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DIGGING DEEPER: Ex-convict uses second chance to help assimilate released inmates into society

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TUCSON (KVOA) - An update on a Digging Deeper report involving a convicted felon who was recently released from prison.

Gary Shepherd spent more than half of his life in prison after shooting at his probation officer at the Tucson Mall.

Officials say he walked out of the Arizona State Prison in Florence on Valentine's Day, saying he was going to spread love and cooperation to the world.

He was released after the Arizona Justice Project and a Tucson attorney made their case to the Pima County Attorney's Office, explaining how he had turned his life around and helped other inmates do the same.

The Digging Digger team traveled to Phoenix, where Shepherd is in an intensive outpatient treatment facility. This is a facility he helped create while behind bars.

This location was formerly a hotel. Now, it is a home for people who are re-entering society either from being in prison or substance abuse. It is called New Freedom.

New Freedom is opening doors for 49-year-old Gary Shepherd. It is a 90-day intensive outpatient facility. It is also a place he and former inmate, Joe Chipetta talked about creating while they were both in prison.

The idea began in 2006.

"The initial idea was not this large to begin with," Shepherd said.

Currently, there are 136 members who live at the facility. In June, they will add another 234. There is also room for about 400 members.

"But the overall idea of having someplace that was much better to go to and had a lot different opportunities where people didn't have to pay, that was a constant idea from the beginning," Shepherd said.

Joe Chiapetta served 18 years and was released three years ago. They immediately began working towards turning their idea into reality.

"When we work together like we did in there all those years ago and continue that mission with integrity and helping others, the blessing just keep coming," Chiapetta said.

New Freedom is funded by Medicaid and Medicare.

Shepherd's day consists of behavioral health programs during the day.

"Different programs going on at night with the PON, the yoga class which I am helping to teach them," he said.

New Freedom also helps them learn how to use computers, manage money and learn how to use smartphones. When Shepherd went into prison 30 years ago, he was using a pager.

"It's all about cell phones and technology and all these apps, all these things you have to know, and emails, to function as a person," Shepherd said. "And if you've been in prison, you don't have them."

On this day, he was given a four-hour pass to begin to slowly assimilate into society. It is the second one he has received since leaving prison.

Chiapetta takes him shopping.

Shepherd will be at New Freedom for another six weeks and then he will continue to help others like he did in prison.

Rick Unklesbay was the prosecutor who put him in prison 30 years ago. He was also responsible for his release. In January, Unklesbay told him in a conference call, don't let us down.

"I think he can completely count on me because I have absolutely no thoughts or ideas of committing crimes or doing drugs," Shepherd said.

Shepherd said he does not want to hurt other inmate's opportunities, those, who like him, want a second chance.

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Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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