(CBS DETROIT) - As Craig Whilby and Jamil Allen-Bey walk into the grand opening celebration for Friends Of Returning Citizens (FORC), they are greeted by friends, family, and people who have walked in their shoes. People who are newly released from prison. And that's by design.
"We're trying to direct them in a path that won't lead them back into prison," said Whilby.
Both Whilby and Allen-bey served 30 years in prison. Whilby says he was 17 years old and Allen-bey was just 16 years old. Upon release, they came home to a different and difficult world.
"We left in the eighties. No cell phones. We're coming home to cell phones, computers and everything. So now we have to have a different mindset. We left as children. Now are men," Whilby explained. "So we took something from the community. I think it's my responsibility to give something back to the community."
F.O.R.C is a program of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance. Whilby said it was their encouragement and support while he was in prison that inspired him to help found the nonprofit to help other ex-prisoners.
"When I came home, I got with Father Thomas. Father Thomas, picked me up. Sister Cathy picked me up and said Craig what is it you want to do?" said Whilby. "I say I want to give back to those young men and women who are coming home."
Allen-bey said it's an uphill battle for people starting over after spending so much time behind bars. But programs like Friends Of Returning Citizens make it a little easier.
"You are already stigmatized. You are demonized. And so when you come out and you lack skills and you lack education and keep in context you talking about some of those who've been there ten, 30 years. We missed the technological evolution," said Allen-bey. "So in that context, we are also behind. Right. So that creates a level of fear."
Allen-bey explained that fear of acclimating to life outside of prison and a lack of resources can lead to a mindset that causes a person to re-offend. That is why they are not only providing ex-prisoners with things like bus passes, clothing, gift cards, and computer training. They are offering emotional support.
"We're going to use this room to bring in social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc., to help them flush through those issues so that they can better transition into society," said Allen-bey.
It was Allen-bey who came of with the name Friends of Returning Citizens. He said he wanted the people to know that they had a friend in their organization but also wanted to build their self-esteem about how they view themselves once released.
"We want to deconstruct the mindset of many prisoners who have bought into that label of prisoners. We want them to have a broader picture of who they are and how they see themselves as citizens."
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