As a bail bondsman in Anniston, Joseph Burton has seen a lot of mistakes.
Young men put up bail with mama’s money, and they miss their court dates. They go back to the same friends after they get into trouble. Soon they need bailing out again.
“You can’t reach everybody, but maybe you can reach this one or that one,” Burton said.
Burton spent Wednesday afternoon blasting loud jazz through speakers in Zinn Park, where staff and volunteers of the Dannon Project, a post-jail rehabilitation program, held a four-hour-long rally. The group is seeking more volunteers like Burton, 70, who are willing to mentor young people who’ve been through the criminal justice system and need a fresh start.
“We want to get them into a safe environment and let them learn that they can own their own house and make good money,” said Terry Mosley, mentor coordinator for the Birmingham-based program.
The Dannon Project is named after Dannon Pruitt, a Hobson City resident who was killed in an accidental shooting in 1999 — shot by a man who’d recently been released from jail for a nonviolent drug crime. When the group opened its Hobson City branch in 2012, organizers said they wanted to help non-violent convicts re-enter society.
Earlier this year, the group held a graduation ceremony for 13 people who completed its Re-entry Demonstration Program, a federally-funded program that allows students to pursue a GED and get certifications as forklift operators or customer service representatives.
The Dannon Project is holding a rally at Anniston’s Zinn Park right now, seeking volunteers. Here’s a look at what they do. pic.twitter.com/EgT4dhrLgl— Tim Lockette (@TLockette_Star) October 17, 2018
That program is open to adults between the ages of 18 to 24 who’ve had any kind of interaction with the criminal justice system. Mosley said that can even include traffic violations in some cases.
“It depends on the circumstance that led to the ticket,” he said. He said the group has helped some people who’ve been in trouble for driving without a license by helping those people obtain an ID.
The group has a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, and there are plenty of potential students, all sent to the project through court referrals. What the group needs, Mosley said, is more mentors and other volunteers to supplement the dozen or so who work for the group now.
That was the reason for the rally in the park: to draw the attention of potential volunteers. Mosely said the ideal mentor would be a veteran or a retired teacher, or anyone with a history of commitment to something and a background the clients can relate to.
“They’re so used to people giving up on them,” Mosley said. “They need someone who’ll stay around.”
Burton, the bail bondsman, said he was drawn to the program because he grew up in Hobson City, where the Calhoun County branch is based, and because he too was “always in trouble” in his youth. He said he sees people in the justice system all the time, but the Dannon Project gives him a chance to help people who are willing to get help.
“It’s not always that the system is out to get me,” he said. “Sometimes it’s in the way you approach your life.”
He said young men just out of jail often find themselves walking past the same people on the street, facing the same pressures they faced before. He said they need an older person’s guidance.
“If you’re out there drinking and doing drugs and womanizing, when are you going to grow up?” he said.
Mosley said it’s easier for people to change when someone shows them a path to making more money. What they need is mentors willing to show them how, he said.
“You can sit at home and talk about how things are, or you can come out and do something about it,” he said.
To volunteer, call Mosley at 205-202-4072 or visit the group’s office at 715 Martin Luther King Drive in Hobson City. The group’s website is at dannonproject.org.