Everyone, from politicians to giant corporations, talks the talk of social justice and moral imperatives. So, it’s rare to find those who actually walk the walk by delivering tangible results to improve society in a meaningful way. I’ve stumbled across one of those who walks the walk, an inspiring group you will not want to forget: House of Life of Pittsburgh (HLP).
A Small Few Making a Huge Difference
Lou Gentile is a friend and one of the driving forces behind HLP. Lou is one of the most gracious human beings I know, but his kindness and pleasant demeanor belie a steely resolve you do not want to test. He was highly decorated as a law enforcement officer, spending decades working undercover in the narcotics and organized crime divisions of various state agencies. Today, Lou runs a private security firm he founded and teaches at Pitt and Duquesne. He’s dealt up close and personally with the challenges of crime, incarceration, and ex-convict struggles upon release.
Lou doesn’t just care or simply talk about making a difference; he acts.
A number of years ago, he teamed up with a small group of individuals, consisting of a criminal justice academic and a group of formerly incarcerated men who did their time (one serving nearly 50 years in prison and two serving almost 40 years in jail) and turned their lives around through education and discipline. This group committed to make a difference in criminal justice reform.
That was the genesis of the creation of HLP. The founders and leadership of HLP know the criminal justice system and lived on both sides of “the wall.” It’s not an issue in the abstract for them; it’s real life.
HLP’s Twin Objectives
Success in this effort hinges on achieving two objectives.
The first is to establish, reinforce, and grow higher education opportunity in prison populations. I know what you’re thinking, because initially I thought the same thing: why in the world do we need to spend taxpayer money to send the incarcerated to college?
Upon reflection, the answer is quite simple and rational. Society suffers when an individual commits a serious crime, is incarcerated, and then is released to the streets to commit another crime and end up back in prison. That’s another victim of another crime, another fractured family, a local community subjected to increased strife, a criminal justice system further strained, more government expenditure, and less tax revenue. We all lose in this revolving door of repeat offenders, not just the person recommitting the crime.
A pathway designed to make productive use of an inmate’s time while serving a sentence by taking up coursework toward a degree drastically improves the chances of a positive outcome for both inmate and society upon eventual release. Data show that the recidivism (i.e., when a prior incarcerated commits another crime after release) rate for inmates who did not graduate from college is at an alarming 80 percent while the recidivism rate for incarcerated who graduated from college is only 11 percent.
Recidivism is a lingering and growing cost to society and devastating to the individual offender, new victim, and their families. Substantially reducing America’s recidivism rate is a massive value creator for society. HLP understands this, and its leadership experienced its benefits firsthand.
The second objective of HLP is to establish an infrastructure and support system to efficiently integrate released inmates into society. This is straightforward bricks and mortar: modest homes close to public transportation and jobs, where a small group of “returning citizens” live while under supervision. An added benefit would be realized by HLP acquiring neglected buildings in need of repair, upgrading them, and then putting them to good use.
Help House of Life of Pittsburgh Make a Difference
Lou and his team, the catalysts for HLP, are living proof of how education and well-thought-out post-incarceration integration change lives. Turning HLP loose will create a multiplier effect that will benefit individuals, families, economically disadvantaged communities, free enterprise, and society.
The hard work has been done. These doers set the vision. They drew the blueprint. They created the vehicle in HLP. It’s time for HLP to realize its full potential.
Now it’s simply a matter of money. Join me in supporting this noble endeavor.
To learn more, contact Lou Gentile at firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a tax-deductible donation, please send a check payable to “House of Life of Pittsburgh” and mail it to:
House of Life of Pittsburgh
c/o Lou Gentile
181 Clearview St.
Beaver Falls, PA 15010