By The Philadelphia Re-Entry Think Tank
From PHN Issue 40, Summer/Fall 2019
We the people.
The other side of America.
The 70 million plus with criminal records.
We exist in multitudes. We lead many lives.
We are all ages
We are 16,
35 years old.
We are not criminals.
We are survivors.
The leaders you need.
Your Fathers, Mothers, Daughters, Sons, friends and family.
We are human beings. We deserve a chance to prove our worth.
We work, volunteer, mentor and use our knowledge, experience and skills to give back to the community.
Where am I?
You see me in the mall,
We sat next to each other at the movies,
We shared a smile once in a line at the grocery store,
the church pew.
But you put an X on my face.
You turned me into a number.
I want a beautiful future.
I am not a slave to my past
I refuse to be intimidated by your misperceptions.
Understand the value I have to contribute.
Do not be paralyzed by data,
I am real, not numbers.
I will not subject myself to fear or anxiety, but walk boldly. I will prosper.
Let me be free.
Believe in me, and I will be the best parent I never had.
I will mobilize communities. Will be a catalyst for change. Will make history.
Will achieve all of my goals. Will be a role model for the youth!
We’ve done our time.
Let us become who we want to be.
My mom always told me hurt people will hurt others.
But healing for me is harder than you think.
Sometimes I feel like I’m reading a story that isn’t mine.
I need those around me to listen, to lend an ear, to try to understand the root causes of violence and crime.
To help me get support and resources.
Today, I can be a wounded healer.
I want to apologize.
To listen to the people I’ve harmed, to volunteer, to speak out, to teach, to learn, and understand that not everyone is ready to heal.
We are hurt, we have harmed, and we have the power to help others heal.
But it’s not black and white.
Some of us came home to housing. Some of us were homeless. Some spent 7 months trying to get an approved home plan while wasting away in halfway houses.
Some of us struggle finding positive support from family and friends, while others came home to mentors, wives, husbands, and so many open arms.
Even after being out for years we struggle.
I struggle to keep me and my children together.
I struggle to afford more than a room.
I struggle to find a job I’m NOT overqualified for
I struggle to feel human, not looked down upon
we the people.
I want you to remember that we need to change people’s environment if we
want to change their future.
That we are so much more than our past.
That people need community, not condemnation.
That we need more support to become what we dream of.
That the world is wrong about us. That we’ve already come so far.
That we are learning to forgive ourselves.
And so should you.
That we can make differences in the lives of others. But we need a chance to prove our worth.
That we are powerful!
The Re-Entry Think Tank connects formerly incarcerated people with artists and advocates. Think Tank Fellows spent two years interviewing over 1,200 Philadelphians with criminal records about their lives, dreams, and demands for a more just world. As a group poem and declaration, this has been read in Philadelphia’s city hall, detention centers, museums, legal clinics, and community spaces across the city.