PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Many people are moving from prison to prosperity with guidance from the "Foundation of Hope."
The non-profit organization helps incarcerated individuals re-enter society and succeed during their second chance at life.
"Today, I can be part of the healing of the community," Rodger Jay said. "The same communities that I was part of the destruction of, now I get to be part of the healing. I am grateful for that."
The North Side native left his troubled past behind him when he was released from prison in 2011. The 76-year-old spent 25 years behind bars. Now, he's on parole for 25 more.
"I was there as a direct result of my active addiction," said Rodger. "I wound up with five charges of delivery from going to purchase, not sell, I never had anything to sell to anybody. I was staying up in the Hill District and people from the South Side who couldn't come and go down in the Hill District and cop themselves, they would give their money."
This back and forth also fed Rodger's heroin addiction.
"Right before I went to prison, I got shot in the head," Rodger said. "Guy put a bullet through my head, went out my face. You think that would be enough for me to say, 'Okay, I'm done. I'll stop.' But I could not stop using drugs."
It was within the prison walls where Rodger started his road to recovery. He made a stop at the Foundation of Hope along the way.
"It was the camaraderie," Rodger said. "It was the willingness to help and encourage one another and the dialogue that would go on."
The non-profit organization has three programs to help individuals transform their lives after jail or prison.
"People get real frustrated," Keith Kondrich, who is the director of the Foundation of Hope Aftercare program on the North Side. "They come out. They're hoping to move forward successfully, and they hear all these roadblocks: 'I can't figure out how to get my ID. I can't figure out how to get my birth certificate. I don't have any transportation. I got a job, but I have no way to get there.'"
Kondrich said it's their goal to eliminate those barriers. First, they provide basic needs such as toiletries, IDs, transportation, clothing and food.
Then, they focus on employment and housing.
Lastly, they have a one-on-one mentorship -- matching incarcerated individuals with someone who truly understands them.
The organization also has a weekly support group called Positive Initiative to Reinforce Change.
"The number one factor that people return to jail or prison, they don't have a community around them," Kondrich said. "They don't have the relationships; they don't feel part of a community. So, one of the things we try to do here at Hope is provide that community and connect people with each other."
Kondrich said in 2021, the recidivism rate for Hope participants was 32%; and for those seeking employment, 65% were hired within three months of their time at aftercare.
"Your past does not define you," Kondrich said. "The only thing we care about is today. Who are you today, and how can we help you be a better person going forward? So many people we serve are giving back and that makes our community stronger. It makes the world a better place."
Kondrich said Rodger is the perfect example. He is now a certified peer specialist for the foundation.
"We help," Rodger said. "We care, and we're going to do whatever we can to help people get their feet on the ground and get it turned around, so they don't have to get locked up again."
Rodger reminds those with doubt: "If I can do that, anyone can do it," he said.
Now that he's found his purpose.
"I am becoming more of the man that I was raised to be, that I believe God wants me to be, and that I want to be," Rodger said. "I know that I'm a better person today and that allows me to try to help other people."
These days, Rodger allows hope, faith and love take the lead in his life as he celebrates new beginnings with his soulmate, Linda, who he just married in August.
Kondrich said they've been able to help transform more than 900 lives this year.
For more information on how you can get involved, go to https://www.foundationofhope.org/.
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