Pastors, parole officers, and former prisoners all gather in one room, celebrating the achievements of many who are now working in the city again after completing the re-entry program. 

“We choose our own path,” said Larry White.

The 45-year-old man will be the first to tell you – the path he was on for the first 43 years of his life wasn’t the best. It lead him to prison, serving a six year sentence.

“I had to learn something real quick – I went into prison one way and I vowed to come out a different man.”

He is striving to do that now after graduating from the re-entry program organized by those at Back to Basics. Those enrolled take two classes – anger management and man up, a course where they learn about accepting responsibility.

This re-entry program, funded by the city, has the lowest recidivism rates of any type of program like this in the area; seven of the 138 men wound up in prison after being enrolled.

The coordinator, Pastor Charles Walker, helps train those who have been in prison for life afterwards when they’re out, working to teach those who have been incarcerated job skills.

“If we don’t set them up with jobs, they’re going to wind up back in there, they’ll be doing what landed them there in the first place.”

The pastor says the city needs to find more funding and opportunities to help those coming out as they’re seeing more people who are looking to change their lives through enrolling in this program. In the last three weeks, the pastor received 40 referrals for people who are hoping to someday find themselves in this room, like White, who is now a graduate of the program.

White is trying to give back too — creating an organization called MOMMS – men overcoming mistakes ministry service. He wants to work with inner city families and keep them out of the system.

“Our youth are out here that never heard the word love, nobody tells them they’re special and can be somebody.”

White says that happened to him – growing up in the Jefferson/Utica area of the city, life was tough. 

“It’s easy to do wrong.”

He fell in with the wrong people, dropped out of high school. So he never expected to find himself here in a room with pastors and parole officers, with a high school diploma and receiving recognition from city leaders. 

And he vows to remain on the path which will make him and many other proud. 

“I don’t plan on returning, ever. Because I am going to be true to myself and do what is right.”