After 22 Years in Prison; A Masters Degree and His Own Nonprofit:
Thomas R. Sims, an ex-offender who spent 22 years in county, state, and federal institutions, is now the executive director of People United Together (P.U.T.), an organization that offers services and programs to offenders, ex-offenders and the community. In 1998, while incarcerated in Holmesburg Prison for theft, he and two other inmates teamed up and developed a community partnership with a Pastor and his congregation in North Central Philadelphia. This led to the development of P.U.T., which was started the following year. Sims credits the Pennsylvania Prison Society for providing help during and after his incarceration. "They were the only organization around that really fought for the rights of offenders. They provided opportunities such as vocational training and educational guidance for guys like me just getting out of prison." Mr. Sims is now completing his Masters Degree in Human Services at Lincoln University.
Rose Marie Tappa, a former cocaine and heroin addict, has turned her life around with the help of Project Return, an ex-offender support agency located in Milwaukee, WI. After serving nine months in prison for drug dealing, Ms. Tappa turned to Project Return for help. "I was afraid of the future and ashamed of my past. Project Return gave me an opportunity to build my self-esteem and learn how to deal with difficult situations instead of running away from them." In addition to being a full time mother and foster parent, Ms. tappa works part time for Project Return, is involved in a neighborhood watch program, and speaks of her experiences to halfway houses, prisons, and schools. "I'm here to say that it can work. If I can plant just one seed of that idea in someone's mind, I've succeeded."
Glenn Thomas, a former inmate, read about Nebraska's CEGA Offender Referral Service while still in prison in New York and sent for a referral form. He said the New York prison system didn't offer any pre-release services at the time while he was incaracerated and he didn't get any significant help from parole officers. Within five days, Glenn got the form from CEGA, filled it out, and two moths later received his list. Within two weeks of his release, he was working full time. Glenn added that the agencies CEGA referred him to also taught him how to interview and got him involved in CURE-SORT, and advocacy group for sex offenders. "CEGA is looking out for the best interest of the inmate... These people are for real and inmates need to trust them, " he said.
Derrick Jones, 38, was serving time for grand theft in California's Donovan State Prison when he heard about the pre-release planning program offered through the Community Connection Resource Center. "They helped me with job referrals, taught me how to write a resume, and helped me find my first job," he said. Now completing his B.A. in human behavior from National University, he works full time at Community Connection counseling ex-gang members and other ex-offenders.
Lou Farina, a former Chicago alderman, served one year in prison, after being indicted on charges of election bribery. Now Director of Public Affairs at Chicago's Safer Foundation, he considers himself a "man with a mission" and acts as a "semi-lobbyist" for ex-offenders. "I work toward getting ex-offenders to become successful taxpaying citizens, help them to go straight, and get a job," he said. "Only after being in prison for a year did I realize what we have to do to get ex-offenders back in the mainstream of society". Mr. Farina first became involved with the Safer Foundation in 1985during his trail and has worked with them ever since, first as a volunteer and later as a paid staff member.
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