PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tracey L. Fisher is on a mission to change the game on re-entry by leading by example.
“I have to show them that we are not animals– we are human beings,” says Fisher, referring to those with criminal pasts.
Fisher says he began a life of drugs and guns at age 16 when he made 40 dollars he used to purchase a pair of shell top Adidas. His parents kicked him out and the lifestyle choices made resulted in 22 years in the federal penitentiary.
“A lot of young males wear that as a badge of honor,” he says, “but really they don’t understand what they are missing.”
Fisher says being away from those he loved was hard time, it was dehumanizing and hardened him.
“I was a predator, but not knowing I was a predator,” he says.
But Fisher also used that time to change. He was coached by “lifers” while in prison and altered his mindset to be more positive. During his time inside, he says he studied the individuals in prison trying to figure out what kept many of the inmates coming back.
“The common denominator was- they were comfortable there,” he says.
Fisher became uncomfortable and decided when he got out he would never return. Forty-six months ago, he was finally released and immediately got to work. Now married, Fisher founded Gateway II Re-entry and developed the “Ten Steps to Re-entry,” a personal code he lives by.
“It takes a strong individual to come home and be strong and be focused,” he says, noting the Ten Steps are design to help.
He says the first priorities are to find a home environment, a job, a spouse or partner, reunite with children, and change friend associations, among other steps. Fisher mentors hundreds of men and women transitioning back into society through workshops and one on one sessions. He also says he’s helped 350 ex-offenders find employment. Fisher holds crime summits and voter education workshops. His goal– create a voting block of returning citizens to help build political power.
“I’ve registered 33,000 ex-offenders,” he says, “we’re going to be able to vote people into office.”
Fisher is also in school at Harcum College. He works with city officials, who declared June “Re-Entry Month.”
But Fisher says his real goal is to get to men and women– and change their mindset before they commit a crime. He wants them to know they can achieve goals and redesign a better life.
“I want them to see the glass half full, not half empty,” he says.