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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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Project SERVE uses employment, education to stop crime

Project SERVE uses employment, education to stop crime

On Thursday, Nov. 16, Student Athlete Support Services (SASS), CCSJ, and Messina held “From Serving Time to Serving Others: A Panel on Prison Reform” in McGuire Hall. Former inmates and Project SERVE case managers John Huffington and Karriem Saleem El-Amin spoke on behalf of the association and informed the audience about the flaws in the current criminal justice system.

Project SERVE is a program by the Living Classroom Foundation that provides training initiatives and job opportunities for the disadvantaged in Baltimore, specifically former inmates returning from prison. SERVE allows ex-offenders to work on projects like solar panel installation and ship reparation to help them integrate into the workforce. The project aims to teach the Baltimore’s disadvantaged basic social skills to send them back into society.

Today, the U.S. has 2.3 million incarcerated people—the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Huffington, who served 32 years in prison and separately on death row, explained that on top of the 2.3 million incarcerated, there are 6 million people on either parole or probation. Project SERVE also tries to steer these people away from criminal behavior.

“We help these people obtain IDs and Social Security numbers because they can’t work without them and they have barriers to getting them. They learn how to maintain attendance and appearance and come to work. There’s just some rough edges that need to be sanded off—that’s all,” he said.

A prisoner for 42 years, El-Amin expressed how Project SERVE assisted him in his transition from imprisonment to citizen status.

“I was able to return from prison, find a job and marry, buy a car, and even travel to Saudi Arabia. It’s never too late. Something can always be done,” he said.

The government currently invests $80 billion in prison spending. Most of the funds are used to build new prisons.

“The phone companies tap into the prisoner’s phones and charge them ridiculous prices for local calls,” Huffington said. “And where do you think that money goes back to? The government.”

Huffington made license plates in the prison for 13 years and revealed that he never made more than $100 a month.

Next, the former inmates talked about the stereotypes placed on ex-offenders. El-Amin recounted his first few days home after his release from prison.

“I thought I was really cool when I came home. When I got out, I couldn’t wait to get Red Lobster. But here’s the thing. My friends and I are enjoying ourselves at the restaurant—seriously, I ate so many biscuits I couldn’t even eat the main meal—and suddenly, I felt this nervousness in my stomach. I was so used to having a man tell me what to do that I couldn’t enjoy my dinner,” he said.

They also explained the importance of education in keeping people away from crime, and how prisoners have limited access to these kinds of resources.

“I went to Coppin State on a Pell Grant my junior year,” Huffington said. “The prison population uses one percent of less than half of their funds, and they took our money for education away to build a new prison.”

El-Amin added, “When I went to school, I felt myself become more responsible.”

Huffington also explained the “Ban the Box” law and the effects maintaining the box poses on ex-offenders.

“The government vetoed the law to ban the box on college applications. The two things that stop criminals from breaking the law are employment and education,” he said. “Why can’t Karriem or I sit here with you and get an education?”

Lastly, Huffington and El-Amin expressed how the society can help reform the current criminal justice system.

“We need more programs, more support, and more volunteers,” Huffington said. “Just get involved.”

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Project SERVE uses employment, education to stop crime