Lowcountry nonprofit helps ex-convicts re-enter society, workforce

    Aulzue Fields is a success story of the Turning Leaf Project. (WCIV)

    The Turning Leaf Project is a group in Charleston working to help formerly incarcerated men complete probation and get acclimated back into society.

    Aulzue Fields spent the last 17 years in prison. He took someone else's life in the Lowcountry when he was 26 years old.

    "I was using a lot of drugs, alcohol. I wanted to live the life of being irresponsible. I had a wife and children, but at the time, my belief was bring the money to the house, that should be fine," he said. "I wanted to do what I wanted to do and disregard everyone else."

    He's made choices he's not proud of.

    "Looking back now, I could've made choice to avoid it, because sure we've got people that avoid living that lifestyle. But at the time, I wanted to justify saying I could be a man by doing these things."

    Re-entering a tech savvy world has had its challenges.

    "Venturing out now, in the crowds, I'm nervous. Everyone is closer in prison. You give someone 6 to 8 feet, but when I'm in restaurants, looking around, church services, and I'm like, I feel my heart starts racing, palms start to sweat, and I'm nervous, and I'm having all these thoughts like, 'What am I going to do?' and these aren't things we're prepared for in prison."

    In classes provided at Turning Leaf, Fields is constantly learning new ways to deal with conflict, how to manage his emotions, and job skills.

    "The program helps in spite of our criminal background, criminal record," he said. "They put us in a position where we're more marketable, because society at times is not willing to accept us because of our criminal past."

    The program is six months long and is geared towards men who are 25 to 50 years old.

    Each man is assessed, given homework, and randomly drug tested.

    Director Amy Barch said Fields is the first participant she's been able to hire for the Turning Leaf screen printing shop. Employees learn relevant skills to hopefully transition to a future job at a government job site or in the private sector.

    But every new seed planted doesn't grow.

    "We have a pretty high turnover rate at the beginning, And that's tough, because we see people that are motivated and they want to do it, but they're just not able to," Barch said.

    Fields said it's a daily choice to be different.

    Now he's looking forward to turning over and growing new leaves with his family.

    "A lot of opportunities I missed in prison, I can't get that back. But, I'm looking forward to these opportunities. I want to help my family establish family structure, I want to reach out to the youth today to allow them to be able to see where we're going versus where we think we're going." Fields said.

    Barch said they're able to work with men who have all types of charges, however there are limitations when someone has pending charges.

    Turning Leaf partners with Charleston County to help with job placement.

    To learn more, or to volunteer or donate, click here.

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