THE HOUSE OF LIFE PITTSBURGH
We are a non-profit, post incarceration re-entry center located in the Pittsburgh area. The journey from disenfranchisement, resentment, retaliation, incarceration and despair, to survival, contrition, redemption and ultimately service will be manifested in the House of Life - Pittsburgh.
We will build the House of Life - Pittsburgh "brick by brick". The bricks we will build with are solid and strong. Some of the bricks are tempered by imprisonment in a place called "The Wall" and other edifices of stone and razor wire. Some of the bricks were formed within a uniquely diverse network called the Elsinore-Bennu Think Tank for Restorative Justice. The strongest bricks, the bricks that will be used to form the foundation of the House of Life - Pittsburgh, are The Men
The State Correctional Institute of Pittsburgh (SCIP)’s intimidating 40-foot stone walls earned it the name “the wall.” SCIP was the first prison of the Atlantic plain as well as a major Civil War prison in
1863-1864. Armed correctional officers constantly manned the walkway atop the Wall, armed with automatic weapons to intervene in the event of an attempted escape. Razor wire, a coiled mesh of
metal strips with sharp edges, edged the Wall and further discouraged escape attempts. The facility,once under the Department of Welfare, later fell under the Department of Corrections in 1955, and at
that time it was renamed the State Correctional Institute (SCI) of Pittsburgh. In 2005 SCI Pittsburgh was mothballed but then again re-opened in 2007 as the state began preparing for an extensive expansion of the correctional system. It was expected that the prison would be open only for 3-5 years but it remained open until January of 2017, when DOC was announced that it would close that year.
As a penitentiary, SCI Pittsburgh housed inmates sentenced to more than two years in prison, most for violent crimes. Many men did their time quietly and left never to return. Others cycled in and out, the experience of incarceration only worsening their outlook and their inability to lead a productive, law-abiding life. Others exploited and preyed upon fellow inmates and even upon employees and guards. Some, especially those sentenced to decades or life without the possibility of parole – death by incarceration – slipped into despair. Criminologists still struggle to understand why some inmates succeed and others fail or even worsen.
THE ESLINORE-BENNU THINK TANK FOR RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
The Think Tank’s leading members include nearly a dozen men[OU1] who served decades at the Wall and other Pennsylvania prisons, but left better men. They and the other Think Tank members are attempting to
use their success stories to understand why they succeeded and how their journey can assist others who are re-entering society.
The EBTT began with a series of Inside-Out courses offered within the confines of a State Correctional Institute, Pittsburgh. The protagonist for the Inside-Out Programs at the State Correctional Institute of Pittsburgh is Dr. Norman Conti. According to Conti: “The classes attracted fifteen incarcerated men who spent two semesters studying
criminal justice, philosophy, and sociology with university undergraduates. The original Think Tank was formed the following summer. Each incarcerated member had been convicted of murder: all would say
that they were fundamentally transformed by their time in prison, and that this transformation included a desire to restore some of the harms they had done to society, as well as to protect others from the harms they suffered. While they all passionately hoped for eventual commutation, none had concrete grounds for expecting to ever be released from prison. Still, they wanted to use the wisdom their life experiences had given them to help other incarcerated men prepare to readjust to life outside prison. The original think tank was dispersed when SCI Pittsburgh closed, but rather than dying, it germinated. The main body – which now includes returning citizens, students and faculty from various disciplines and universities, activists, artists, political leaders, police, and prison and justice system employees continues to meet weekly on campus at Duquesne University.”
Six “returning citizens,” formerly incarcerated men, are the Think Tank’s heart and soul. Their determination, their courage, their devotion to service, are almost magical. They are sources of
inspiration and courage for all of the members of the Think Tank and beyond.
Those amazing men are:
Foster Tarver, Taili Thompson, Alexander Lewis, Ricky Lee Olds, Richard Garland, and Robert Wideman.
Once the reentry center is fully operational, the six men will guide daily operations. During the rehabilitation phase of the property, each returning citizen will contribute commensurate to what their skill level and physical capability allows. Members of the Think Tank will be exploring various ways to raise money not only for the purchase of the property but the rehabilitation and temporary maintenance as well. These men, our leaders, have found that they can succeed after prison only by devoting themselves to restoring their communities and helping others. That purpose has led them to become productive and self-sufficient. They intend to work in the House of Life to impart that attitude to those who will use the re-entry center as a transition, from prison to freedom, from dependence to autonomy and service.
By wisdom a house is built,
By understanding it is made firm:
Any by knowledge are its rooms filled
With every precious and pleasing possessions
A wise man is more powerful than a strong man,
And a man of knowledge than a man of might,
For it is by wise guidance that you wage your war,
And the victory is due to a wealth of counselors.
Proverbs 24: 3-6