DECATUR, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Corrections has one of the most unique inmate reentry programs in the nation, offering complete technical degrees to prisoners before they’re released.
Among the thousands of inmates who’ve graduated from the Limestone Correctional Facility’s reentry program, ADOC says one former inmate is a shining example among their many success stories.
“I am an individual who’s mother was murdered in front of me when I was 10 years old,” said Christopher Watford, a former ADOC prisoner. “When I was 14 years old, I was shot in my face and in my back. When I was 20 years old, I buried my daughter. She died in her sleep.”
In 2006, Watford was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
“I started the process of bettering myself and reorganizing my thinking,” he said. “Prison kind of handed reality to me. I started to realize that there was something I had to do within myself.”
Watford earned a technical degree while he was at the Limestone Correctional Facility, and started working within days of his release in 2017.
Other former inmates who worry about their criminal history, Watford says, should focus on what they can do to improve their lives, not what they can’t do.
“Eleven days after I got out, I was working at an $8.30 per hour job washing dishes at Golden Corral, but I was determined to get some sort of employment so that I could be able to start the process of rebuilding my life.”
Watford eventually used his technical degree and now works at an industrial facility in Decatur.
When asked if prison inmates are victims of their environment, Watford gave this response:
“It was all about my way of thinking. It had nothing to do with my environment. My sister has been through the same things I’ve been through. She don’t even know what the inside of a police station looks like.”
About 800 inmates graduate from Limestone Correctional Facility’s reentry program each year.
Watford says it’s humbling that the ADOC identifies him as a mentor who can help others change their lives around.
“I consider myself a success. I’m very proud of myself.”
He was about to start mentoring current inmates when COVID-19 happened.
The former inmate’s long term goal is to travel the country, sharing his experiences to encourage people to avoid prison.