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Bridgeport Ex-Inmate Wins Second Chance Scholarship

From left, Scott Wilderman, founder of Bridgeport Re-Entry Collaborative ; Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple; student Mark Newton; and Joe Carbone, president of The WorkPlace
From left, Scott Wilderman, founder of Bridgeport Re-Entry Collaborative ; Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple; student Mark Newton; and Joe Carbone, president of The WorkPlace Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — When truck driver Mark Newton was in a serious car accident a few years ago, he was left in so much pain he couldn’t bend to put his socks on.

With no insurance and no access to health care, he turned to oxycodone and other pain killers he could find through illegal means.

“Some people use it, but I really needed it,” said the Bridgeport resident who served three years in the Army in the 1970s.

The law caught up to him, though, and Newton spent two-and-half years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. While incarcerated, he held on to a dream to make a better life for himself through a career in manufacturing.

On Thursday, he got one step closer to his life’s next chapter: He won the state’s Matthew Semple Memorial Scholarship Award. The award is part of the Bridgeport Re-Entry Collaborative and provides an opportunity for qualified, former offenders to pursue education or training that will lead to sustainable employment.

Established almost two years ago, the award is named in memory of Matthew Semple, the son of Connecticut Commissioner of Corrections Scott Semple, who died of a rare form of cancer at the age of 15 in early 2015.

“It celebrates Matt’s life as well as celebrating second chances,” said Scott Wilderman, chief executive officer, of Career Resources and founder of Re-Entry.

The $3,000 scholarship was presented at the Advanced Manufacturing Center at Housatonic Community College, where Newton will begin studies this fall to operate computerized numerical control (CNC) machinery.

The nine-month program has a 100 percent job placement record, said Joe Carbone, president of The WorkPlace, which donated seed funding for the scholarship.

“Everybody who graduates from this program — everybody — gets a job,” he said.

Speaking to the group gathered, Semple remembered the day he brought his son to a Newtown prison where we worked. Matt looked around and talked with some of the inmates.

At the end of the visit, Semple asked his son what he thought of the men he’d met.

“He said, ‘They just seem like people to me,’” Semple said.

Newton offered his sincere condolences to the Semple family and said he would work hard to succeed.

“I am enthusiastically awaiting the start of school here at Housatonic,” he said. “My heart is overjoyed with this opportunity.”

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