NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — When Jeremy White was sentenced to 25 years in prison at age 19 he pretty much thought he had tanked his life, having been convicted of robbery and attempted murder.

“It’s easy to kind of acquiesce to the prison lifestyle,” White said. “But I tried to do something different.”

He was released in 2021 and now runs his own consulting company, as well as serving as a trainer for a nonprofit called Free Hearts, a nonprofit aimed at helping rehabilitate formerly incarcerated people.

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But arguably his most important role is as a transition coach for the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI), a nonprofit that partners with the Dept. of Correction (TDOC) to offer higher education classes to people who are incarcerated.

“Having access to higher education in prison changed my life,” White said.

White served 22 years with the TDOC. While he was in, he took several classes and became certified in several trades, including as a barber and an electrician. “I just recognized that if I was going to be the best version of me, then take advantage of the resources that TDOC has to offer.”

The THEI was created in 2011 and partnered up with the TDOC later that year.

“We offer college programming in three of our women’s facilities and six of our men’s, running from Associate, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Degrees,” TDOC Postsecondary Coordinator Christa Jenkins said.

White said it was people like Jenkins who helped him learn his most important lesson – accountability.

“I often talk about Christa Jenkins because she was the first –’Chairman White! Where you at?! Get in class!’” White said, laughing as he mimicked Jenkins.

Tennessee’s recidivism rate — the rate in which people who are released from prison return — is a hair under 30%, which is the best it’s been in over a decade. Still, it’s not where leadership wants it to be.

But for those who finish the THEI program, the recidivism rate is a little different.

“When they leave our custody and have completed that program, they have a zero percent return rate,” Jenkins said. “That means when they leave, they just don’t come back.”

Those who go through at least a semester have less than a 15% recidivism rate.

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Now on a much better path, News 2 asked White if he could go back and talk to his younger self, what would he say?

“If you want something, work for it. Go out and even if it’s with a purpose, if it’s volunteering, do something that’s meaningful,” he said. “That’s what I would say.”