October 7, 2022

Michael Ramey has spent 33 of the last 35 years in prison. He was just released 10 days ago.
“I’m a statistic that’s really not supposed to be here,” Ramey, 51, told Knox News right outside the doors of his apartment at Valor Way, a new affordable housing option and support system giving men leaving prison a second chance.
After months of construction, and delay due to costly a break -in, the historic Dogan-Gaither Flats opened Monday morning as Valor Way.
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Managed by Men of Valor, a faith-based prison ministry based in Nashville, the new housing facility, located northeast of downtown at 211 Jessamine St., will provide housing, counseling, work placement and other skills to 30 formerly incarcerated men. Entrepreneur and national prison reform advocate Josh Smith invested $3.8 million in the project
“After we did the groundbreaking (in 2021), several came and asked me, why would you make this type of financial investment?” Smith recalled during his speech.
“I know that what is lacking in most of these young kids out here doing craziness − even adults − many times is the investment of somebody in their life,” he said. “Because understanding this mission, understanding the work, understanding the people that come through situations like that is really how we’re going to be able to help it the best. That’s how we can help our community.”
Knoxville contributed $480,000 toward the project through the city’s Affordable Rental Development Fund.
Here’s what to know about Valor Way:
Valor Way is a development that is near and dear to Smith’s heart as a formerly incarcerated person himself. He became emotional at several moments while speaking to the crowd supporters gathered Monday.
“I can’t remember one service, or one group, or one organization that was there to help and I had to struggle and figure it out on my own. Beg for a $6-an-hour job. I mean, it was just really hard. Housing was next to impossible even,” he reflected with Knox News.
“To see so many people from all walks come out and support this and be involved in it, it means everything because it’s going to be the difference maker (in) helping people restore their lives back and become strong members of our society rather than people that just distract from it.”
Smith, who once served five years in federal prison, founded Master Service Companies and sold the business in 2019 for an undisclosed amount. He used $8 million of the profits to found 4th Purpose Foundation, which aims to make prisons places of transformation. 
The concept of a home specifically for formerly incarcerated men is not a new one in the state of Tennessee. Men of Valor runs a larger 90-person facility in Antioch.
Men of Valor reports that only 15 percent of the men who complete their 12-month aftercare and reentry program return to prison or jail.
In comparison, nearly half of people released from prison in Tennessee are arrested again within in three years of their release. This number escalates to 70% on a national level.
“It’s people like Men of Valor that are investing in these communities, in these prisons, working every day with their volunteers coming out and making a difference,” Smith noted. “That’s why this program is successful. That’s why I said let’s invest with them. Because they are making a difference.”
Completing the project wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Last December, a contractor noticed about 20 pounds of expensive copper pipe was missing, wire breaker panels were removed from multiple apartments, and HVAC and electrical lines running through the entire building were cut. The theft of the materials resulted in over $150,000 in damages, and delayed the project by 50 days.
Smith previously told Knox News the setback was frustrating, but said it showed how necessary the program was since it was, “literally the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing. To help people get out of this type of thinking.”
Michael Ramey is from Erwin, just outside of Johnson City. He was just 17 when he went to prison.
“(Being) a juvenile having a life sentence, I had no hope whatsoever,” he said.
But after being introduced to the Men of Valor organization during the pandemic and facing the possibility of being paroled, Ramey changed his perspective and grabbed the opportunity.
He became a Men of Valor member and worked with the organization for 18 months while in prison. He then applied to be housed in a Men of Valor facility following his releases. His progress – like every Valor Way resident – will be evaluated every 90 days, but he intends to complete the year-long program
“It’s just blessings upon blessings,” he said of his experience in Valor Way so far.
“To think of who I’ve been, where I’ve been, and to see these types of people show up to say: ‘Hey, you’ve earned your chance to change, to correct the way that your life was’ and have this type of support is mind-blowing.”
“My hope is to continue to live out here and be a productive part of society.”

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