“I didn’t understand it then, but I do now,” said Jeffrey Scott, gainfully and purposefully employed as one of two coordinators for the Second Chance program at the Cleveland/Bradley Community Services Agency, but that wasn’t always the case.
Scott has been working as a case manager for the past four months, since the program first started. Second Chance tries to help ex-felons who are having trouble with drugs or alcohol or in finding work.
“I had no direction and no substance,” Scott explained. “I was just living ... without a foundation ... and my choices landed me in prison.”
From a family of eight children, he was born and raised mostly in Cleveland. But, at around 10 years old, Scott was sent to live in a group home.
“And I didn’t understand why,” said the now 41-year-old.
He eventually got kicked out of the group home for disobeying the rules and moved in with his father, but it wasn’t a good situation.
“Dad wasn’t ready for me,” he admitted in hindsight.
He didn’t abuse or mistreat him, per se, Scott said. Instead, Scott said he was basically just ignored and had to fend for himself, even though he did have a roof over his head. There was no fatherly guidance nor help, at his young age, when he needed it so desperately.
“There was no one to talk with. I was just living with my dad,” he said. “There was no communication ... just superficial stuff.”
Around 15, when his father put him out, he eventually started living with his mother in Knoxville until the age of 20, but not until he was on the streets for a while.
“No one took me in at that time,” he said in explanation.
It was hard and he did what he could to survive. But he admitted that while still in Cleveland, although never taking drugs himself, not even drinking alcohol to excess, that’s when he first started selling drugs.
“My drugs were the women, the money and the lifestyle,” he said.
It was during this time that he was first arrested for selling drugs.
It was Nov. 25, 1991, at 11:15 a.m.
“It was the most traumatic time in my life,” he said, recalling the scene. “I remember. Yes, ma’am ... my life went from quiet to chaotic.”
“There were so many police officers outside,” Scott recalled the scene the day of his first arrest. “I was a little confused. It looked like a TV show — guns, stun grenades, police cars.”
He found out later the police were told he and the other two men with whom Scott was “in business with” and were also in the house had guns and “would not go quietly” and “they were dangerous.”
The police used stun grenades on Scott that day. Later, he was sentenced to 10 years for both the selling drugs charge and also for carrying a weapon during the commission of a crime. Admitting to the drug offense, Scott eventually got the second charge dismissed, he said, because he knew he wasn’t guilty.
He turned 21 shortly after this first arrest.
That was 20 years ago on Scott’s long spiritual, mental and emotional journey.
He spent six years in jail — this time around — and got out in April 1998. He headed back to Knoxville.
“Unfortunately, I went back to dealing drugs,” he admitted, with a hangdog expression on his face. Just out of jail, no money, no job, he felt he needed to do something — and quickly.
“And I knew how to get money that quick,” he said as he snapped his fingers.
So, back to jail, almost just as quickly as he had started back to dealing drugs. Someone “snitched” on him to the police, however, to get out from under their own drug charge, Scott said, and he again was arrested for drug dealing in 1999, roughly a year after he got out of jail the first time.
“I still hadn’t learned my lesson,” he said, with a wistful tone in his voice.
He got out just two years ago.
But he realizes now that everything he went through had a purpose.
“I realize now I had to go through this to get to where I am today,” he said. “I’m a minister now (with Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Cleveland) ... I didn’t understand then, but I do now ... if I would have had a relationship with my dad ... talks ... how to become a man ... I might have steered away from the streets ... when I went to the streets, I was subjected to its nuances.”
All told, he has spent 17 years of his life in jail.
“That’s quite a long time,” he said. During this second time in jail is when Scott was first officially introduced to a spiritual development program in 2008 that taught him spiritual principles.
“I learned more in one year from Nacoe Brown (and his prison ministry) than I did my entire life,” Scott said. “I learned forgiveness.”
This homegrown program also has resulted in an official re-entry program within parts of the prison system, such as Manchester prison where Scott was last incarcerated.
“I use it all now in the Second Chance program at CSA,” he said.
His journey has also brought him to singing the gospel, first in the prison choir, and now in his and his wife’s ministry.
“I married my beautiful wife, Dennesha, two years ago,” he said. But the couple has known each other for more than 12 years. She works as a time-leave specialist in health care.
Another big factor in this turning point for him was when he realized that his mother had been on drugs for years and that by him selling drugs, he was participating in his own mother’s destruction.
“And, because of who I am now, I don’t feel I’ve missed that much (being in prison so many years),” he said. “... God wanted me to learn who I was and learn my purpose in life.”
His purpose: To help others.
“Even when I was incarcerated, I already started helping the men inside,” he said.
Now, both he and his wife are members of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Cleveland.
He now realizes that God was steering him toward working at the CSA’s Second Chance program which is helping others like himself.
After Scott got out of prison in 2010, he met Avery Johnson, the vice mayor of Cleveland, at church where Scott now is a praise and worship leader, and a minister. After learning about Scott’s life, Johnson invited him to the initial meeting of the Second Chance program. Then, Scott started working at the CSA part time with the program. One thing has led to another, and today will be the first day Scott also will start working as a full-time CSA employee by adding duties at its Cleveland transitional shelter.
“I knew right away this was what I was supposed to do,” Scott said.
His transformation has also changed his relationship with his dad.
“I love my dad to death,” Scott said. “We started our whole relationship over.”
His father also has turned his life around and now is a deacon at Pleasant Grove Baptist.
The next step in Scott’s journey will be to start a ministry with his wife, as well as making a gospel album together.
“I’m here to win souls for the church,” he said.
It’s a second chance for others and a second chance for himself.