Werts knows it’s not the first mentoring effort in Philly, but it’s doing something most aren’t: embracing the toughest cases.
“PSI is working on those hardcore guys that nobody can reach,” says Werts. “They’re resistant to the parents, resistant to the counselors, resistant to the schoolteachers. People normally listen to a person they respect. And the person that has the most credibility to these hardcore guys who are walking around with guns are people who have been there.”
Dr. Paul Fink, a psychiatrist and Temple professor who’s been working with the Lifers for decades and is helping launch PSI (in some cases, counseling the kids), says it’s simple. “These boys are extremely angry that their fathers are not there,” and they need role models besides their peers, “who are stupid-asses like they are.”
For parents like Dianna Black of Southwest Philly, a single mother of five sons who have seen varying degrees of legal trouble, it’s worth a shot.
She found out about PSI when Bruce Goodman showed up a few months ago at court to speak on behalf of her fourth son, who’s 14. The boy had shown a knife to a younger kid on the block; the child’s mother had taken it as a threat.
“I’m not saying he’s a great kid, but I never had any problems like that with him,” Black says. She moved her family to a different neighborhood and figured Goodman’s support couldn’t hurt.
But even she was surprised by how fast her son connected with his mentor; Goodman began calling her son daily, taking him to the library, to Sixers games. When Goodman became ill, Black’s son began calling him, just to make sure he was OK.
Being a single mother of five in Southwest Philly can have a way of molding your outlook. Right now, Black isn’t all that optimistic about her brood. “If I could save a couple [of my sons], as opposed to all of them being messed up, is what I was trying to do,” she says. She hopes Goodman can at least be a mitigating factor.
Parents like Black are telling their friends. While a public-relations effort is yet another postponed order of business, word of mouth travels fast.
That’s how Sophia Garrison became drawn into PSI. She heard about Darryl Goodman, that he was trying to talk to the kids on street corners and in juvie. She told him about a woman she knew who needed help: a grandmother caring for an 8-year-old who’d already been kicked out of two schools.
Goodman was happy to do it — but not without asking for something in return. Which is how Garrison, a full-time nurse, became PSI’s practically full-time, volunteer school and career counselor. She’s placed scores of kids into jobs, GED programs, even college.
Goodman admits that, when resources are scarce, that’s how things work. “If you don’t want to be a part of it, I don’t have time for you. We’re cool, but we’re going to go our own ways.”
That’s how he connected with a barber, a record producer, numerous people in the building trades and other entrepreneurs — especially Jeff Brown, owner of 10 ShopRite stores and a major supporter — all willing to extend training and work opportunities to the kids. He wants to teach more kids building trades, maybe get them rehabbing houses in the city; the Philadelphia Housing Authority offered him one to start.
But “this 501(c)3 crap,” as Fink calls it, has been dragging on for more than two years, preventing PSI from receiving the house or any formal funding. So far the only income they’ve been able to accept is a $500 activity grant from the city.
“Our project pays nobody nothing. We don’t have a dollar to our name,” Fink says.
Werts is now busy collecting results from the program, organizing it into the tidy spreadsheets he’ll need to apply for grants. He’d like to be organizing a mentor-training program at Graterford but — yet another barrier — he’s still on parole and can’t have contact with inmates. “I need to build a little track record, and then I’m going to seek approval,” he says.
Meanwhile, Darryl Goodman keeps up his day job — now as a city sanitation worker — and relies heavily on that Bluetooth.
“How do I do it? That’s the question everyone asks me,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t know. I get calls all night. I don’t sleep. Parents call me and say, ‘My son didn’t come home.’ A mentee may call me and say, ‘I’m stuck here, can you come get me?’ They call from all over the city. Sometimes they call me to talk, or the parents may call and just break down just crying.”
“It’s hard work. I didn’t anticipate it to be as hard as it is. But it’s something I have to do. If I tried to stop, I’d probably fall dead. And, man, I rested for 15 years. I can’t rest anymore.”