He Made It Out of Prison. Now He’s Helping Others Do the Same.

prison
Stanley Frankart with his wife, Erica, and their daughters. Courtesy photo

(RNS) — Some 600,000 people leave U.S. prisons every year, only to encounter a series of roadblocks to reintegration.

Stanley Frankart knows. He was one of those people.

Frankart’s various forms of incarceration began at age 10, when he broke a schoolmate’s jaw. He then cycled in and out of juvenile detention centers and correctional institutions on various drug charges. When he was 16, he shot someone in the face and got a 10-year sentence.

By the time he left prison in 2017, he had spent 18 years under the supervision of the legal system.

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These days, Frankart goes back once a week to his old prison, Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio, to coach soon-to-be-released prisoners who are hoping to make a new life when they are released. Through a nonprofit he founded in 2015 called Young Christian Professionals, the 32-year-old former prisoner teaches a blend of what he calls Christian character development and professional business practices to help incarcerated people prepare for life on the outside.

Stanley Frankart. Photo courtesy of The Witness Foundation

“It was just natural that I was here to minister and pastor individuals who come from where I come from,” said Frankart, who is married and the father of two girls.

Young Christian Professionals has a staff of 75, mostly volunteers, who run an eight-week curriculum in prisons across Ohio — with startups in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois — followed up by one-on-one support for prisoners after they’re released.

The program pairs study of Christianity with practical employment skills. It teaches prisoners how to shake someone’s hand, look them in the eye, tie a necktie and properly enunciate. Frankart calls this “business etiquette,” much of which he himself learned from books.

About 1,800 prisoners and their family members have gone through the program, which Frankart started while still in prison. Funding comes mostly from The Witness Foundation, which trains and funds Black Christian leaders. (Frankart was part of the inaugural cohort of Witness Fellows and recently shared his story on a podcast with Jemar Tisby.)

Reentry is a huge challenge for many formerly incarcerated, who encounter a combination of laws and rules that block them from jobs, housing and voting.

report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that “a prior criminal conviction all but ensures a lifetime straddling the poverty threshold.” Most employers conduct background screening on candidates for full-time positions. Various state legislatures have enacted as many as 27,000 rules barring formerly incarcerated people from holding professional licenses. Public housing is often denied to people with a criminal record.

The Witness Foundation Witness Fellows 2021-2023. Courtesy photo

The Witness Foundation Witness Fellows 2021-2023. Courtesy photo

Those hardships disproportionately affect Black Americans. While Black Americans make up 13% of the population, they account for 38% of people in prisons and jails. They are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites.

President Joe Biden recently designated April as “Second Chance Month” to bring awareness to these barriers and promote opportunities for former prisoners. He also directed the federal Small Business Administration to offer more business startup loans to applicants with criminal records.

Frankart, who also leads a weekly “reentry worship” at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Canton, Ohio, believes church and parachurch ministries have not done a good enough job helping former prisoners reenter society.

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