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Mentors are Role Models for Prisoners - John Dunn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee takes new steps to help inmates who are getting out of prison. They're asking churches to adopt an offender for one year, and one church is already taking up the call.

The congregation for this service may look a little different. Prison uniforms substitute for Sunday's best. For many inmates at Riverbend prison in Nashville, faith is foundational. "People in prison need guidance, they need education, they need help," says inmate Claude Francis Garrett.

Claude Francis Garrett has been incarcerated for 21 years for first degree murder. He is also a regular attendee of Riverbend's Sunday services. "Met some of the most awesome people that I've ever met in my life," says Garrett.

This Sunday, Christ United Methodist Church led the congregation. "For them to know that they are part of a larger community that really cares about them has made a huge difference in their lives," says pastor Carol Cavin-Dillon.

The prison ministry started with a bible study. Soon a weekly service followed. Now, a pen pal and mentor program have been added. "Anything that they required, we had someone there to give a safety net to work with," says volunteer and founder Jerry Nail.

Jerry Nail volunteers with the program. It helps inmates who are released connect with financial, spiritual, and motivational resources. Tennessee prison leaders say mentors help prevent repeat offenders.

Inmates say faith and mentors have made them better people. In a place where life is lived behind bars, Claude Francis Garrett credits friends on the outside with making a difference. "They encourage you to be a better person, and they are role models for people here to be better people," says Garrett.

Tennessee will kick off the "Take One" program next month. The program encourages churches to adopt an offender and their family for one year after they get out of prison.

For news updates follow John Dunn on twitter @WZTVJohnDunn

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