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Rehabilitation programs in Alexandria jail help inmates prepare for life beyond bars

Bobby Smith says he’s a new man. The inmate at Alexandria’s William G. Truesdale Detention Center has spent the last three years participating in the jail’s correctional education programs, and on Thursday he and about 50 other inmates received certificates of completion, rounds of applause and lunch.

“I’m a different man than I was when I arrived,” Smith told ALXnow. “I’ve taken every course that I can here — anger management, finance, fitness, conflict resolution.”

The 51-year-old inmate’s trial date is pending. Smith, a D.C. native, has spent half his life in jail for drug charges. He has been in the Alexandria jail for three years for heroin possession and selling fentanyl-laced heroin to a woman who later died.

“She was a close friend of mine,” Smith said of the woman. “I struggled with that because of the trust that was instilled in me. I failed her.”

The award program for the inmates was held in the jail gymnasium and included two General Education Diploma recipients, creative writing contest winners, as well as participants in the jail’s conflict resolution, reentry and work programs.

“Everyone here volunteered to participate,” said Gloria Wright, program manager at the detention center. “Our main goal is to get as many people to participate as possible. Our job is to go in these units and kind of urge them to participate, instead of sit or lay around not doing anything.”

Sheriff Sean Casey said that the jail’s recidivism rate is one of the lowest in the state and congratulated the inmates who were recognized

“All of you are having a difficult time in your life right now,” Casey said.

“We all know it’s gonna be an uphill battle,” he continued. “We all know it’s gonna be difficult. It was difficult probably before you got in here, and it’s gonna be difficult when you leave. But the fact that you volunteer to take time out of your day to come and be part of these programs, and to better yourselves it means a lot to me means a lot to our staff and everyone sitting in this room so give yourselves a round of applause.”

City Council Member Sarah Bagley told the inmates that she was impressed with their participation in the program.

“I want to let you know that it’s inspiring to me,” Bagley said. “You have an opportunity to be inspiring to others. The choices you are making to learn new skills, to apply yourselves, to come away from this experience as a more interesting person, a more well-read person, a skilled person, is truly impressive.”

Smith, who has seven children, said it’s been a while since anyone cheered for him.

“I never understand the damage I was doing to myself first and the relationships with my family, the people that I love,” he said. “I’m a seasoned veteran in the jail and I’m not proud of that. But I’ve owned up to it, and I’m working on becoming a better person.”

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