In the shadow of the razorwire fences and bleak facade of the Al Cannon Detention Center sits the small, nondescript building that houses the Turning Leaf Project. Inside, two classrooms are lined with handwritten lists that encapsulate the lessons learned by the former convicts who participate in the reintroduction program. Identifying a social support network, dealing with anger, managing stress — these are the teachings that Kadeem Gaddist, aspiring musician and Turning Leaf student, calls “secrets” kept from him and his fellow classmates. Whatever their environment, they were never exposed to the lessons that would keep them out of prison. Gaddist describes it as going through life without knowing how to tie your shoes. But now he’s found a place of peace.
Rapping and recording for more than five years, Gaddist had to put his music career on hold as he served a prison sentence for drug charges. Last October, after his release, he joined the Turning Leaf program. Looking back, he admits he didn’t have much hope in the program when he first started. Newcomers to Turning Leaf participate in classes Monday through Friday for three hours a day. Model students can earn up to $150 a week for participating. As they progress through the program, they are set up with part-time jobs on nights and weekends as they work toward full-time employment.
Hanging on the wall in one of the classrooms is an example of the work that is done at Turning Leaf. Written at the top of a large sheet of paper is a description of a situation faced by many people after they are released from prison.