“We are a team. One unit, and one chain. We succeed by strengthening each other.” Antonio Jasper, 25, and Ishmael Tillery, 21, recite these powerful words every day alongside their eight fellow Atlanta Green ReEntry cohort members.
Currently living in a transitional home after completing his prison sentence, Antonio heard about Green ReEntry from a mentor: Ms. Patricia Bennett, CEO of Empowering Men and Women on the Move. Antonio was incarcerated at a young age, and thus has not had the opportunity to amass any work experience. After being admitted into the program, he has eagerly embarked on gaining the knowledge and skills that were previously denied to him.
“All I had growing up was the streets, selling drugs. I was in an environment where people were shooting folks. You gotta hide from the cops, gotta constantly look over your shoulder. [But here in Green ReEntry] you can talk to people. It’s a positive environment. Everyone is helping each other to succeed, so that I won’t go back down the same road.”
The brotherly bonds with his instructors and peers motivate Antonio to make positive contributions to this year’s cohort to redirect his life trajectory toward a stable career. In five years, he hopes to attain “master plumber” status, and help create a healing environment for young men in his community.
Ishmael joined the program to explore his passion for plumbing. He hopes to one day work alongside Jermaine Shareef, a certified master plumber and Atlanta’s Green ReEntry Manager. While not a returning citizen himself, Ishmael deeply values the strength and camaraderie of the Green ReEntry brotherhood. “It’s a respect thing. Your background doesn’t matter, because you’re here now [to improve yourself]. We’re here to uplift one another.”
Reflecting on the new cohort, Shareef proudly states: “These guys want to be part of a powerful and meaningful change to prevent others from falling victim to the system.”
Green ReEntry experienced unprecedented growth in 2017, with over 50 men honing construction skills, learning money management practices and utilizing behavioral health support as part of a holistic array of services for returning citizens. IMAN’s deepening impact in Atlanta was powerfully reflected by the successful matriculation of its first Green ReEntry cohort. The five pioneering brothers completed months of coursework, several project management seminars, and played pivotal roles in the full renovation of IMAN Atlanta’s new headquarters.
Through the generous support of two new partners (Chicago Beyond and Chicago CRED), Green ReEntry saw unprecedented growth in the Windy City. Over 30 men signed on for a yearlong commitment, forming a dynamic, intergenerational brotherhood that demonstrated their tremendous potential to positively transform their lives and communities. Many cohort members passed examinations in HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) and in Occupational Safety & Health, both of which are vital beginning steps along future career paths. Guest speakers and local professionals led the cohort through weekly “soft skills” courses on financial literacy, while several cohort members took advantage of early-morning academic sessions in pursuit of their high school degree equivalency.
In the fall, IMAN opened its first Green ReEntry Youth Leadership Home, which provides full-spectrum support for young men navigating the myriad challenges facing communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides. The Youth Leadership Home quickly reached full capacity, and its residents have filled the space with both laughter and deep insight. With the addition of this home, Green ReEntry now provides a stable base for both adult returning citizens and youth to realize their God-given gifts and develop into shining lights dedicated to service.
Re-entry work has long been at the core of IMAN’s mission, and we anticipate even greater strides being made in 2018. Atlanta’s program continues to build on the incredible momentum set in motion by its inaugural cohort, while the brothers in Chicago push ahead and reclaim their communities block by block.
In 2011, approximately 1,885 individuals were released from state or federal custody each day – that’s 688,384 individuals that year, according to the National Institute of Justice. Returning citizens struggle with unstable housing, inadequate employment and over policing, all issues that often contribute to incarceration in the first place. What can be done to ease their transition back home and back into their communities?
Nearly 100 community members, behavioral health professionals, lawyers and law professors, mothers, and returning citizens themselves attended a two-part IMAN Sessions event: ‘Investing in Lives #BeyondIncarceration’. Discussions revolved around IMAN’s Green ReEntry program, and ways it can continue to offer support to returning citizens via life skills training and workforce development.
Judge Fatima El-Amin and IMAN Atlanta’s Green ReEntry Manager, Jermaine Shareef, spoke to a packed crowd about their personal experiences with the criminal justice system and reentry work. Various points of view and approaches to the criminal justice system were raised. Tears were shed, hugs were shared, and the conversation ran deep.
Community members connected and shared additional information after the conclusion of the first #BeyondIncarceration gathering. It became evident to IMAN Atlanta staff that the issues around incarceration and reentry require continued committed, grassroots community space. This realization sparked IMAN Sessions: Investing in Lives #BeyondIncarceration Part 2, which took place in late September.
At that event, IMAN Atlanta’s second Green ReEntry cohort was introduced, and the action plan created at the first #BeyondIncarceration discussion was made public. Thank you to all the guests who shared their valuable perspectives on how to establish effective reentry programs. As IMAN incorporates a holistic approach to meet the needs of Atlanta’s returning citizens, the importance of continuing to engage those most directly affected by the criminal justice system cannot be overstated.