Thursday, January 9, 2014

Letter From the Founder

Dear Friends:
I spent eighteen years in prison, fourteen of them on Angola's death row, for a crime I did not commit. I want to reverse the rate of exonerees like me returning to prison by transforming our experiences of freedom. I want to empower productive, skilled workers to be leaders for social change in post-Katrina New Orleans.   
Exonerated prisoners (exonerees) and returning long-term prisoners re-enter the free world with high hopes of a fresh start but are soon trapped in the cycle of poverty and disillusionment that led to their original imprisonment. To enable us to break this cycle, I will create for us a positive understanding of life's potential and for society an understanding that recidivism (even by exonerees) is caused by lack of opportunity. If returning prisoners succeed, the whole community benefits. 
Returning prisoners are people stripped of self-sufficiency, control and autonomy. In response, I came up with the idea of an exoneree-run re-entry program: Resurrection After Exoneration. The program has been designed to empower us to regain these attributes by creating an opportunity to rise up as individuals and say "I can do this", rather than having someone else tell us "You must do this".
Through a supportive residential program we give exonerees and returning long-term prisoners a place to live and learn, and plan to run a business that sustains the home and provides us with leadership and entrepreneurial skills. We use group counseling, education and training opportunities to help with life skills. We are the first of our kind; instead of working for free for the prison, we work together to build solidarity, build our confidence, and rebuild our city. 
When I was released from death row and was among my exonerated brothers in New Orleans, we sat together and dreamt of ways to create opportunities that were not available to us when we came home. We realized we needed a transitional house and work environment in which we could slowly and successfully embrace our new environment. The idea for RAE was born.
I hope you will learn more about us, stand with us, and support us as we try and change our corner of the world. The RAE Transitional Housing and Resource Center has been purchased and renovated; it is the result of many months of labor from exonerees and volunteers working together. That is the type of team work it will take to get to the next level of transition. Come be a part of helping these men stay focused, and stay free.  

John Thompson
Founder and Director, RAE

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