For convicted felons getting out of jail, it is often difficult to re-establish themselves in society. Many businesses will not hire them, they are often denied access to educational opportunities and the resulting difficulties can often lead to them returning to the prison system. A one year-old Baltimore-based organization is attempting to change that.

The first group of students to graduate from the Lazarus Rite, an organization which works with returning citizens in an effort to help them rejoin society. (Courtesy photo)

The Lazarus Rite, founded one year ago by Christopher Ervin provides returning citizens with a second chance in society. The non-profit organization provides citizens with an educational program that includes job-readiness, group sessions, individual assessments, and referral services.

More than twenty years ago Ervin was convicted of a drug felony. In the ensuing years he joined the Marines, pursued a degree from Coppin State University and University of Maryland-College Park, been a radio host of a criminal justice show, testified before the Maryland General Assembly about criminal justice reform and ran, unsuccessfully, for city council in Baltimore’s 5th District.

“The Lazarus Rite was created to address the very intentional, policy protected intention to legally marginalize and thus relegate predominantly Black people, to servitude. The 13th amendment cleary states that: ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,’” Ervin told the {AFRO}.  “In other words, as punishment for crime, slavery and involuntary servitude is back in play. So at Lazarus Rite, we train people for an economic opportunity to lift them out of a perpetual state of low income servitude. This is how we will bring Baltimore back.”

The education and job-readiness program also provides training for obtaining a commercial driving license, an industry Lazarus Rite Vice President Wanda Ascencio said is growing and willing to hire returning citizens.

“It’s very inspirational,” a student named Mike said to the {AFRO}. “We get exposed to different resources.” Pointing to a board in one of the class rooms, he said, “Those are different jobs we might have a chance of landing.”

The program also assists with conquering personal issues such as anger management.

“Even though this program is still in its beginning stages, I’ve learned so much,” said student Sherrell Evans. “Besides what we learn from CDL training and the guest speakers that come in here, she taught me how to think on a different level. I have a very aggressive nature, especially for a female. She taught me to look at situations differently.”

The program’s first graduation occurred Sept. 28 with 45 students graduating and 10 of them receiving their CDL license.