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People are coming back to the Richmond City Jail — on their own terms.

Just like that, he's back at the jail. Crosby was one of a handful of former inmates celebrating milestones in troubled lives Saturday, April 22.

According to an Urban Institute study on recidivism, virtually every one of the 1,500 inmates at the Richmond City Jail eventually will be released, and of those, two-thirds will end up back in jail within three years. Jail becomes a revolving door and breaking the cycle isn't easy.

The ceremony on this rainy Saturday afternoon, which still drew hundreds of people, recognizes what many on the outside take for granted: sobriety and a diploma. The Richmond City Jail Re-entry Program event acknowledged 63 men and women receiving certificates of accomplishment for taking the seven-hour GED exam, completing computer training or advancing through a four-phase recovery program for drug addicts.

A woman wearing a bright yellow blouse sits in the middle row of the cafeteria, the area reserved for guests, flanked by a row of male inmates to her left and a row of female inmates to her right. The air inside is hot and stale, but the woman doesn't seem to mind. She fans herself with the blue program and beams, pointing: "That's my son!" He is inmate Harry Warren, master of ceremonies.

Warren introduces Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. to the roar of cheers. For too long, Woody says, the jail has been locking people up who've committed crimes, but not really setting them free once they are released.

"We need to look at the other side of the coin and look at what they can do when they get out," Woody says. He recites part of a poem by Nancy Simms: "You are worthy, do not give up when you still have something to give. … It's by taking chances that we learn to be brave."

Two inmates play keyboard and drums while their colleague, Basil Malik Al-Shabazz raps to the audience a poem he wrote. "Ed-u-ca-tion is the key," he says in staccato, "It's a new day but a different game."

A different game is what Irvin Hart Sr. had been trying to play for 26 years, but he kept falling back into the same routine of using drugs.

"I had done so much time, I was unemployable. I had to humble myself," Hart says. "I got a bucket and washed cars."

Hart has been clean for 14 years, many of them working for Richmond Offender Aid and Restoration Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides programs and services to inmates and former convicts. "This here is not the reality of our days," Hart tells the men and women who wear blue, brown, orange and yellow. "The question is: What are you going to do about it?"

Crosby says he finally believed in himself. He wears neatly pressed khakis and a matching polo shirt. Where he sits distinguishes him more than what he wears. He's seated among the guests, the middle row. Crosby last came to the jail Dec. 3, 2004 because of another drug charge.

Standing before men he bunked with for two-and-a-half years, men who know his dark side, he spouts excitedly of what 90 days of brightness can bring. "I landed a job in masonry making $30 an hour," he says.

Not long after he started, his employer recognized his talent and dedication, and asked what he'd like to do next, he recalls. "Architecture," he replied. Now the company is paying for him to take architecture classes at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, he says. Most important, he has his wife and daughter back. The family just moved into a brick house, the first home Crosby's ever owned.

Who knows what the next 90 days will bring? For Crosby, a convicted felon, statistics show it could mean jail. But he sees something else. He's enrolled in ministry school, he says, which begins in July. And then there's his story. "I wrote a book in here," Crosby says, "and it's going to be published in four months." S


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