Dickie Scruggs, of Oxford, introduced himself as the “disbarred and disgraced attorney” as he addressed a room full of business and education leaders in the board room of the Community Development Foundation in Downtown Tupelo. Scruggs, accompanied by his son Zach, was there to discuss with the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi, their efforts to provide Mississippians a “second chance” for success.
My wife Lisa, along with John Burt of Calhoun City, represent Calhoun County on the Commission. She invited me to tag along for the meeting thinking I might be interested in the program.
Scruggs opened his presentation speaking briefly on his six years in federal prison for conspiring to bribe a judge. He said throughout his imprisonment he was routinely approached by other inmates seeking help with their reading ability and desire to earn a GED.
“I became a full-time teacher,” Scruggs said, explaining he was excited to find a new mission. “The loss of a sense of purpose is the hardest part of prison. It’s a lonely, hopeless feeling. This gave me a purpose.”
He was released from prison in 2014 and returned to Oxford where he was determined to continue the work he discovered in jail. He established 2ndChanceMS.org that partners with local civic clubs and Mississippi community colleges to help Mississippians get a second chance at education and job skills.
Scruggs explained these programs already existed at the various community colleges, but due to economic factors, many Mississippians are never able to take full advantage.
He said students in these programs are already coming from challenging environments due to their education situation, so little things like a flat tire or lack of gas money can keep them from attending.
“We want to eliminate those issues for these Mississippians,” Scruggs said.
He’s traveled the state the past year talking to Rotary Clubs, finding partners to help offset these costs in local communities.
His organization has also partnered with ICC and Northeast to provide tuition costs and daily expenses for 50 students at each school entering the job skills programs. He hopes to expand that to other schools very soon. He also voiced frustration with the state’s $600 million in tax breaks given to Continental Tire for 2,500 jobs. “That’s $240,000 a job. There’s a more effective way to do it,” Scruggs said. “There are 40,000 unfilled jobs right now in Mississippi. That’s 10-12 tire plants. They just need skilled workers.”
Scruggs intends for 2ndChanceMS.org to help provide Mississippians with the opportunity to obtain those skills and claim those jobs. The current dropout rate and third grade reading levels were part of the earlier program. Scruggs said there are qualified people working to address those areas, but he’s working on the other end trying to utilize his second chance to give fellow Mississippians the same.