‘Saved my life:’ Electrician, graduate of Flagler jail program, now teaches inmates

S.M.A.R.T. program has 86% success rate, Flagler County sheriff says

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – It’s been a year since the Flagler County Jail started a live-in addiction recovery pod inside the jail and the sheriff’s stats show the round-the-clock treatment program is resulting in far-reaching success.

Not only are a large majority of the graduates staying out of jail once they’re released, some former inmates are voluntarily coming back to teach.

Licensed electrician Adam Vatrano comes to the jail on Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays.

Vatrano and another instructor from Flagler Technical College are coaching inmates through their first year of electrician apprenticeship.

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Vatrano has had his electrician license for 22 years. Over the past 16 years, he’s been booked into the Flagler County Jail around a dozen times.

“I ended up here (at the jail) by a series of bad decisions,” Vatrano said. “Relapsing and not being able to stay sober. Not wanting to think I had a problem.”

Vatrano said he became addicted to pain medication after a motorcycle accident.

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What broke the addiction? S.M.A.R.T.

“Saved my life,” Vatrano said.

S.M.A.R.T. is now a year-old program at the Flagler County Jail where addicted inmates live together and recover together 24 hours a day for 12 weeks. It stands for Successful Mental Health Addiction Recovery Treatment.

Successful, so far, for Vatrano.

“I’m the first convicted felon hired by the school board in 100 years,” Vatrano claimed.

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said one year in, stats show most inmates who make it through S.M.A.R.T. don’t come back.

“At the end of 2022 our success rate was 86% of the people who took our program,” Staly said.

And the stats are even better for those who learn a skill while in jail.

Vatrano was happy to share his skill when Jail Chief Daniel Engert asked graduating inmates if they knew of an electrician willing to return to teach.

“Not only does it make them more hirable and attractive to prospective employers, but it opens their eyes to a career path they may have never considered until they came to jail,” Engert said.

To cram in six months’ worth of material, Vatrano and his FTC co-instructor teach inmates nine hours per week. Coursework is done inside the jail and hands-on training is done at FTC’s main campus in Palm Coast under supervision.

“With me coming back here [to jail] it shows the S.M.A.R.T. program works,” Vatrano said. “We’re having great results. We’re graduating. I’m out. Now when this next guy comes out I’m his safety net, I’m his network.”

When the inmates graduate and are released, they leave the jail with two things: an OSHA construction certificate and a valuable FL State Department of Education pre-Apprenticeship certificate through FTC.

To become an electrician, candidates need four years of apprenticeship and then go on to become journey workers.

Graduates from the jail’s electrician program will have an enormous leg up on anyone just starting out — they’ll have completed that first year of apprenticeship.

And Vatrano said his electrical contractor employer has agreed to hire graduates of the electrical program because Vatrano is teaching the course, guaranteeing employment — and success — for soon-to-be-released inmates.

The Flagler County Jail also teaches inmates how to cook and provides cooking certifications so they can work in restaurants as soon as they are released.

Several former inmates are also already working in a Flagler County restaurant.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.