This year, over 650,000 men, women, and children will step forward from behind bars return to their communities. By the numbers, the vast majority will be African-American men, a group that is far more likely to spend time incarcerated than in higher education. After years of forced submission and often with little education, each man and woman will have to find his or her own path to rebuilding a life that was interrupted by prison. Most will fail. Returning to their roots with a criminal record, to neighborhoods burdened by crime, drugs, and poverty, barely half manage to stay out of prison, and all struggle to find work that will allow them to stabilize their lives, much less grow and prosper.
In the City of Detroit, nearly 4,000 men will be coming back this year from prison, to communities devastated by blight and poverty, where there are few thriving business, much less paying jobs. Over 1,500 of these men will return to just eight zip codes, neighborhoods with some of the highest rates of poverty, crime, unemployment and fatherless households in the state. With official unemployment rates holding at 15-20%, and estimates of actual underemployment at two to three times that, checking the felony box on applications are rarely asked back for interviews with major employers.
Power of the People
In tough times, Detroit has led the world in innovation, and it is doing so once again today. As the city faces the challenge of resizing a city with thousands of abandoned homes, hundreds of gardens, large and small, have been planted around the city, and communities have come together to lead a food revolution. From kids and mothers to laid-off workers and retirees, the people of Detroit are showing America not only how to grow healthy produce, but how to grow healthy lives and communities.
This green revolution is transforming the lives of many, along with the landscapes of our cities. It holds the potential to transform the lives of men who are searching for a path back to life on the outside, after years wasted in prison. Replanting Roots is a proposed program of education and empowerment. Through urban agriculture, we can provide a handful of young men each year an opportunity to learn the patience, hard work, and business skills needed to develop sustainable, successful businesses in tomorrow’s green economy. We plan to rebuild connections, communities and the landscape of Detroit through planting vibrant public and private gardens and educational institutions. We are gathering the team and resources needed to launch a successful pilot program this summer, but need the support of a wide community, from funders to farmers, political leaders and community organizers, and everyone who wants to see healthy organically food grown in Detroit in a way that builds community, and develops our local food system equitably. We need you all. With your help, we can start planting a new path for Detroit’s future today.
Our plan is to transform two city blocks of Detroit, near neighborhoods with high rates of returning offenders, into an urban agriculture project and learning center, where a group of young men just out of prison will work and learn on 10 month paid fellowships.