Gateway

Tracey L. Fisher, center, facilitates a reentry support group during a session at Gateway Reentry Program.

— TRIBUNE PHOTO BY NATHANIEL LEE

Each week, a group of returning citizens meet at the Community Hub, located at the annex of the Francis Myers Recreation Center at 58th Street and Kingsessing Avenue, where they participate in a ten-step reentry program.

Founded by Tracey L. Fisher, the program consists of returning citizens who have recently been released from incarceration and seek to maintain their freedom and rejoin society.

“I didn’t have this when I came home and that’s why I had to start my own reentry group,” he said.

Leaving prison, Fisher said he had the things most reentry groups focus on like helping returning citizens get identification, social security cards or drives licensees. Fisher didn’t need those things.

“What I needed was some guidance — so when those voices in my head tempted me to break the law in order to go make a living, where was that reentry at?” he said.

“Every reentry program I went to was just worried about getting a grant from the federal or state government and that was that.”

Fisher decided to do something about it by forming Gateway to Reentry.

“It’s a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and we teach that habitual breaking of the law is an addictive lifestyle,” he said. “Like AA and NA give recovering addicts twelve steps to follow, we give those in our group ten-steps.”

Like AA and NA recovery programs, those in Gateway to Reentry also are assigned sponsors whom they can call at any time for help, guidance and support.

“We put a lot of barn fires out like that,” Fisher said.

Fisher, himself a returning citizen who served 23 years in prison, said the effort was conceived as a result of his own experiences and those of other returning citizens.

“It comes a time in a man’s life when he is going to continue to do wrong or decide to do right,” Fisher said. “You have to be on the frontline and you have to be out there with individuals who are breaking the law and let them see you living a successful life.”

A successful life is defined as one lived in accordance with the law.

Wayne Datts is a participant of the Gateway to Reentry Program, where he was assigned from a prison work release program four months ago.

“I was a part of the pioneer class,” he said. His first week in the program, Gateway helped him to find employment with a construction company.

“The employment is really a small part of this, it’s really the change in your thinking,” Datts said.

Fisher emphasizes employment itself isn’t enough to keep people from criminal activities and evidence of this is the fact quite a few people in prison also had jobs prior to their incarceration.

It’s the thinking that has to change.

“If you give somebody a job without changing their mindset then you just have an employed criminal,” Fisher said.

At 52, Datts said he has been in and out of prison since he was a teenager.

“This is the first time in my life where I changed my thinking; I wish I could have come across a program like this or met Mr. Fisher at an earlier age, I would have saved myself a lot of jail,” he said.

Basil Ali had similar sentiments about the program.

“I’ve been attending since they began about a year ago,” Ali said. “It’s helped me immensely because it keeps me in a positive state of mind. If I’m feeling like I’m shaking or wavering I can call and get in contact with the people I need to speak to; it’s a great resource for me.”

The Gateway to Reentry Program meets every Wednesday and Saturday at 5800 Kingsessing Ave., noon. Those seeking more information can call (267) 622-5169.

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