'Integrity Project' teaches values, responsibility

"It's actually an identity. Your integrity is who you are."

You might think integrity can't be taught within the white walls of a classroom.

But that's what Terry Cliett hopes to do in a humble Milledgeville office space.

It's called the Integrity Project, a program Cliett started in 2001 in the Baldwin County jail.

Three years later, Cliett decided he wanted to reach people before they ended up behind bars.
"Honestly I want to change the world," he said.

So he started offering a four-week course available to anyone.

For $300, students learn about positive decision-making, responsibility and reliability through certified course work.

But Cliett says it's the real-life examples, the stories of people who have changed their lives, that engage students.
"Somebody asked me one time, 'Does The Integrity Project work?' The answer is no. Programs don't work. People work. But if you want your life to change, and you want a good tool, this is a good tool," he said.

Since it launched, the Integrity Project has graduated more than 4200 students and expanded to three other Georgia counties.

Some choose to take the class on their own. But for many, it's a chance to get a clean slate from misdemeanors, like theft by taking, shoplifting, and underage possession of alcohol.

In Baldwin County, some prosecutors and judges have adopted The Integrity Project as part of sentencing.

They say it's working.

Maxine Blackwell, the Solicitor General of Baldwin County, requested The Integrity Project as part of sentencing in 2005.

She took the class twice herself.

"We've certainly seen a big difference in the number of repeat offenders or the lack thereof in those candidates who have taken The Integrity Project," Blackwell said.

Numbers collected by the program since it began in 2004 up until 2011 show 80% of graduates from the Milledgeville chapter have kept their records clean ever since.

Dan St. John is one of them.

"To me, integrity is doing the right thing, even though you know nobody's watching," he said.

St. John now owns and teaches the Atlanta-based chapter of the Integrity Project.

But nine years ago, a judge's court order sent him to this classroom.

"I came to the first two classes high. the drugs made my life tolerable. It was crack cocaine and crystal meth."

St. John's drug addiction started in 2004, after several traumas in his personal life.

"I lost my job, I lost my home. I was shoplifting, sometimes for food, sometimes for drug payments. And I eventually got arrested and had to enroll in The Integrity Project," St. John said.

But he says that sentence helped turn him 180 degrees.

"When you get on drugs the way that I was, it's a life or death situation. If you keep going, you're going to end up in prison or dead. So did it change my life? Yes. Did it save my life? Absolutely," he said.

Changing -- and sometimes saving -- lives is something Terry Cliett says he hoped for but never expected.

"It's very humbling to know that something you write and something you teach is helping people change their lives," Cliett said.

For more information on how you can get involved in The Integrity Project, you can call their office at 478-451-3009.

Follow 13WMAZ's Anita Oh on Twitter @anita_oh and on Facebook at Anita Oh WMAZ.


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