Do Crime, Pay Time: And Then What?
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “Everyone has a past. Every single person, has a past,” says Ramona Brant.
In South End, one night in the middle of the week, people gathered at a church to receive a man, newly released from prison, back into the community.
“I’m 44 years old, I’ve been in and out of prison my whole life,” says Robert Smith.
He most recently spent five and a half years behind bars for wire fraud and identity theft.
He got out a year ago, and then got into drugs.
And then he met Chris Guffey, who heads up a local non-profit that provides practical and spiritual help to men and women transitioning from prison to the real world. His goal: “Instead of a punitive system or community, to have a restorative community, a united community,” he says.
Guffey helps restore and unite, in part, by throwing parties. Simple, no strings attached, parties, to help people like Smith see love. Feel love. And then spread love.
Smith says, “They saw what I could do and what I could be and they saw what I started doing.”
“We can’t solve all the issues, but we can be their friend,” says Scott Pace. He runs the faith-based People of the Second Chance here in Charlotte. He helps throw these celebrations. They’re called “Prodigal Parties,” named for a story in the Bible, where a father throws his son a party, to show love.
Ten have taken place in Charlotte so far, including one for Ramona Brant. “It was a wonderful experience, to be honored, to be coming home, back into society,” she says.
In 1995, Brant was sentenced to life in prison, for a first-time, non-violent drug offense. In December 2015, President Obama granted her clemency. She returned to Charlotte in February. She says, “We’re shunned. We have that stigma on us when we return.”
These parties celebrate a second chance and pour love into the people who need it most. Smith says, “Nobody’s perfect. I’ve been caught for my crimes. And I’ve paid severely.”