Mar 20, 2024

Everyone Deserve A Fresh Start

by: Damon McWhite

The only true fresh start is the one that is made with a clean slate.

- Unknown

Rec Crew at work. Photo: Steve Weinik.

This April is National Second Chances month, an effort to continue the national effort to unlock brighter futures for approximately 70 million Americans—people who seek a fresh start to rebuild their lives after paying their debt to society.

Proclaimed by President Joe Biden in April of 2023, this observance helps individuals, communities, and agencies across the country recognize the importance of reentry and their role in supporting the safe and successful reentry of adults and youth.

Recently, members of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition adopted the term “Fresh Start” in place of “Second Chance.”  Some may see this as an insignificant change, but for many people, a fresh start may well be their first real opportunity to flourish.

Rec Crew at work. Photo: Steve Weinik.

For many people involved in the justice system, the fresh start they are given following release may well be their first real opportunity to succeed. Coming home with a desire and drive to elevate and upskill themselves is a top priority just behind reconnecting with their loved ones and community.  For those seeking support, the city of Philadelphia offers a variety of resources and programs to help with that transition.

Mural Arts is proud to help people achieve their full potential after justice-system involvement by providing programming that restores community engagement and workforce readiness through the power of participatory public art.


Rec Crew at Work. Photo: Steve Weinik.

We believe that any justice-impacted individual deserves fair and equitable career opportunities. In fact, opening up opportunities for system-involved people is one of our Restorative Justice program’s top priorities. By prioritizing the reentry process, we can help reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Involvement in the justice system touches every aspect of a person’s life. It can lead to significant collateral consequences—including difficulty obtaining housing, education, and employment. Our cohort programs are designed to help justice-impacted people by supplying them with the resources to find employment, learn new personal and professional skills, and earn additional income as program participants.

The Guild is a paid life readiness program geared towards addressing the needs of 18-24-year-old justice-impacted Philadelphians.  Over 16 weeks, our participants engage in professional development and learn to foster mediation and conflict resolution practices through the lens of art and the creative economy.  Throughout these 16 weeks, participants experience the power of restorative healing through various facilitators and workshops, trips to cultural institutions, and exposure to mural making.  We provide access to various support services from community organizations and $16/hr for 20 hours a week of programming.

The Rec Crew is composed of Guild Alumni and individuals returning from incarceration. Through mural making, carpentry, and other creative projects, program participants are guided by artists and other skilled professionals to transform their neighborhoods and themselves.  Job readiness, through the development of life skills and mentorship, is an essential element of the curriculum. Participants have also built personal and professional growth plans, which include communications, teamwork, critical thinking, problem-solving, digital etiquette, and essential job entry skills like résumé-building and interview preparation to help participants secure future employment.


Fellow Mark Loughney sketching. Photo: Steve Weinik.

Launched in 2017, the Reimagining Reentry Fellowship funds selected artists impacted by the justice system to examine the problems posed by mass incarceration on both a personal and a systemic level, illuminating the human cost and potential solutions. The Fellowship includes practical, educational, career, and artistic skill development and opportunities for each artist. These opportunities are provided through Mural Arts and other partnering cultural organizations across the city. In addition, the fellow will design and create a mural focused on the impact of the justice system on their lives and their art practice.

Through the power of public art, we want our participants to understand that justice-impacted communities can be transformed by the restorative practices we use in programming. But most importantly, we want them to understand that they have a support system in our staff and the city of Philadelphia.

While we will always support “Fresh Starts,” candidates for reentry deserve the grace of a clean slate.  They deserve the opportunity to not be burdened by their past and the ability to present themselves without bias.  We hope you’ll join us this month and beyond as we provide “Second Chances” but focus on creating “Fresh Starts.”

Last updated: Mar 21, 2024

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