Boaz & Ruth is unique in its integrated approach to the systemic problems of joblessness, poverty and recidivism that afflict both released prisoners and the communities to which they return. By combining comprehensive reentry training with thriving consumer-centered entrepreneurial ventures and cross-cultural initiatives, B&R restores previously incarcerated individuals to productive lives, creates jobs, and generates an ever-widening "force field" of hope for a severely blighted community and a metropolitan area historically divided by race and class.
Several foundational assumptions inform our strategies:
- The release of a prisoner is a release of tremendous gifts and abilities (as well as potential earning power and tax revenue) into communities in great need of those gifts.
- Sustainable change -- whether individual or global -- is driven by transformative relationships and the productive, cooperative use of resources to support one's own needs and the needs of society.
- Successful reentry requires intensive training in life/work skills and emotional competencies, not simply the provision of short-term housing and employment.
- Community revitalization is an essential component in breaking the cycle of poverty, crime and recidivism that plagues depressed neighborhoods.
Richmond, Virginia is among the top 100 metropolitan areas -- and the only site in Virginia -- identified by the National Corrections Reporting Program as receiving the most returning non-violent prisoners. In 2001, 621 non-violent prisoners returned to Richmond. In addition, over 9,000 adult men and women are released from the Richmond City Jail each year. Many find the social bars of life on the outside far more confining than the iron bars of prison. Jobs, housing and healthy relationships are difficult to come by.
The needs of these individuals reflect -- and in many cases stem from -- the needs of the communities in which they live. Boaz & Ruth is located in Highland Park in the heart of the North District, an area representing 9% of Richmond's population, but containing 20% of the poverty and 25% of the crime city-wide. In the 1960's, White Flight left 65% of the homes in Highland Park vacant, resulting in the eventual demise of a once-thriving business area.
B&R's location in Richmond's North District is strategic. According to 2002 census data, three of the seven census tracts with the highest number of released prisoners in Richmond are in the North District (within a one-mile radius of B&R) and three of the remaining four tracts are adjacent (within two miles). The North District is also characterized by significantly higher poverty, unemployment and crime than the state as a whole.
Anchored by a 7500-square-foot used furniture store/training center and related entrepreneurial ventures, Boaz & Ruth (1) provides life/work training and re-entry assistance for released prisoners, (2) fosters commercial revitalization in Highland Park, and (3) bridges culturally and economically disparate communities within the metropolitan area.
This holistic approach puts into practice the most recent conclusions of researchers and public policy analysts -- successful prisoner re-entry must address the environment to which prisoners return as well as the assistance and training required to rejoin life "on the outside."
The synergy of B&R's re-entry training, business and cross-cultural activities has proved to be fertile ground for significant partnerships and collaborations. The involvement of organizations and leaders in the business, government, education, philanthropy and religious community not only provides specific expertise and support for the our programs, but also affirms the value of individuals and neighborhoods often ignored or dismissed by the rest of society.