(Photo courtesy of PAR-Recycle Works)
Imagine getting released from prison, only to find that your record creates significant barriers to obtaining affordable housing, to accessing social services, and to getting a job with a livable wage.
General Manager of PAR-Recycle Works Maurice Q. Jones has some first-hand experience with these obstacles and was determined to do something to make the reentry process easier.
“I was incarcerated from September of 2005 until February of 2011, and when I came home from being in prison, there wasn’t a lot of support to help me get my sea legs, so to speak,” he sadi. “I lived in a halfway house, I was denied jobs, and those jobs I could get barely paid minimum wage. So, I went back to school to become a nurse but was unable to work in that field due to my prison record.”
“I had to settle for a degree in applied health sciences,” he said. “I had seen nursing as a career path and a way to provide for my family. I was disappointed. I was angry. I was hurt. I felt like I had wasted my time, but I knew that I had to find the good in it.”
Jones added: “In retrospect, what happened to me was a blessing. I took my degree in applied health sciences and I utilized it by working in management at Rite Aid. After that, I helped a group I was associated with create PAR-Recycle Works, and I found my life’s calling.”
According to the National Institute of Justice, in 2015 (the last time a comprehensive study of this type was attempted) 33.9% of the people released to Philadelphia from state prison or county jail were re-arrested within a year.
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A group of lifers at the now-closed State Correctional Institution at Graterford saw this revolving door of recidivism and decided to try to break the cycle. They designed and established a program they called PAR, “People Advancing Reintegration,” to help address this problem.
The core of PAR was a peer-to-peer development program for individuals who may lack the skills to navigate the outside world. The curriculum included self-assessment, goal setting, personal finance, and job-searching skills and strategies. The aim was for “short timers” to use their remaining time inside productively to prepare for life on the outside.
However, the group discovered that once a person was released from prison, there were virtually no networks or support systems in place to address needs such as housing, employment, and addiction recovery.
They decided to focus on employment and started looking at potential businesses. While employment alone does not solve all reentry problems, without having a steady, living-wage job it is impossible for returning citizens to achieve sustained success in anything else.
This was the genesis of PAR-Recycle Works, an e-waste recycling business.
PAR-Recycle Works is a nonprofit which provides transitional employment to people returning to the community from prison through an environmentally responsible electronics recycling service. Working with municipalities, businesses, faith-based organizations and other major institutions, PAR-Recycle Works takes apart computers and other electronics and recycles them into valuable components that are sold to generate revenue to pay PAR’s employees.
By providing employees with skills and opportunities, PAR-Recycle Works helps to build safer communities and contribute to stronger families. Data shows that meaningful employment dramatically decreases recidivism and improves the family life for returning citizens and their children.
The benefits for those employed in this venture are a salary that help them meet the real life obligations that can overwhelm returning citizens, such as rent, food, utilities, child care and health care; an opportunity to develop real job skills as well as grow their resumes; support among their peers; help in developing the soft skills needed to succeed in the work world; coaching and networking in the search for permanent employment; and mentoring in adjusting to the demands of the outside world.
“In the five years we’ve been open, we’ve helped over 150 people,” Jones said, “and only three of them have gone back to prison. We are a non-traditional transitional employer. Yes, we offer returning citizens sustainable employment, but we don’t just stop there. We also help them with digital literacy, financial literacy, coaching, resume building, food assistance, mindfulness training, cognitive behavioral training, conflict resolution, forklift training, driver’s license assistance, and housing assistance. If someone is scared to use a computer, we’ll have someone sitting next to them to help fill out that application or create that resume. Nothing happens in a vacuum.”
“And it’s transitional,” he added. “People come and work for me for anywhere between three and six months. It’s a way to get their feet wet in the work world again. Back in the day, there were cars that had carburetors, right? And you used to be able to spray a little bit of starter fluid in there to get that engine going. Everybody has an engine, everybody. They’re not just walking; they’re not just existing. Everyone has an engine. And PAR is the starter fluid to get people’s engines going again. That’s what we do. We are that place where people can transform themselves in a safe space with no judgement while earning a living.”
Over the past five years, the organization has collected and recycled approximately 400 tons of e-waste at its Germantown location. They recently moved to a larger location in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia, where it is hoped that the amount of e-waste that the organization acquires will increase, allowing PAR to employ additional returning citizens.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), e-waste continues to be the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in the US. Improperly disposing of e-waste can be extremely harmful to the environment and to the health of residents living in an area. PAR-Recycle Works is making it a priority to recycle every piece of e-waste safely.
E-waste can be dropped off at 2024 W. Hunting Park Ave. in Philadelphia Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The organization also hosts a variety of community recycling events, from March until late October, where e-waste is collected.
For heavy loads of e-waste, PAR-Recycle Works offers pick-up services that can be scheduled by appointment.-30-
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