IGNITE program receives donation from inmates in southern Michigan county

Sheriff Swanson and the Genesee County Ambassadors received a check for $ 2,000 for the IGNITE Inmate Program at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. Screenshot of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page

COLD WATER, MI – The IGNITE program at the Genesee County Jail recently received a boost from an unexpected source: inmates at another Michigan detention center.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson and several Genesee County Ambassadors traveled to Coldwater, MI on March 3 to receive a check for $ 2,000 for IGNITE (Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education), which helps inmates to earn GEDs, take courses for college credit and receive trades training skills. Total donations were collected by inmates at the Lakeland Correctional Facility, a medium security state prison located in Branch County in lower southern Michigan.

Swanson said inmates at Lakeland Correctional Facility had heard of the success of the IGNITE program and wanted to help inmates who are enrolled in the program at Genesee County Jail.

“About two months ago I got a call from the warden of Lakeland Penitentiary,” Swanson said. “He said they (the inmates) saw what we were doing with IGNITE… so they did something really special. They made a collection.

Genesee County Ambassador Johnell Allen-Bey, who has been tasked with working with inmates at Genesee County Jail, said the Lakeland inmates’ donation echoed IGNITE’s goal of giving of hope to those in prison through education.

“It’s surreal to me because in 2005 I was right there in this yard,” said Allen-Bey, who was a former inmate at Lakeland Correctional Facility. “I was sitting on a picnic table, looking outside and wondering ‘will I ever get a chance to go out? Would I ever have the chance to be here? So being here right now and watching this ($ 2,000 donation)… it’s $ 20,000 in jail. That’s how impactful this moment is here. I feel humbled to stand before you and say that it is about unifying a community.

In addition to its current offerings, IGNITE has partnered with the ELGA Credit Union to provide financial literacy classes to inmates. Mott Community College will also be offering virtual and in-person classes to IGNITE registrants this fall.

Currently, more than 380 of the more than 580 inmates at Genesee County Jail are enrolled in the IGNITE program. Fourteen former inmates who were enrolled in the program have also returned to full-time employment since their release from prison.

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