Tony Kitchens faced a difficult future. After 12 years in prison, he was released and needed to find his place in society. Tony spent years waiting tables before deciding to seek the higher education needed to help him achieve his career goals. “Many people have no idea what it’s like to be locked out of gainful employment. I couldn’t even get in the game, especially without an education. I graduated with honors,” he says.
Today, Tony is using his personal experience to help others reintegrate into society. He’s a prison in-reach specialist for the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry, in Atlanta. Tony’s dedication and willingness to give back was noted by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who wrote letter stating, “…people like you are a testament to the positive effects properly rehabilitated individuals can have on their community. I am proud of you for your willingness to go beyond what is required. You are dedicated to your future and to using your past experiences to better the lives of your fellow Georgians, and I am grateful to have such a faithful and committed person motivating the citizens in the great State of Georgia.” The letter was read at a ceremony celebrating Tony’s 30 successful years of reintegration into society.
Starting his studies later in life meant that Tony had to balance employment and education. He chose Argosy University, Atlanta because of its convenient online classes and hands‐on education. Tony says that his instructors demonstrated a hands‐on approach that impacted his future, especially Dr. Nadine Wheat who recommended Tony for acceptance into the School of Correctional Ministries at Wheaton College. There, he studied reentry leadership, blending this with his psychology education to create the building blocks of restorative reentry ministry.
In 2012, Tony earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Argosy University, Atlanta, that prepared him for his current position with The Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry, an agency aimed at reducing recidivism rates of formerly incarcerated persons and build safer communities. Tony now assists incarcerated men and women with the development of viable reentry plans that leads to successful reintegration back into their families and communities.
Tony also serves an evangelism catalyst with Love Loud, a division of the North American Mission Board, where he works with church members who have been impacted by the incarceration of a loved one. His methodology focuses on how to walk with people—as opposed to doing things for or to them—to aid in their healing process.
At Argosy University, Atlanta, Tony learned a counseling technique known as motivational interviewing. This fueled his passion to learn how to motivate people. Tony mentions Professor Camille McDaniel, who encouraged him to develop the concepts of restorative reentry ministry. “She helped me to gain the confidence to continue research in other psychology theories, such as choice theory, social learning theory, and motivational interviewing.”
Tony is also thankful for the influence of Professor Donald Gregg. “In his class, I learned how drugs play a role in incarceration and how drugs affect human behavior. I was able to apply that addiction knowledge to my thinking in the development of a restorative reentry ministry methodology.”
Tony’s path to success has taught him that education can lead to success. He encourages current students to learn and understand—not to simply memorize. “Hoarding information doesn't produce knowledge; what produces knowledge is how you take information and make it experiential and how it influences your thinking.” He quotes Leo Tolstoy, “we spend so much time trying to change humanity when no one thinks about changing oneself. If you change yourself, you change humanity.”
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