PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - More than 500 ex-felons packed a Petersburg church Wednesday, all to begin new chapters in their lives. It was a re-entry "meet and greet" at the Good Shepherd Baptist Church, where employers and self-help groups welcomed former criminals, with compassion.
The event was created by Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa R. Crawford, where businesses and agencies gathered to help the recently released, ready for a second chance. In an interview Wednesday, Crawford said the idea is to reassure ex-felons that they are not cast aside by the society they hope to re-enter.
"To get a job, you need a social security card, an I.D. card, and we can help you take those first steps right here," Crawford said. "Even though you have been in a place where it has not been comfortable, now you can make the decision to change your life. It's all up to you."
One of the hundreds gathered was Steven Prosise, who said he is motivated by a vision of where he sees himself in a several months.
"I have a newborn baby, I'd like to be out there with a nice new job." Prosise said. "Something to take care of my family, doing the right thing."
Prosise overcame a drug addiction and recently served time for a drug conviction. He said right now, his support system is what matters the most, and Wednesday's event is a support system from the kindness of strangers.
"I'm an inmate coming out to better myself. And the people here, they're really welcoming you, they really have a lot to offer."
The event not only featured businesses looking to hire, but inspiration from people who have been behind bars, and are now ahead in life. Damien White wrote more than 200 poems while serving five years for attempted bank robbery. The poems are now compiled in his book, "Poems from Prison to Success."
White's message: anyone can make a change, but the change has to be with dedication.
"If you're going to be released, you have to change your lifestyle," White said in an interview Wednesday. "You can't come out doing the same things that got you incarcerated."
The forum also featured Mayor Franklin D. Deese, an ex-felon who is now mayor of his town, Marshville, N.C.
Businesses interested in future re-entry forums are asked to contact the Petersburg Sheriff's Office at (804) 733-2369.