Jeff Milton can't forget what one correctional officer told him in prison: "You're the kind of inmate that I hate the most. You've had so many more opportunities for success outside than these other guys, and you blew it."
The officer's words hurt, but they only spurred Jeff on in his commitment to change. He refused to let his past choices define him.
THE END OF A CAREER
Born and raised in Texas, Jeff earned his bachelor's and MBA at Baylor University and began a career in the brokerage industry. Later, he started his own firm. As his wealth grew, so did his love for money.
The allure of prosperity emboldened Jeff to cross lines in business that he would later regret. His 25-year career as a stockbroker ended after several illegal financial transactions caught up with him. He lost his broker's license, took a plea deal, and spent 18 months in prison.
During his incarceration, Jeff knew he needed to make the most of his time. He felt compelled to "get right" with God. So, when the corrections officer told Jeff, "You blew it," Jeff replied, "You're exactly right. But I'm hoping I can come out a better man for my experience here. If I had not had this experience, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to become the man that God wants me to be."
'I'm hoping I can come out a better man for my experience here. If I had not had this experience, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to become the man that God wants me to be.'
MAKING THE MOST OF HIS TIME
An avid reader, Jeff worked with the prison chaplain to curate an interfaith library. Then, a prison librarian offered him a job. While he worked, he took computer courses to stay sharp with new technology. Jeff looked for every way to better himself.
In prison, Jeff also enrolled in The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), a program facilitated by Prison Fellowship® volunteers in coordination with World Impact. TUMI provides Christian leaders in urban areas with quality biblical training and a seminary-level education. Similar to students in Bible colleges, incarcerated TUMI participants take exams, complete rigorous homework assignments, and write papers demonstrating careful research and reflection.
Upon completing all 16 TUMI courses, Jeff received a Certificate in Christian Leadership Studies. Throughout his sentence, he began to see the world—and himself—in a new light. Material riches couldn't compare to the perspective he developed in Christian community.
"I see how important it is to be faithful, and study the Word of God, and apply the Word of God to my life, to where it becomes natural," Jeff says.
'I see how important it is to be faithful, and study the Word of God, and apply the Word of God to my life, to where it becomes natural.'
A FULL HOUSE
In 2016, Jeff was released from prison. He moved into the TUMI House in San Diego to live with other TUMI graduates and get back on his feet.
TUMI House is a transitional home that accommodates 10 residents with five main bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two additional bedrooms made from converted garages. In the structured environment, Jeff received accountability as he learned to embrace his independence. He got involved in a local church, attended Bible studies, and found a volunteering position at the local library. He also took additional TUMI courses at a World Impact campus. He completed the program and graduated in 2021.
Back when he was released, Jeff was like any other TUMI House resident, fresh out of prison with few personal possessions. Now, six years later, he is the official house manager. He works at the house full-time, and he is grateful for the opportunity to pour back out some of what others poured into him. He sees his role as a guide, someone who has walked the same road as the other residents.
It's a full house, and Jeff seems to like it that way. Learning to get along, look out for one another, and take care of the place—that's all part of the deal.
The men have ample opportunities to practice responsible living in the transitional home. They have house rules, chores, and a curfew. They regularly have group dinners and group prayer. In 2020, when Jeff adopted a 9-year-old dog named Zeus, he told the TUMI House they were going to take care of the mutt together.
"I said, 'He's not wanted, and he needs a home. He's just like us,'" said Jeff. "We want to make him feel comfortable here and help him know that he's safe."
EDUCATION BUILDS CONFIDENCE
For many incarcerated people, typical tasks required in educational settings are significant accomplishments. Some participants never made it past the seventh grade.
In TUMI, allowances are made for those with lower literacy levels: Tests may be taken orally, and prisoners often study in groups to help one another with reading.
Back when he was released, Jeff was like any other TUMI House resident, fresh out of prison with few personal possessions. Now, six years later, he is the official house manager.
BUILDING A REPUTATION
Jeff says many residents have spent decades in prison, and TUMI House is their first step back into society. For many of them, it's different than any home they have known before. Jeff says, "It's like a family."
The TUMI House men challenge one another to grow, grieve through one another's struggles, and celebrate victories big and small. Recently, a resident passed his test to become a bus driver, and the whole house celebrated with hamburgers and cake. "These are little things, but they make a big difference to these guys," says Jeff.
TUMI House men have a reputation on their street, and it's not because they have a criminal record. It's because they're good neighbors.
"We are a part of this community and, quite frankly, this community loves us," Jeff says. "They reach out to us. That's important for these men to know that they're not looked down upon, that people wave to them when they come in, and they wave back."
Jeff believes this transitional home is an essential opportunity for people in need of a fresh start.
WHAT IS A TRANSITIONAL HOME?
Transitional housing, also known as a "halfway house" or reentry home, is a living place for those coming out of prison and/or those who need help recovering from substance abuse or other addictions.
The goal of transitional housing is to provide returning citizens a safe and structured place as they acclimate back to society.
'This community loves us. They reach out to us. That's important for these men to know that they're not looked down upon, that people wave to them when they come in, and they wave back.'
SHAKING OFF STIGMA
Jeff knows the stigma that can come with having a criminal past. He also believes there is hope for a better tomorrow, and that's why he looks forward to celebrating Second Chance® Month.
Spearheaded by Prison Fellowship every April, Second Chance Month is a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the barriers faced by people with a criminal record. Approximately 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record, which hinders their access to education, jobs, health care, housing, and other necessities for a full and productive life. With the hope of a second chance, people with a past can step into a better future.
"I want them to shake off that stigma of incarceration, of unworthiness," Jeff says of the men at TUMI House. "You're a new creation in Christ Jesus. You are not the man that went into prison. There is a process, a stepping stone for you to go back out into the community and start your own family, to be with your own family. For a lot of them, their family doesn't even want them. But don't be ashamed of how far you have come, and the plan Christ has for you."
'You're a new creation in Christ Jesus. You are not the man that went into prison.'