“What would you do if you found yourself fresh out of prison, a social outcast in a strange city, with nowhere to lay your head?”
This is the question reentry service organization Redemption Housing is posing in its first ever Day One Challenge, a three-hour immersion into the experience of a person recently released from prison. Starting at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Center City, participants will be sent out into the city to experience what it’s like to find employment and educational opportunities, obtain a state ID, and find a place to sleep on their first day out of prison. Afterwards, they’re invited to regroup for reflection and discussion.
“If you haven’t experienced homelessness or incarceration, you might care about the issue,” said Nick Lordi, founder and executive director of Redemption Housing, which offers faith-based programming and support to Philadelphians coming out of incarceration and homelessness. “But you don’t have the understanding or knowledge of what it’s really like to reenter society.”
Redemption is partnering with other member organizations from the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition for the event; the$40 ticket fee will go directly to Redemption Housing operating costs.
Of the 10 largest cities in the nation, Philadelphia has the highest per-capita incarceration rate; one in every six people in the city have been incarcerated, according to The Reentry Project. Once released, there is little guidance for formerly incarcerated people, leaving many unsure about next steps and some forced to find financial standing the best way they know how.
“People think we’re lazy,” said Alex Delgado, a former inmate in a video to promote the Day One Challenge. “But when you have a family to feed and no one will hire you, the system sends you back to selling drugs.”
Delgado hopes to change the minds of people both participating in Saturday’s event and across the city. “I hope people see how hard it is so they can learn and eventually help other people who are coming out of prison,” he said.
As for Lordi, the challenge is just one step in a long journey for Redemption Housing. Right now, the organization’s first location in West Philadelphia can house up to three people who are suffering from homelessness. Soon, he hopes to grow it into a network of residences. “We want to surround our residents with a circle of support,” Lordi says. “I want to entrench ourselves in the community, wipe the stigma, and help advocate for the challenges these citizens face.” With donations and interest in the Day One Challenge, Lordi plans to have a new space up and running within the first week of October.
Without giving away too much of the itinerary for the Day One Challenge—the idea is for participants to be fully immersed without much prior knowledge—Lordi shares an example of what might unfold during the day:
When someone is released from prison, the first step might be to find a shelter. They may have been given the address, but the confusion arises when trying to find the location. For most people, typing in a few numbers and a street address is easy enough with a smartphone; but for those formerly incarcerated for weeks, months, or years, accessing these basic tools becomes nearly impossible. And then what? This is a question participants will be challenged to consider more closely.
While there are many obstacles on that first day, Lordi also wants participants to see all the organizations in Philadelphia doing great work for the city and gain the knowledge they need to get involved on their own. “They’ll be able to go back to their communities, share what they’ve learned, and be able to assist returning citizens in the future,” he says.
September 30th, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., $40, meet at Tenth Presbyterian Church, 1701 Delancey Street. Register here.Header photo: Pexels