On June 30, after five years of changing the lives of hundreds of fathers trying to make their way after getting out of prison, the freshly de-funded Pennsylvania Prison Society’s Philly ReNew parenting and job-readiness program shut its doors. Then, a funny thing happened: For a little while, at least, despite the lack of a money lifeline, it kept on working.
Behind the program’s zombie effectiveness: a man named LaMonte Williams, who was hired by the Prison Society just two weeks before the program disappeared. He stayed on as a volunteer, doing his damnedest to make sure every one of the men left hanging after the program was eliminated from the state budget got a job placement and the support he needed. Working his connections, Williams helped 17 men land 18 jobs — 10 full time, and eight part time — in warehouses, restaurants, retail stores and factories.
But last month, the inevitable happened: Williams landed a new job himself — which means even the ghost of Philly ReNew is now, pending the deus ex machina of a new funding, laid to rest.
“It’s going to be challenging for them being that I’m not here,” Williams admits. “The reason why they were able to get jobs so quickly is because I found out what their skills are, and then I matched them with employers. That makes the process a lot easier.”
One person who benefited was Isean McNeil, 36, who until last year never had a job in his life. Today, he says, everything has changed.
“I was really tired of the whole prison situation,” McNeil explains. So he got focused, and with help from Philly ReNew, got a job at Boston Market. He also works part time with Shalom Inc., counseling kids at Philly’s Juvenile Treatment Court. He’s beginning to think big: an associate’s degree and then a master’s in social work.
Same with Ikeem McFadden of Kensington, who has a 1-year-old daughter and a mom with multiple sclerosis to support. The Prison Society helped him get motivated, build his confidence: “I got a chance to be a person involved in society instead of being looked at as a criminal.” He’s become more strategic about his career, too. He now looks at his gig at Dunkin’ Donuts as his “bridge job. Now that I’m working, I feel pretty good about me getting another job.”