One of the most difficult things about leaving prison is getting back on your feet and not ending up back in prison. It is estimated that two-thirds of people released from prison in the U.S. are rearrested within three years. After serving time, people are routinely discriminated against when trying to find housing or jobs. They are denied fundamental rights and dignity. In many states, after serving time for felonies, people are never again even allowed to vote or serve on juries. The result is a devastating cycle of incarceration, homelessness, poverty, and recidivism.
The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able program is making a difference. The motivating belief is that paid work and personal responsibility can turn lives around. To enter the program, applicants must pledge to abstain from using drugs and alcohol, and forego entitlements (with the exception of Medicaid). Once accepted, they move into a dormitory-style residences, receive a month of counseling, and then are put to full-time work starting at $7.40 an hour, which gets raised to $8.15 after six months. First assignments are to cleaning crews working city streets (over 150 street miles in New York City and Philadelphia!). All participants take classes in life and computer skills, job preparation, and financial management. After three months, they move from cleaning streets to occupational training in fields that include culinary arts, green building maintenance, and pest control.
The Doe Fund is a ground-breaking transitional work program and one of the nation’s first large-scale social undertakings. It was founded in 1985 in memory of a homeless woman known only as “Mama” Doe. Stressing the importance of community service and supporting those who are less fortunate, this program has made a huge difference in the lives of its participants. Over 22,000 people have now participated, and their rate of recidivism is far below that of the general population of those released from prison. A wonderful model for solving some of our nation’s greatest challenges: poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, and recidivism! We all need to be less frightened by people coming out of the prison system and more aware of the problems they face in trying to become contributing members of society again.
Let’s spread the Good News!