HUTCHINSON COUNTY, TX (KFDA) - Almost 20 men were the first to graduate at the Hutchinson County Jail from a new ministry program today.
Hutchinson County Sheriff Kirk A. Coker is so passionate about starting the "Model Man" program for inmates, that he actually paid for the supplies to teach it out of his own pocket.
He said he's confident that the men who complete the program are now on the right path and will become productive members of society when they are out of jail.
Coker commended one inmate in particular named Joe Don Watson.
Watson is in the Hutchinson County Jail for domestic disturbance and first degree aggravated kidnapping charges.
When asked about his life before jail and the "Model Man" program, Watson could only describe it two ways: A wreck and total chaos.
He said Coker teaching the program has changed his life.
"I've been in and out of jail my whole life and not one sheriff has even come and made an appearance," said Watson. "But Sheriff Coker, for him to even offer a class, it says a lot about him."
After years of trying to bring this program to the Hutchinson County jail, Coker said it was challenging to make it happen.
"I received a lot of criticism when I first tried to start this like, 'they're inmates, they're dopers, you're not going to make a difference in them,' and no I'm not... God is," said Coker.
The six week bible study program aims to show men the path to Christ as well as ultimately help them transition back into society.
"It teaches you how to be a human, how to be a father, how to be a friend, a husband, a man with integrity and how to build an integrity to where when you leave, you leave a legacy for your children," said Coker.
Coker said he's noticed a change in many of the inmates throughout the program, but especially Watson.
"I tracked him, I chased him, we had problems with him," said Coker.
But standing in front of him today, is someone Coker said is a changed man.
"As he came in here and started, he sat down with me one day and he said 'sheriff I don't want this life anymore, I want to change, I want to do something different,'" said Coker. "And I said follow this, stick with this program, and he has."
Coker believes if the other men stick to what they've learned from the program, it will benefit the community in the long run.
"I firmly believe it can make a difference in this community and in the entire county," said Coker. "And if we start with our county and it catches on and goes to others, why can't we make a difference in the state? And when it catches on there and goes on... why can't we make a difference in the country?"
As for Watson, he plans to one day teach the class alongside Coker and he already has plans for when he gets out of jail.
"I'm going to barbeque with Sheriff Coker," said Watson.
Coker said he plans on continuing the program.
He and his wife plan to also start a program for women in the Hutchinson County Jail next year.