Living Proof - Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization

At 6’2”, with broad shoulders, and a deep bass voice (think “James Earl Jones” and go down a notch), Zach might not look like a man who’d recite poetry. But reciting, reading, and writing poetry are some of his favorite activities.

He recites a line from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

Zach should know. He’s experienced enough sorrow in his 50 years for several lifetimes. “I was physically abused as a child. I got to a point where I got used to it. I didn’t cry any more, but it developed a hatred and anger within me,” Zach says. When Zach was eleven, his mother died, and he was moved, first to Philadelphia then to New York, where he lived among drug dealers and gangs. Zach was shot four times, but survived each shooting. “It was a violent upbringing,” he says. Eventually, it was a path that led to prison over two decades ago, when Zach was a young man.

“No one twisted my arm or made me do anything I did, though. I have to be responsible for what I’ve done,” Zach says. “My past still haunts me. You can’t ever go back and rectify some things and you can’t always make peace with the people you’ve hurt. I know God forgives me but I have a hard time forgiving myself.”

Zach served seven and a half years in state prisons, then struggled to get his life back on track after being released from prison. As often happens once someone has been incarcerated, Zach wound up back in prison again – this time at Lancaster County Prison.

“Zach was sent here in July, 2009 because he had missed an appointment, which was a violation of his parole,” explains Dan, a pre-release officer at Lancaster County Prison. “He was here for 8 months.”

Dan met with Zach before his scheduled release to assess his history and his needs upon release.

“Zach was going to need a job and a place to live,” Dan says. “Luckily, he had a lot of experience in the food industry, so I thought he’d have a chance of getting a job, despite his background. He seemed like a good candidate for the RMO.”

The RMO is a collaborative effort between the Lancaster County Prison, social service agencies, Probation & Parole, CareerLink, churches and others to improve community safety by helping people transitioning out of the Lancaster County Prison to become productive citizens and remain crime-free.

Dan referred Zach to Neighborhood Services to provide case management for Zach. The Transitional Living Center (TLC), another RMO partner, had a room available for Zach in their supportive housing program.

On the morning in March, 2010, when Zach was released from Lancaster County Prison, Kay Knight from Neighborhood Services met him at the door, got him some breakfast and talked with him about his needs and goals.

“Zach was very positive and motivated,” says Kay. “He wants a life where he is productive, successful and respected.” They talked about employment possibilities and other services Zach would need, then Kay took Zach to the Transitional Living Center to get moved in.

Doug Hopwood, Program Coordinator at TLC, remarks, “Zach was one of the most motivated people we’ve ever had. He came in and said, ‘I know your rules. I’ll follow them. I’ll get a job, I’ll do the program, and I’ll be out on my own in 3 months.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”

After Zach got settled at TLC, Kay Knight provided information on job openings, helped him get suitable clothes to wear for interviews, arranged transportation to interviews, and mentored him through the process.

One of the job applications Zach submitted was to the Marriott Convention Center.

“I was honest – I checked the box about my criminal record,” Zach says. “There are some people who say ‘I can’t get past the fact that you’re a criminal.’ When people keep telling you that you’re a criminal, you believe that. But if people are willing to treat us as a better person, we can respect ourselves, then everyone around us can respect us too.”

At the Marriott, Zach was given the opportunity to explain his background, and he was offered a job. He has now been working there steadily for a year and a half. He moved out of TLC three months after arriving there and has been in his own apartment for over a year now.

“It makes me feel like I’m a real person, a real part of society again to have these things,” Zach says.

Still, he admits, “It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of struggling.”

He talks about the circle of people who have encouraged and supported him through this journey. “Kay Knight and Doug Hopwood, Pastor Sadie and the Strubes and all the people at Trinity [Lutheran Church], my PO – Jessica, my coworkers and my supervisor at the Marriott. They all tell me, ‘Zach, you can do this. Don’t give up.’ Having people like that in your corner means a lot.”

Pastor Sadie Pounder at Trinity Lutheran Church had visited Zach every week while he was in prison and was impressed with him. “He promised me that the first Sunday he was released from prison, he’d be in church. And he was. He’s been coming to Trinity ever since. His presence just brightens up a room. People at Trinity love being around him.”

Zach refers to Pastor Sadie and the Strube’s, a Lancaster couple who have known Zach since he was a little boy and were foster parents to him at one point, as “my family.”

According to those who know and have encouraged Zach, his own determination and positive outlook have been an essential part of his success.

Zach explains it this way: “There are a lot of people in society who will stereotype you, people who say, you are nothing, you won’t amount to nothing. You have to decide for yourself how you feel inside and establish a positive base within yourself. You have to work to be around positive people. Then you can flourish and nothing can get in your way. It’s not an easy road, but it can be done. I’m living proof. I’ve been shot, seen death at my doorstep countless times. But there was always a “do not enter” sign there. I guess God must have put that there because I’m still here.”

For more information on the work of the Lancaster County Re-entry Management Organization, see the organization’s website

For a printable version of this RMO Success Story, CLICK HERE

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Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa restorative justice criminal justice rmo

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