Less than 3% of participants in Goodwill’s re-entry program return to prison (3%) which is substantially lower than the national recidivism average of 70%. Tyrone Manuel returned from prison eight years ago himself and is now the Program Manager for the Philadelphia location.
Ty: What we do here is employ ex-offenders to process donated clothing and ship it overseas. We typically employ around 22 people. It’s part-time, 29 hours a week at $8 an hour and the idea is that its an opportunity to get people started as they re-acclimate after spending time in the prison system. Most of the time this is someone’s first job out of prison, and often times its their first job period.
SHIFT: How long do people usually stay at this location?
Ty: It’s a range. The person who’s been here the longest other than me has been with us for 5 years. I’m a bit of an exception myself having been here over 8 years. I started off as a warehouse associate and became the program manager over time. It’s really about what you want to do. Some people take on other part-time jobs as they get established, others take advantage of opportunities to learn skills here. We have a free forklift operator certification opportunity where employees can learn to use the forklift which sets them up to take other jobs with higher pay. Base pay for an experienced forklift operator is $12 – $15 per hour to start, which is a good step up for people.
SHIFT: How did you get plugged in with Goodwill?
Ty: Through RISE (Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services), which is a re-entry program established under Mayor Nutter. After I got out, I was in a halfway house at D & Erie called Kintock (Kensington is home to more than 75% of all halfway houses in Philadelphia) which is set up to ease the process of re-acclimating after leaving prison. Every day I would get a pass to go to RISE headquarters downtown where I would familiarize myself with the computer and fill out applications to try to put myself in a better position to get a job. Someone recognized me one day, I didn’t realize it at first but he was a friend from childhood who I grew up with — Tyrone Ward. Tyrone was a case manager at RISE, who at the time was placing people at the Goodwill location. He put in a call to the Goodwill Program Manager. He said “I have a guy here and I want you to give him a shot”. The rest is history.
SHIFT: Would you ever do anything else?
Ty: Of course! I would like to do other things, but I don’t think I would ever move away from reentry. Eventually I’d like to go in to prisons to tell people my story and let them know that’s not going to be easy when they get out. The biggest thing I think is to reach the people who are young and still have a lot of life ahead of them. I went when I was 32, there wasn’t much anyone could tell me at that point, I’d already seen the world so it was really up to me to make the change. When you can reach people at a formative age you can influence them and affect how they see their future. Most of the time in prison these young people are surrounded by others who don’t see how important it is to make a change.
I also want to tell people how important it is to think about what they’re going to do when they get out. You have to have a plan. It wasn’t easy for me, though it might have looked it. The whole time I was at Kintock I was saying “you have to get me out of here”, but I’m glad I stayed there for 7 months. I was able to work at Goodwill and live at Kintock, which made the transition back much smoother. Now it’s a pleasure for me to be able to set people up with work, especially people who are living at the same halfway house that I was in.
A big part of success is you have to want to change yourself and you have to embrace the struggle. I fancied myself a smart person before prison when in reality I wasn’t being that smart. I always had money but I never worked for it. I never embraced the struggle before prison and now that’s what I do every day. God willing, I get up at 4am every morning and take SEPTA to the office. My mother and father worked their whole lives and I swear I can count on one hand how many days they missed work, I can’t remember a single time they were home sick, and I have a hell of a memory. So now when I wake up in the morning I think about my parents.
SHIFT: How do you want to get back in to work in the prisons?
Ty: I’m not sure how I would do it yet because I’m so busy here but I’d like to find a way, especially now that I’m off parole. 7 years! I’m impressed with myself, and had to thank Goodwill when I finally reached that mark last September.