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Abell Salutes: Jericho

August 2011 / Criminal Justice and Addiction, Workforce Development / Salutes

For teaching re-entering prisoners that to regain faith in society, they must regain faith in themselves.

Michael Elliott, out of prison for more than a year now, knows what it is to be down on your luck and in need of help to get on in life. He says, “Jericho does a lot for all of us. But the biggest thing it does is to teach us to have faith in ourselves!” Faith in one’s self, as he describes it, can be transformative: It’s what changes the Michael Elliotts of the world from drifting and in immediate danger of falling back, to moving on and becoming productive citizens.

Often when prisoners are released to re-enter the world they left behind, they find that there is little or no housing for them, no easily accessible medical care, and virtually no way of fitting back into society. What there is, however, is Jericho—a program operating under the umbrella of the Episcopal Community Services of Maryland—and the promise it holds for this population looking for a second chance.

Although Mr. Elliott is a high school graduate, his admittedly poor work ethic cost him his job, his marriage, and his family—and ultimately put him in circumstances where his life fell apart. In 2008, he was incarcerated for possession of drugs and was released in March 2010, and through good fortune, found himself in the Jericho family, which is centered at 901 N. Milton Ave. in East Baltimore. What happened next is a case study of Jericho. Having lost faith in the institutions he needed to get on with his life, it was Jericho that taught him to, first, have faith in himself. It is in this context that the work of Jericho, and the life stories of the Michael Elliotts, is best understood.

Jericho is, first of all, a workforce development program designed to assist ex-offenders re-entering the community and willing to participate in a two-week job-training, orientation, and job-placement program. The program serves more than 200 men a year and boasts a job-placement rate of 60 percent. Among the positions in which Jericho has been successful in placing its participants are: roofer, warehouse worker, utility worker, driver, cook and waiter, meat wrapper, chef, housekeeping situations, floor technician, automobile detailer, assembly line worker, telecommunications technician, store clerk, appliance installer, electrician helper, receptionist, and carpenter’s helper. Companies where Jericho participants are working include: Danko Arlington, 2nd Chance, Moveable Feast, Atlantic Lift Truck EPA Healthy Homes/Renovator, Jump Start, CCBC Construction Apprenticeship Training, Fitch Company, and Floor Tech Training.

However, to enter the Jericho program, to get and hold a job, and to live a productive life, these ex-offenders need housing—and given their circumstances, obtaining housing on their own is nearly impossible. So in partnership with The Abell Foundation, Jericho is able to provide transitional housing to homeless clients, to give them the stability they need to make the most of any newly found employment opportunity.

But it is the personal one-on-one successes—Mr. Elliott, for example—that make up the overall success of Jericho, and these are due in no small measure to Jericho’s ability to inspire clients not only to accept the reality of their situations, but also to learn how to “fit in,” even if it’s their second or third time around. Mr. Elliott explains: “For me, for many if not most of us who graduated from the Jericho two-week program, and got a place to live and a place to work, and an opportunity to live a productive life, the journey is largely spiritual. Before you come to believe in the program’s possibilities, you have to come to believe in yourself. You have to learn to have faith in you.” The hundreds of ex-offenders who re-enter society through the gates of Jericho appear to agree with that view.

Abell Salutes Jericho, and the Episcopal Community Services of Maryland, for teaching re-entering prisoners how to regain their place in society—through the acquisition of housing, steady employment, and ultimately a new life—by regaining faith in themselves.