Statistically speaking, the Central City neighborhood in New Orleans is one of the most crime-plagued communities in the country. It has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the Crescent City, and is the most incarcerated neighborhood, in the most incarcerated parish, in the most incarcerated state per capita in the nation. Poverty rates are high, and home ownership rates are low, adding to a sense of desperation for many residents.
A new organization created by former and current students at Tulane University is fighting this cycle of crime and incarceration by providing recently released prisoners an opportunity to learn a trade while renovating an 1930s house in the neighborhood.
Roots of Renewal, a program headed by Tulane graduate Amy Fotrell, encourages men and women to become positive contributors to their communities. The house that is currently being renovated will be sold at less than market value, providing an opportunity for residents in Central City to become homeowners.
“I started thinking with the way New Orleans works and all the barriers that are setup to people who have been incarcerated, these people are some of the most difficult in the world to get opportunities for,” Fotrell says in an interview with Opportunity Knocks. “I’ve always thought my calling was to get opportunities for people who don’t have them.”
Current Tulane student Lilith Winkler-Schor, the program manager for the project, has been impressed by the level of commitment shown by the men working on the house. “I have worked in construction before. I have worked in construction with people who also work in construction, and I was prepared for people just not showing up,” Winkler-Schor says. “We have not had that issue which honestly surprises me a ton but also surprises the people who invested in this.”
Many of the men and women leaving prison are eager to prove that they can be agents of positive change for their communities—that they have paid their debt and are eager to contribute. Unfortunately, opportunities like those offered by Roots of Renewal can be few and far between. Legal hurdles, combined with the social stigma associated with being a former prisoner, can result in a “second prison,” locking them out of chances to redemption and heightening the possibility that they will return to old habits.
Prison Fellowship’s Second Prison Project is working to change perceptions toward people with criminal records. By organizing acts of service, providing opportunities for leadership, and by advocating for the removal of barriers to integration, the Second Prison Project aims to give these men and women an opportunity to provide for themselves, while contributing to make their neighborhoods better places for everyone. To find out more about the Second Prison Project, and how you can get involved, visit www.secondprison.org.