Wings to Recover, an El Dorado organization that helps Arkansas inmates transition to life outside of prison, recently graduated its first group of 20 men. The organization is now at capacity with 24 residents working to complete the five-to-six month program.
Rex McDaniel runs the program with his brother Ragan. He called the program a “mandate from God” and the most fulfilling experience of his life.
“They’re here every day,” he said. “We feed them, clothe them, carry them, to work, pick them back up, drug test them two times a week. There’s an incentive from the state to hire them. They’ll be at work on time — early, actually, ever morning — we’ll pick them up on time, they’re totally drug-free. They’re really rocking this place.”
Residents must have a full-time job within 21 days. Their paychecks are deposited into an account for them and, upon completion, they have resources to find housing and transportation.
“Every penny they make, we put in an account for them,” McDaniel said. “We find them places to stay, to rent, help them get vehicles. Put them in houses and they have a nest egg to start on. When they put you out of prison, they hand you a $100 bill and tell you ‘Good luck.’ They’re going right back that way; it’s a lose-lose situation.”
McDaniel said Wings to Recover also helps the residents with things like getting a driver’s license. Tracey Lea, who will graduate from the program soon, said he hadn’t had a driver’s license in decades.
“I haven’t one in 24 years,” he said. “That’s a record. It’s embarrassing to say. I could have done it, but I just didn’t have the ‘want to.’”
Once individuals complete the program, they complete a parole plan with the ACC approved by a reentry officer. If they want to parole to their hometown, they can work through a parole officer there. The program prefers they have a job lined up so they can transition directly into full-time work. But McDaniel said Wings to Recover strongly encourages them to stay in Union County and away from the people and circumstances that led them to prison in the first place.
Quite a few graduates are staying locally and return to the facility, located on Industrial Road in El Dorado, enjoying the community they now feel a part of.
“This is the best thing to happen to me,” Issac Hudson, who recently graduated the program, said. “It saved my life. I found something I was searching for my whole life: me.”
The Arkansas Department of Corrections along with its parole arm the ACC screens inmates and handpicks them for the program. McDaniel doesn’t have a say in who comes to the facility. But once they’re there, he make sure they’re given every resource they need to be successful, as well as a healthy dose of Biblical instruction, if they want it, and love.
“We put the word of God in them and we just love them,” he said. “They’re not treated any differently than I would treat you or your would treat me. There’s nothing else that’s going to change people: love never fails.”
The program also gives families a chance to reconnect. With visitation every Sunday, McDaniel said children, spouses and parents are able to meet with their family members, sometimes for the first time in years.
“It’s awesome to see people come from hopelessness to having a job, feeling like they’re a man again,” he said. “It’s amazing to see what God is doing. He’s the one who put the family together, and to see them reunited with their wives and children, their mothers and daddies who haven’t seen them in a while… it’s a life-changing experience.”
Tanner Kimmerling graduated from the program and looked for work in Little Rock before returning to a job in Union County. He said he had a lot of time to make up with his family.
“I did them wrong; I was on drugs, I was out there selling them,” he said. “I’ve been doing that since I was 15, that’s all I knew. Being here opened my eyes. I don’t have to do it anymore. I have a little 12-year-old brother. Me and my older brother have done nothing but jail and institutions our whole life, so I’m trying to show him there’s another path. I know he looks up to me.”
Robert Jackson is hoping to parole to Magnolia soon. He has a job and housing lined up.
“People make mistakes,” he said. “I’ve only been to prison once, but I’m not going back. I know what caused my problems, and I know what not to do, who not to be around. Without this program, I don’t know how much longer I would have sat in prison. This is the best thing that could have happened to me.”