he slept. “My mama’s got a nose like a dog,” he says. She came into the room he shared with one of his brothers and zeroed in on the hidden goods. She grabbed him, said, “I know you didn’t bring this into my house,” and, in Rigg’s words, they “had a falling out.” He moved out and began staying with various friends. Life slipped rapidly out of control.

Riggs went to prison for the first time in high school. He pled a carjacking charge down to a strong-arm robbery and received a Youthful Offender Act (YOA) sentence of 1-6 years. He only served ten months, but then violated probation multiple times on drug and gun charges.

Research has proven over and over again that most people eventually age out of crime. They get too old, too tired to keep up on the streets, and they find other ways to live. Rigg was almost an example of this. When his son was born, he kept running the streets full-time, undeterred, but when his daughters were born, everything changed. “The way these little girls gravitate toward me,” he says. “I knew from the start: these girls cannot be without me.”

He started pulling back from the streets, ever so slightly, managing to stay out of trouble for a long time. As he entered his late 30s, Rigg wanted to transition completely away from the streets, but he knew it would be difficult. The streets were where he’d always made his money; he didn’t know how else to support his family. He enrolled in a free masonry class, but then disaster struck. He was caught with guns in a neighborhood rife with unsolved violent crimes and murders. The local police turned him over to the feds. A 40-month sentence sent him to Coleman Federal Penitentiary in Florida, which has housed some notorious prisoners including Al-Qaeda supporters and Whitey Bulger.

It was a wakeup call. “That’s where I learned to respect life,” he says. “The first day I was on the yard, I assumed everyone was in for a similar time and similar charges as me.” A man approached him and asked Rigg how long he was in for. “I said I got forty, and he replied back to me I got forty years too! It really opened my eyes. Some of those dudes had nothing to lose, and I’m in there just trying to make it home.”

Which he did, after serving 29 of his 40 months. Several chance encounters landed Rigg at Turning Leaf, where he is continuing his transition away from the streets. “The only way to change what’s going on around me is to change myself,” he says. And while he thinks he’d have been successful in leaving the streets behind if he’d finished his masonry class several years ago, he’s grateful for what he’s found here.

It wasn’t love at first sight, though. Let’s be clear on that. “I was kind of resistant at first,” he says. “The program was taking up my whole day. By the time I’d get off everything was closed and my kids were tired.”

Rigg had a turning point when the Classroom Facilitator, Winard, opened up to him about his own life and experiences. Rigg says, “When he let me know who he was and what he went through, I realized everybody in the classroom is the same as me, even the teacher. You can’t tell what his life was by looking at him. He keeps a smile on his face and he’s clean cut and all that. But he really understands where I’m coming from.”

Rigg also found support from the Case Manager, Justin. He’s found all the people at Turning Leaf, in fact, to be genuine. Kind. Supportive. He knows a program like this is only as good as the people running it, and he believes Turning Leaf is great.

He uses Skill #5, Deciding to be Responsible, daily. “It always comes down to that one decision,” he says. “Deciding to do the right thing might be a little harder, but in the end it’s going to pay off.” He discusses the day’s lessons with friends at night, and reflects on his journey when working on his homework. It’s almost like his life has come full circle, and he’s finally learning the lessons about hard work, and dedication that his mama tried to teach him all those years ago.

* * * *

Rigg is leaving us very soon to go to his permanent job, but we know he’s going to succeed, using all the skills from the classroom and all the wisdom he’s earned through a life full of twists and turns. Best of luck to you, Riggs! You’ve got this!