Highlands County program helping inmates join the military

HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A new program in Highlands County is looking to give inmates a second chance to turn their lives around.

Shiglenn Butler has spent nearly two years locked up in a jail cell, convicted of battery.

The 20-year-old said that behind steel bars, he has found more opportunity than on the outside.

“There’s really nothing to do here in this county, so basically you’re going to get in trouble,” Butler said.

“The military, it takes a certain heart and drive to be able to make it,” said Deputy Scott Wardon, who selected Butler for the program.

A former Marine, Wardon is in charge of selecting inmates he sees fit for the military.

The program aims to help some inmates get into the military once they are released from jail.

The sheriff’s office said it’s an alternative to sending them back onto the streets and into the environment they were in when they got in trouble.

The goal is to get them through some of the pre-qualification steps while they are in jail, so they can go through the final steps of being inducted into the military once they’re released.

Some inmates will not be eligible due to their criminal history. Those who are eligible will still need a waiver from the military before starting the process.

Once chosen, Lt. Chris Ritenhour makes sure the inmates qualify.

“We look at criminal history, what they are actually here for and anything in their background. We view that and if we think they qualify and they are interested, and they want to work for it, then we will contact the military,” Lt. Ritenhour said.

Enlisting in the military takes more than just a signature.

That’s why in between chores and physical training, Butler spends a lot of time at the computer learning the English, math and science he needs to pass the required entrance exam.

“I am trying to plant a seed in these guys so they have the ability. I want to give them hope and give them strength,” Deputy Wardon said.

“They keep pushing me. I need that,” Butler said.

In two months, Butler will finish his sentence.

He hopes to enlist in the army and dreams of being stationed in Brazil.

“It has nothing to do with getting out of jail. They have to pay their debt to society. They have to do their time. They have to do their community service hours and pay their fines and court costs,” Lt. Chris Ritenhour told News Channel 8.

You can learn more by visiting the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office website.

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