Chestnut works to make Selma safer

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 9, 2004

Criminals shouldn’t just be incarcerated; they should be rehabilitated. That’s something Coley Chestnut plans on implementing.

Chestnut, the prevention and community awareness coordinator for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, works with civic organizations, schools and governments to realize that goal. He’s responsible for spreading the message that youth shouldn’t have guns as well as the fact that parents should ensure their guns are kept away from children.

“Kids must be aware that guns are dangerous,” Chestnut said. “They don’t need to be tempted by them. We’ve got to do a better job of getting the message out there.”

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Chestnut delivers that message by saturating the community with awareness. He wants to reach a point that when children see a gun, they think that they can’t touch it.

“We want to partner with organizations as well as get new initiatives,” Chestnut said. “It’s education. It’s awareness.”

New initiatives include a committee composed of representatives from various organizations to work on innovative methods to reduce crime and teaching children conflict reduction. “We want to share that with the school system,” Chestnut said. “We want kids steered in the right direction by organizations already doing a great job doing that.”

Chestnut got the job after speaking with Susan Keith, community justice coordinator, about a re-entry program he wants to implement. The program, Bridge of Hope Transitioning Center, would assist former inmates re-entering the community. “We decided to partner together to bring about a vision,” Chestnut said. “I’m a strong believer in restorative justice. We should bring people back into the community after they’ve served their time.”

Chestnut left his job as a chaplain with the Alabama Department of Corrections after nine years so he could develop his program. As a chaplain, he often saw former inmates return to prison. He would ask them what brought them back to the system.

“The answer would be, ‘Once I got out, the only place I could go was back to the community I came from,'” Chestnut said.

That answer inspired Chestnut to create the re-entry program to help people get a new start on life. “We’ll help people with education,” Chestnut said. “With getting a better lifestyle. But you’ve got to want to do it.”

Chestnut, a Selma native, is a graduate of Selma High School and Alabama A&M University. He finished seminary in 1998 and is currently studying for his doctorate. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think Selma was a wonderful place,” Chestnut said. “I think Selma is a sleeping giant. It’s about to awake and realize its full potential.”

Chestnut’s parents are Helen and Coley Chestnut. His wife is Tonya Chestnut. They have four children – Tamela, Tameka, Coleysia and Coley II.