by Sue Ann Rybak
PAR-Recycle Works, a nonprofit organization that responsibly recycles electronic waste, is helping to restore ex-offenders lives by providing them with job training and employment.
Chestnut Hill resident Laura Ford, 66, has worked in prison ministry and helped develop and run reintegration programs for formerly incarcerated men and women for almost 20 years.
“PAR- [People Advancing Reintegration] Recycle Works believes that one of the best crime deterrents is a job. Participants in this program go from costing society thousands of dollars a year to contributing to society.”
According to a report entitled “The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers” conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Pew Center on the States, the Pennsylvania Department of Correction spends roughly $1.6 billion in prison expenditures annually.
The report stated that Pennsylvania incurs an “average annual cost of $42, 339” for each inmate.
Ford, who is the PAR-Recycle treasurer, said it is very hard for ex-offenders to find steady, full-time employment. She said thousands of people return from prison to the community every day.
“Recidivism is a huge problem for the whole community,” she said. “It’s everybody’s issue. It’s not just their issue.”
Ford added that a large percentage of ex-offenders have had a parent or other family member incarcerated at one point in their life when they were growing up.
According to a study entitled “Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children?” by ChildTrends in 2015, one in 14 children have at least one parent behind bars. The report went on to say that the children often suffer from low self-esteem, poor mental and physical health and live in extreme poverty.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Ford, who currently works with St. Vincent De Paul Church Prison Ministries Program in Germantown.
“If you have been incarcerated for a long time, there is a certain element of post-traumatic stress because you are living in a traumatizing and often volatile environment.”
She said readjusting to everyday life is difficult.
“Work is critical for your self-esteem,” she said. “It makes you feel like you are contributing. It gives you a place to go every day. When people return home to their family, family members expect them to get a job right away.
“Addiction is another big issue. When you get frustrated, you tend to fall back into old habits. A job helps to provide structure.”
PAR-Recycle Works is modeled after an Indianapolis-based recycling business called RecycleForce. The company offers “wrap around services” such as counseling, job training and social skills.
Unfortunately because PAR-Recycle Works is just starting, it does not offer an array of “wrap around services.” Ford said, however, that it does meet with employees every morning and asks them how things are going.
“We try to provide employees with the resources and services they need,” she said. “Most of these men have complicated lives and histories. We are about reintegration as opposed to reentry because everybody reenters, but not everybody reintegrates.
“Our mission is two-fold: to help former offenders restore their lives by providing employment and resources and helping the planet Earth by keeping toxic waste out of landfills.
She said the company provides secure data destruction by “wiping” computer hard drives.
She said PAR-Recycle Works recently partnered with the Philadelphia Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit agency that provides Internet-ready computers in classrooms.
Jan Deruiter, executive director of the Philadelphia’s Children Foundation, said the nonprofit is excited to work with PAR-Recycle Works and recently donated several unsalvageable computers and monitors.
“Besides us providing them with equipment for recycling, we are also looking to purchase used parts from them for our own refurbishing needs,” he said. “We are currently working on a list of materials PCF needs to refurbish computers and determining the market value for those (used drives, memory, etc.)
“We love the idea behind the PAR program and have enjoyed meeting and working with their workers and leadership.”
Ford said by donating outdated or defective electronic, residents are helping to end the cycle of poverty by providing jobs to community members, helping to create a safer and healthier environment by keeping toxic substances out of landfills, and saving energy and resources by providing parts for refurbished computers that will be used in Philadelphia public elementary schools such as J.S. Jenks, C.W. Henry and Houston.
Currently, PAR-Recycle employs three ex-offenders, who are grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community.
“One of the things I like about working here is that it gives me an opportunity to give back,” said Gerald, 50, who prefers that his last name not be published. “There are a lot of gentlemen who are coming home from institutions who really need a fresh start. PAR-Recycle provides that opportunity.
Hopefully, we will continue to grow and help others coming home from prison.”
Brandon, 24, who also prefers that his last name not be published, said he likes taking apart computers and seeing what’s valuable.
“People look at this and think it’s trash, but it’s still valuable,” he said. “When you break everything down, you see the precious metals like copper and silver. This job is a chance for me to give something back to the community by helping the environment. The people I work with have an opportunity to learn something new.
“They are providing us with opportunities to make a difference. A lot of jobs don’t want to hire you because you did something wrong. Hopefully, being incarcerated makes you realize your mistakes. PAR gives people an opportunity to be better than you were before. And it makes you feel a whole lot better.”
Brandon’s statement contradicts the view that ex-offenders have no value to the community. Brandon and Gerald are doing important work and are making a difference by helping the environment and making a difference in a child’s life.
And Brandon added, “It’s having an impact.”
PAR-Recycle accepts desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, telephone systems, computer keyboards, printers, scanners, cell phones, fax machines, floppy disks and game systems. The company does not accept old TVs or CRT monitors.
People can drop off old electronics Tuesday through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at PAR-Recycle Works, 342 E. Walnut Lane in Germantown, or by calling 267-335-5455 to arrange for a pick-up.
In conjunction with Earth Day, on Saturday, April 30, PAR-Recycle Works is hosting an e-waste recycling event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
If you would like to make a tax deductible financial contribution to PAR-Recycle Works, go to its secure website at www.PAR-RecycleWorks.org.