Inmates in Walton County graduate from course providing ‘inspiration and opportunity’

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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WKRG) — Pieces of heavy-duty equipment are helping change lives in Walton County.

On Tuesday, five inmates graduated from the Walton County jail’s Heavy Equipment Operator Course, which officials hope will lead inmates to a better life outside of jail.

The jail gives a six-week course on how to use an excavator, bulldozer, backhoe, front-end loader, and skid loader. Once the inmates pass all requirements of the course, they graduate and can use that certificate to get a job once they’re released from jail.

Several inmates have already started filling out job applications, said Mark Simmons, the course’s instructor.

Simmons said he was proud to his five inmates that graduated on Tuesday.

“I really feel graced by God to be given the opportunity to teach these guys,” he said. “To get them out of the in-and-out-of-jail cycle is the goal — to change their lives.”

Simmons said jail staff selects inmates based off applications. The jail allows inmates with a range of charges against them into the program.

Harlan Powell, a 34-year-old Escambia County inmate being held in the Walton jail, told News 5 the course and certificate has given him hope for a better life.

Powell, who grew up in Pensacola, is serving a two-year sentence at the jail for violation of probation stemming from a prior battery charge.

“It’s very inspiring,” Powell said of the jail’s course. “When you go through something like this and you get put behind locked doors, sometimes you’ll be consumed with worry and doubt. They’ve given us hope and opened up the door to inspiration and opportunity.”

Powell said he’s been incarcerated before at other jails and felt “thrown away.” He said it’s a different experience at the Walton County jail.

“They bring you back out of that,” he said. “They bring you out from under that cloud and let you know you can be something.”

Powell will get out of jail in six months and says it will be his last time walking out of a jail cell.

“I do have a 16-year-old daughter,” he said. “It’s time for me to get back and take care of her.”

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