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“I’ve never worked before:” Pilot program in Milwaukee County puts inmates to work rehabbing homes

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MILWAUKEE -- A new pilot program in Milwaukee County is designed to help inmates after they've paid their debt to society.

 Robert Charles Alexander

Robert Charles Alexander

"I'm one of the worst of the worst. I've sold drugs. I've...did a lot of bad things in my life. I've been in prison most of my life," Robert Charles Alexander said.

But these days, Alexander is carving out a career in construction.

"I've never worked before. This is my first time. I've been dealing with depression most of my life, and I used medication before. Well, guess what my medication is now? This program," Alexander said.

The program is called "Opportunity Knocks."

Opportunity Knocks program

Opportunity Knocks program

"Inmates work on houses that the county has in foreclosure. They learn skills by working to do the renovation. After that, the county sells the house. We sell it to somebody who is a first-time homeowner, and then we use the revenue from the sale of the house to fund more of the program," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said.

Abele said the pilot program has the county providing $70,000 in seed money to get the knocking started, with about a dozen inmates working under the tutelage of contractor Ezekiel Hope.

Opportunity Knocks program

Opportunity Knocks program

"It's all about, you know, doing the most for the least among us," Abele said.

Chris Abele

Chris Abele

Alexander said he plans to make the most of his bright future.

"I'm set to get released next week. You wanna know what I'm gonna do? I'm coming back to work the next day!" Alexander said.

The disadvantaged first-time home-buyers who will have opportunities to purchase the homes will come largely from the county's Section 8 Home-buyers Program.

Administrators said the first house should be ready for sale in early 2017.

Opportunity Knocks program

Opportunity Knocks program

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