A group of lifers made a pledge when they left prison after 22-30 years that they would begin the process of restoring to the community some of what they took decades before. As these men came out of prison they formed an organization with the intent of doing their part to ensure that youngsters would steer clear of the path that led them into destructive lives which were full of bad choices. That organization was the Fair Chance Project, which is a program of FACTS-Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes.

The Fair Chance Project is intent on carrying out the fight to free thousands who have spent far too many years behind bars long after they accepted full responsibility for their crimes, have been fully rehabilitated and fulfilled all requirements to become eligible for parole. Members of the program also want to ensure that the image they held years ago is no longer who they are today.

One project that was launched this week was an event to feed 150 families surrounding the Brookins Community A.M.E. Church. It was the first of many events Fair Chance hopes to do each month and with time, even more frequently.

“This organization is about people who come home from prison and are really trying to give back to the community,” said founder Jimmy Thompson. “Aside from the food distribution, we also have a handyman service. A lot of these men are talented and educated, some have degrees and others have certification that they received in prison, from electricians, to plumbers, to X-ray technicians, to optometry.”

Aside from giving back to the community, the program also works to transform unjust sentencing laws and parole policies while protecting the human and constitutional rights of those impacted by the prison system.

Thompson says that a big part of the Fair Chance Project is being a support system for lifers, both those who have been released and those still behind bars, and their families.

“We have classes and legal workshops to help educate the community about their rights. Many times the public doesn’t know what is going on behind bars and how they can help their loved ones. Sometimes they just don’t have anyone else to talk to and we provide that as well. It’s heartwarming when you have a woman who has a husband and a son in prison and she comes in crying, not knowing what to do, but by the end of a meeting she realizes she isn’t alone. She gets to see us who have been through the system and have made it out. It gives her hope.”

Fair Chance holds informational meetings every second and fourth Saturday at their headquarters on 3982 S. Figueroa St., #210. The program helps families by sitting in on board hearings, helping to write letters for parolees, and helping inmates and families know the criteria for passing the psych evaluations to help ensure that they are approved for parole.

Thompson who was released from prison in 2007 recalls the difficulty in seeing the way that the parole board plays games with people’s lives. “It’s hard to even qualify for parole, but then sometimes when you’re approved the paperwork goes through to the governor and then it gets denied on that level. I’ve seen men dressed and ready to go home and their families come to pick them up and at the last minute the guards tell them they aren’t eligible for release. They want to keep people there longer than they need to be because it pays to keep us. They receive $50,000 a year per inmate and a lot of the times these men are working for 40 cents an hour. So men who were supposed to serve 12 years end up being in prison for 30 years.”

Fair Chance also has launched a radio program on KPFK 90.7 FM called “Think Outside the Cage,” which interviews people who have served long sentences, and gives advice to listeners who can also call in and ask questions. The program runs every Saturday from 1:30 to 2 p.m.

“As long as one person is locked up illegally, no one is free,” said Thompson.

For more information on the Fair Chance Project,visit the website at www.fairchanceproject.org.