Most ex-offenders want to turn their life around, but find very little compassion or assistance. Below is a story of such a man whose post-prison life is a positive success with a little help from PERC.
Joe Harlan’s tiring five hour bus ride was finally over. He was excited to be home. Arriving at the bus station at one in the morning, he rushed to the payphone, only to find it cost much more than he had remembered. Digging through his pockets, he scraped up enough change to call his brother, but the line was disconnected. Joe then called his best friends, only to hear that they just couldn’t help right now. His Mom and Dad have both passed on. He considered finding a place to stay but with less than a hundred dollars in his pocket, that would leave very little for food, let alone cover bus fare. Joe had been in many tough spots in his life but that night he did the unthinkable and slept in a doorway. He knew he would have to find a job. He had no idea how to get started or who would hire him – an ex-offender, fresh from prison. He found the exhilaration of being free soon replaced by feelings of hopelessness and depression. Joe started to wonder if he wasn’t better off in prison. Thousands of men and women in Pinellas County find themselves in Joe’s position every year. It is even worse for those who are elderly, have a chronic illness, or are mentally ill. These are people who have paid their debts to society but for whom starting over can be much harder than you can imagine. Fortunately, Joe came to the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition. He knew where to come because we corresponded with him while he was still in prison. We worked with Joe to stabilize his life with temporary housing, bus passes and arranging interviews with employers we knew would hire an ex-offender. Today he has a job and his own place. He is contributing, not taking from society. However, there are so many more like Joe who need our help. Our staff is there for people like Joe but we need to ask for your help so men and women like Joe can re-enter society to contribute to our shared lives. Your gift will not only help the ex-offender, but it is an investment in our communities. Of course I know some cannot afford much and others could give more. Every gift helps. On behalf of Joe and many others like him, we thank you in advance for your generosity.