US Muslim Group Rebuilds Imprisoned Lives

CAIRO – Offering work opportunities to felons who have served their term in prison, a Chicago nonprofit Muslim organization has been praised for helping the community by employing the recently incarcerated not to return to jail.

Jack Appleton is one of those helped by the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, or IMAN.

“I had just got out of Pekin, and was looking for a job and a place to stay,” Appleton, 62, told Chicago Sun Times.

“Most people don’t even want to talk to you,” Appleton said. “I just was looking for a chance.”

Appleton’s search for work was not going well as he was recently released from prison after 13 years for bank robbery.

A chance to return to the society and work was offered by IMAN, a nonprofit organization designed to strengthen bonds between black and Muslim Chicagoans.

IMAN’s programs include a medical clinic, outreach to store owners, and Green ReEntry, which helps the recently incarcerated get work experience and housing.

“I heard from word of mouth about IMAN,” he said.

Now, Appleton works in rehabbing a brick bungalow on Fairfield just off West 63rd Street in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood.

“Its purpose is to take vacant, vandalized and foreclosed homes and use them as a source of job training for the formerly incarcerated,” said Rami Nashashibi, 44, executive director of IMAN.

“It utterly transforms the quality of life on those blocks.”

Founded in 1997, IMAN today has a dozen staffers and receives support from entities that range from the Chicago Community Trust to a charity in Qatar, AlFaisal Without Borders.

Community Too

Rebuilding deserted houses, Green ReEntry was offering a help to the community as well.

“We’re doing a total gut rehab of this house,” Matthew Ramadan, the Green ReEntry manager, an experienced carpenter, said.

“It was a former gang hangout, drug house, caused a lot of problems for folks on the block. When we started, the roof had totally collapsed. We just got to it in time.”

He now oversees the work of Appleton and three others.

“All of our guys are new to this,” said Ramadan.

“What we do is, they learn to swim by getting thrown in the water. We throw them right in on the job. They react very, very positively.”

“I love it,” said Walter Jones III, who spent 12 years in prison for dealing drugs.

“I can actually see what I’ve done. I can actually see I’ve learned something. It kept me positive, kept me grounded.”

This is the fifth house Green ReEntry has rehabbed. Hasan Smith, who served 27 years for murder, worked on its first.

“I’m a licensed contractor now,” said Smith, 57.

“It’s wonderful, man. A long journey, a long struggle. But it feels good.”

For Appleton and others, Islam came as a force leading away from violence by offering them a new chance for a straight life.

“I was incarcerated when I was 16; locked up for murder,” said Rashid Grant, 38, who spent 20 years in prison, over the whine of power tools.

“I used the experience to grow, to become a man. Used the experience to study Islam. I studied and I studied and I chose to become Muslim. The changes I went through were unbelievable. I’m more human now. I gained my humanity back. More humble. More passionate about life. ”

“I love it,” Grant said. “This is a chance to give back to the community and work with my hands.”