Mar 5, 2009

At the Root of the Problem, Literally

Some of the most successful and meaningful reentry services come out of unlikely places. Government and non-profit providers are often looked to for solutions to housing and employment issues for reentrants -- and sometimes the best solutions are literally found in the barbershop down the street.

City Limits has a nice article today about a Brooklyn barber who is a beacon of support and inspiration for his neighbors returning from prison. Al Gleaton-Mathieu has had his own experiences with the justice system and uses his barbershop -- Black Success Unisex II -- as a point of connection for friends and neighbors with similar experiences.

Building these kinds of social networks in places with high rates of incarceration (Gleaton-Mathieu's neighborhood is one of the "million dollar blocks" areas, so famously noted for the price tags associated with incarcerating all of the individuals in that zone) is a really good idea. One of the recommendations that the Upper Manhattan Reentry Task Force has put forward is to develop volunteer opportunities, in partnership with faith-based groups, for reentrants to utilize their talents and experiences to address issues of importance to the community. Such projects might include youth dialogue events, providing assistance to other persons reentering the community, organizing education efforts and fairs around health issues like HIV/AIDS and substance abuse, and projects that address conditions of disorder in the community. While Gleaton-Mathieu's approach takes root in the power of small business, there are multiple ways to build civic engagement -- and ultimately, those networks help to guard against future criminal activity, building stronger communities.