COLDWATER, MI — The Genesee County Jail’s IGNITE program recently received a donation boost from an unexpected source: inmates from another lockup facility in Michigan.
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson and several Genesee County ambassadors drove down to Coldwater, MI on March 3 to receive a $2,000 check for IGNITE (Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education), which helps inmates obtain GEDs, take classes for college credit and receive skilled trades training. The donation total was gathered by inmates at the Lakeland Correctional Facility, a medium-security state prison located in Branch County in southern lower Michigan
Swanson said that inmates at Lakeland Correctional Facility heard about the success of the IGNITE program and wanted to help incarcerated individuals who are enrolled in the program at the Genesee County Jail.
“About two months ago, I got a call from the warden here at the Lakeland penitentiary,” Swanson said. “He said that they (the inmates) saw what we were doing with IGNITE…so they did something really special. They took up a collection.”
Genesee County Ambassador Johnell Allen-Bey, who has been deputized to work with inmates at the Genesee County Jail, said that the Lakeland inmates’ donation echoes IGNITE’s goal to give hope to incarcerated people through education.
“This is surreal for me because in 2005, I was right there in that yard,” said Allen-Bey, who was a former inmate at the Lakeland Correctional Facility. “I was sitting on a picnic table, looking out and wondering ‘would I ever get a chance to be out? Would I ever get a chance to be out here?’ So, to be here in this moment and look at this (donation of $2,000)… that’s $20,000 in prison. That’s how impactful this moment is here. I feel humbled to stand before you and say it’s all about unifying a community.”
In addition to its current offerings, IGNITE has partnered with ELGA credit union to offer financial literacy classes to inmates. Mott Community College will also be offering virtual and in-person courses for IGNITE enrollees this fall.
Currently, over 380 of the Genesee County Jail’s 580-plus inmates are enrolled in the IGNITE program. Fourteen former inmates who were enrolled in the program have also reentered full-time employment since being released from jail.