Communities often address crime through a cycle of prison time and release. This cycle leads them back to old habits, separated from their families and a drain on tax payer dollars. That is why The Turning Leaf Project (TLP) exists—to work with individuals who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system in order to provide the structure needed after release from jail.

The TLP was founded by Amy Barch, 36, founder and director, who has had a passion for working with incarcerated folk since her 20s.

“I became very interested in why people commit crimes and how we can effectively respond to that behavior as a community,” Barch said.

When Barch moved to Charleston in 2010 she was unable to find any meaningful volunteer opportunities in the field of reentry and rehabilitation for the incarcerated population. This led to her approaching the jail to teach classes in the evenings a few times a week.

“I started running programs as a volunteer in 2011.  My classes eventually got very popular, and attorneys and judges starting noticing the impact I was having on my students,” Barch said.  “I quit my full time job in late 2011 to put all my effort into Turning Leaf and growing the classes into a sustainable effort to help people in the jail and being released into our community.”

Murphy at the ballpark

TLP functions through two employees; Barch and Joe McGrew, program manager, run the program with the help of volunteers that help facilitate classes. They work with men who are incarcerated at the Charleston County Detention Center and individuals who have a record of criminal history and are likely to commit additional crimes without an intervention.

TLP’s foundation is based in principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  This type of group therapy helps individuals recognize that their thoughts cause their behavior, and helps them develop problem solving, decision making and social skills.   This type of group therapy is especially effective at changing criminal thinking which leads to criminal behavior.

“One of our in-jail programs is an Impact of Crime class which brings together victims of crime and our students, to help them understand the impact that crime has on victims and the broader community, Barch said. “In our TLP center we facilitate parenting, entrepreneurship, personal finance, AA/NA and additional CBT classes.”

The organization’s TLP Center was unveiled on May 11, 2015. It provides a home-base for the men in the program after they are released. When not at their job site, this is where the men meet for their classes during the rest of their work week.

“I don’t believe that a reentry effort can be effective without having a structured community-based program, which requires a physical space.  This opening signifies that TLP has grown from a jail-based program into a true reentry initiative, with widespread support from community leaders.”

Mayor Riley and Me

TLP is different from other reentry programs across the U.S. It offers participants the opportunity earn an income while taking program courses.

“TLP is unique in that we pay our students for their time in the classes.  This stipend allows the men to be able to attend a number of classes per week without the conflict of needing a full time job, or having work scheduling conflicts,” Barch said. “We are unaware of any other program across the country that operates just like we do.  Our students are provided TLP as an alternative to prison, as well as paid for their time in rehabilitation classes and part time temporary employment upon release.”

Barch believes that through thoughtful and supportive programs like TLP, people can end an unfortunate cycle

“Most of the men in my classes are very, very bright and have a lot to offer our community,” Barch said. “I feel that as a society we can do better when it comes to the ending of the cycle of recidivism.”