The conference room at the Pennsylvania Prison Societyâ€™s headquarters was packed with clients, family members, special guests, and staff all celebrating the transition of Philly ReNew clients who were moving on to the second phase of its unique Philadelphia reentry program.
Those at the ceremony heard stories of past traumas and how Philly ReNew helped former inmates learn how to move beyond those traumas to live a full life. One man talked of his older brother, a gang member who was killed. He felt like he had to take his brotherâ€™s place, even though that wasnâ€™t who he was. After his release from prison, he came to Philly ReNew, and now he is hopeful for a positive future for his family.
What makes it different, according to Reentry Services Mgr. Pamela Superville, is â€œWe help them change how they think.â€
Philly ReNew takes in about 150 men a year. They must live in Philadelphia Co., have a criminal background and have at least one child.
One man who just started the second phase of the program said,â€œThrough this program Iâ€™ve become a better father, better husband, and a better man.â€
This approach to reentry services is the reason for the programâ€™s success â€“ about 70% of all Philly ReNew clients (since the program began in 2008) have stayed out of prison compared to the state average of 45%. Not only do most of these men remain free, but they are educating themselves, helping to support their children and communities, and are taxpaying citizens â€“ no longer a burden on the state budget but an asset.
A successful reentry program, proven to reduce recidivism, the Prison Societyâ€™s Philly ReNew program is no more, its funding has been cut by the State Dept. of Welfare as of Jun. 30.
The Prison Society is working to find other sources of funding for the program so they may restart it as soon as possible.
As of now, the men who have learned â€œOnce a Philly ReNew client, always a Philly ReNew clientâ€ may not be able to come back for much-needed inspiration and guidance during troubled times. Using the principles of cognitive behavior therapy, Life Skills Educator Cameron Holmes helped the men take a look at their lives and how to change.
While most reentry programs focus on helping former offenders find work, Philly ReNew helped them learn how to keep those jobs while becoming better members of their communities. Many former Philly ReNew participants not only keep their entry-level jobs but receive promotions â€“ often several promotions. One gentleman, who was in a 2008 class, went on to become a master welder whose work is in high demand.