In October of 2020 I sat in on a Zoom call with a group of formerly incarcerated men brainstorming the causes of escalating gun violence in Philadelphia. They gave me a slew of one-word responses.
Poverty. Hopelessness. Self-hate. Inadequacy. Misguidance. Trauma. Toxic Masculinity. Inequity.
The meeting was part of an intergenerational healing circle for formerly incarcerated men from ages 17 to 50. The older men in the group were former Juvenile Lifers, all of them convicted for acts of homicide for which they served around 30 years. The young people were recently released from sentences where they were tried as adults when they were minors for serious violent offenses.
All of the men are trying to figure out their place in the world post-incarceration. The hope was to support them in achieving their self-determined vision of wellness, through connections to community resources and opportunities. In short, a future that doesn’t include violence.
The program was created as part of a $100,000 grant that the Philadelphia Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) received from Impact100 to advance their reentry program that partners with young people and former Juvenile Lifers who faced charges in adult court as children. They launched the year-long program in person shortly before the pandemic, and then transitioned to Zoom. ______________________________________________________________________________
MORE FROM PHILLY UNDER FIRE PODCAST
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Ep. 3: These U.S. cities are successfully tackling gun violence
“We compare it to the barbershop model,” says Juwan Bennett, a reentry coordinator for the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project and one of the facilitators of the group. “If you’ve ever been to a Black barbershop it’s intergenerational, everybody’s on equal footing. Same as our group. Everybody has a perspective and can join in the conversation and we laugh together. We experience raw emotions together and we keep it honest with each other. What happens with the intergenerational healing circle is that it’s intentional. We’re intentionally building community and intentionally creating space.”
Each session feels a little like group therapy on steroids. Yes, the men talk about emotions in ways they probably can’t in other parts of their lives, but they also talk about practical things—finding work, maintaining healthy relationships, looking for a place to live. But most importantly they are able to talk to someone else who has experienced the things they experienced in the prison system.
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