Every Turning Leaf participant is unique. Special. Different backgrounds, different education levels. Different family structures and barriers to success.

Troy, though. Now here’s a guy who really stands out. He was educated in some of the top schools in Charleston. He was the first male in his family to graduate from high school. He had all the markers of a successful future ahead of him.
But when a series of bad decisions threw up roadblocks, and a domestic altercation landed him in prison, Troy had to face a far different future: 18 years behind bars. What he’s doing with his life now, though…that’s a story we’re excited to tell.
Everyone, meet Troy.
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Troy grew up in Hollywood, South Carolina, on the south side of Charleston County. His community was close and filled with family. Aunties and uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents. He tested into two of the top schools in the area, where he saw what support, encouragement, and assistance can mean to children hoping to succeed. He even started college at Benedict in Columbia. Things were looking good.
But teenagers are teenagers, and they don’t always make the best choices. We’ve all been guilty of it. For Troy, the mistakes and missteps started to snowball. “My problems came from being young, having unprotected sex, and having children,” he says. “It all slowly but surely eroded my decision-making.”
By age 19, Troy had fathered three children with two women. One baby-mama had him on the hook for child support; when the other was pregnant with their second child, Troy’s mother told him, “Come home and give her honor. Don’t be having children all over the place.”
At 19, Troy was married with three children by two women.
“Being married that young requires a level of maturity I just didn’t have,” says Troy. He started selling drugs to help make money. “I closed off doors to opportunities early. I didn’t get caught selling drugs, but if your morals slip to a point where you’re okay with doing things just because you can get away with it…this is how you wind up cheating on your wife, having another baby outside your relationship, and destroying a marriage.”
In the end, Troy caught a major charge for a domestic dispute. He and his wife got into a fight; things deteriorated rapidly. “I was acting a fool,” he says. “I had a tantrum.”
Following his arrest, Troy tried to be helpful, but his 19-year-old naïveté showed. With no lawyer to advise him otherwise, he penned a seven-page statement about the events leading up to and including the altercation. He felt he was justified, thought any rational person would read the statement and understand the nature of his meltdown. There were extenuating circumstances: the stress of a marriage under duress. A sister and an auntie succumbing to Multiple Sclerosis. His own seizure disorder. Surely the police would understand.
Instead, Troy learned the reasons behind Miranda rights: anything you say can and will be used against you. His “statement” was his confession, and it was used against him.
With this document in hand, prosecutors had an open-and-shut case. Troy declined a plea deal for 15 years, sure that he would come off with a lighter sentence based on the evidence he provided. His public defender advised him not to take the stand and Troy listened.
In the end, he was found guilty of numerous charges related to that domestic altercation and was sentence to 18 years.
Eighteen years!
“I was part of the PTA,” he says.  “People say Black men don’t raise their children. I was doing that. But they had enough to convict me, so they did.”
And so Troy’s 18-year stint in South Carolina state prisons began. “Prison can be a diamond mine or a graveyard,” he says. “I chose to invest in myself. I studied, took classes. Yoga, Toast Masters. I helped people studying to get WorkKeys and their GEDs. I got my own gold WorkKey.” He did everything he could to be ready on his release day.
It’s never easy, though. Not for formerly incarcerated men returning home after prison.
Troy’s first barrier came in the shape of housing. His charges included kidnapping, so he was registered as a sex offender. Suddenly, he couldn’t live with his mother, who cares for his young nieces. His grandmother’s vacant house next door was approved, but it wasn’t livable. Termites and roaches, years of disuse and disrepair had had their way with it. The renovations required to clean up the house were a blessing in disguise: his whole family had to work together to make it a home.
Except: Troy isn’t allowed to hang out with his two brothers. They’ve been in prison too, and their parole conditions force the siblings to stay apart. Just another barrier to overcome; less family to lean on and love.
Troy came to Turning Leaf seeking an advocate and found new family instead. “Turning Leaf does the right things to help people,” he says. “For one, they give out food, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re trying to be responsible, that one simple thing makes a huge difference.”
Turning Leaf is also helping Troy get his health back on track. After so many years in prison on the same medication, his seizure disorder needed a change in treatment. That adjustment led to his first seizure in a long time, but Turning Leaf was with Troy every step of the way, helping him to and from medical appointments, and supporting him outside of the center. And even though he took lots of CBT classes while still in prison, Troy firmly believes the repetition of cognitive skills in the Turning Leaf classroom helps reinforce all his hard work.
And here’s the thing: Troy is going to change the world after he graduates. We’re quite certain of it. “I’m a star, not a planet,” he says. “Wherever I go from here there’s going to be change. I’m full of pride and I’m a hard worker. I don’t want to sit here and complain and tell you the system did me wrong. I want to be part of the change to make things better.”
What does he think will help? “Support and recognition of people who are most at risk,” he says, citing one of his sons as a recent example. “He was doing great in school. He plays football and has a scholarship for college waiting for him. But when you’re poor, no one looks out for you. With Covid, my son dropped straight off the map in school and no one noticed.” Troy wants to help boys like his son, and men like himself.
“In the future I plan to do anything to assist Turning Leaf because they’ve done nothing but support me from Day One. I’ll either be a part of Turning Leaf and go hard for it, or I’ll start something myself. But people need to know they have value. I can help with that.”
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Troy could have written this piece himself. He didn’t need us to interview him, to tell his story for him. But we’re honored to have had the chance to get to know a person we truly believe will change the world. Good luck, Troy, as you finish up here and move onto even bigger things. We have your back all the way!

Reducing Recidivism (NPR’s South Carolina Business Review)

According to recent statistics, 67% of formerly incarcerated men are re-arrested within three years. Our next guest’s organization however, has found a way to reduce that number significantly. Mike Switzer interviews Leah Rhyne, director of marketing and communications at Turning Leaf, a Charleston nonprofit expanding soon to Columbia, SC.

Listen here.

Police Killed My Dad When I Was 8. Next Came the Rage. (The Marshall Project)

When I hear household names like George FloydWalter Scott and Alton Sterling, I don’t land on the grisly videos of their killings or the fates of the police officers who ended their lives.

I think about their children.

Police murdered my father three decades ago, when I was 8. As his son, I know firsthand how losing a parent this way can derail a family for generations. I can still see these deaths through the eyes of the youngest victims.

Keep reading this essay by Turning Leaf Implementation Specialist Aulzue “Blue” Fields.

Two New Faces in the Turning Leaf Print Shop

L-Beth Greene, R-Maura Langston

You may have heard our big news. Turning Leaf is opening our second location. The Print Shop is expanding to Columbia, SC next month, so our staff is expanding too. We have two new amazing team members helping to grow our screen-printing business and employ more men out of prison. 

Next time you call us about an order, you’ll chat with our new Director of Business Development, Maura Langston (R). Born in Columbia, but now based in Charleston, Maura knows a thing or two about sales. 

If you drop by our new location in Columbia for a tour, you’ll meet Beth Greene (L). We’re still shocked we found someone with a corrections and an apparel background to be Columbia’s Print Shop Manager. Sometimes you just get lucky. 

Beth Greene comes to us originally from Kenosha, Wisconsin, and although not a farm girl herself, her college roommate was a former Iowa State Dairy Princess. But that’s a story for another day. Beth felt called to criminal justice as a career, but when positions as a case manager at a prison and a probation officer left her feeling frustrated, she tried something new: screen printing! This was at the start of the Etsy DIY movement, and she made a successful career in the apparel industry.

Something was missing, though, and when Beth saw the opportunity to work with Turning Leaf as we open our new Columbia Print Shop, she leapt at it. We’re so glad she did. As we move into October and begin preparing our new location at 630 Blue Ridge Terrace in Columbia, Beth will use her combination of criminal justice knowledge and screen-printing skills as the Print Shop Manager (Columbia) to make the new shop a smashing success.

Maura Langston, on the other hand, grew up in Columbia but will be based out of our Charleston office. Maura graduated with a BA in Communications from The College of Charleston, then made waves in the local F&B industry selling beer for over a decade, working with companies like Lee Distributors and Steel Hands Brewing. Now she’s thrilled to use her sales talent to develop business partnerships for the Print Shops, knowing she’ll be making a difference in so many people’s lives.

As the Business Development Manager, Maura will be the new point of contact for all Print Shop customers, present and future.

And since we shared a random fact about Beth, we’ll include one for Maura as well. Maura has the world’s cutest, brownest, floofiest puppy in the world. We love Chai, and since Maura’s already lobbying for Turning Leaf dog clothes, who knows what the future holds?

Are you interested in hearing more about the Print Shop? Click this link to learn more about our mission. And if you’re ready to order custom-printed apparel, click here to get a quote today.

State Funding Helps Turning Leaf Sign Lease on New Columbia Location

Since 2019 we’ve had the dream of opening Turning Leaf reentry centers across South Carolina. We don’t have to tell you that nothing these last two years has been easy. Launching an expansion campaign during a global pandemic wasn’t in the plans. But we never wavered, and we never let up. Our persistence recently paid off with a big win: South Carolina granted Turning Leaf state funding which allowed us to take the next big step forward in our expansion plan. We’re thrilled to announce that we just signed a lease on a building for our new Turning Leaf Columbia location. 
This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Representative Chris Murphy, who sponsored the introduction of the funds into the State budget. South Carolina State Representative J. Todd Rutherford and Director of South Carolina’s Department of Corrections, Bryan Stirling, were also instrumental.

 Turning Leaf’s new facility is at 630 Blue Ridge Terrace in Columbia, SC. Its zip code, 29203, has the highest number of people on probation than any other in the Midlands region. The program will be a replica of Charleston’s successful pilot, combining 150 hours of cognitive behavioral therapy, four months of transitional work in the program’s screen-printing business, case management, and placement into jobs with livable wages and opportunities for advancement.  
Opening Turning Leaf Columbia is the first milestone achieved in a three-year expansion plan. We anticipate opening a third location in Upstate South Carolina in 2023. The goal is to have a high-quality impact evaluation of the program after the two new sites are developed. With positive results, we will continue to replicate statewide and beyond, working towards our goal of becoming the first-ever nationally recognized evidence-based reentry program.

 Expanding Turning Leaf statewide requires an investment of $6 million over the next three years. We are beyond grateful to Representatives Murphy and Rutherford as well as to Bryan Stirling for partnering with us to make South Carolina a leader in criminal justice reform.