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Childhood friends open pizza place that exclusively employs formerly incarcerated people

Kurt Evans and Muhammed Abdul-Hadi want to give formerly incarcerated individuals a chance to break the vicious cycle and rehabilitate themselves.

Childhood friends open pizza place that exclusively employs formerly incarcerated people
Image source: Instagram/downnorth_pizza

It can be incredibly hard for formerly incarcerated people to get their life back on track when they are denied jobs. Two friends from Philadelphia have started a pizza place that exclusively hires incarcerated individuals, to reduce the city's recidivism rates or, the likelihood of a former felon to re-offend upon release. "We're changing the quality of life for our community by being the hand that feeds and teaching others to do the same," Kurt Evans, co-founder of Down North Pizza, told Good Morning America. "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime" is their mission. Being unable to find employment hinders their ability to lead a dignified life, and increases their chances of repeating an offense or getting in trouble again. This also severely affects the family, especially if they look up to them as breadwinners.



Kurt Evans and Muhammed Abdul-Hadi have been friends forever and they've always been passionate about giving back to the community. So when they decided to open their own pizza place, they saw an opportunity to help incarcerated individuals. The pair opened Down North Pizza in North Philadelphia and decided to hire formerly incarcerated individuals to run the place. Evans and Abdul-Hadi knew this would also help the families of those individuals and also help reduce Philadelphia's recidivism rate. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, employment is one of the key factors in reducing recidivism. Incarcerated individuals can often get caught up in a vicious cycle and not escape the system. Down North Pizza hopes to provide a space for them to live a dignified life. The place is known for its Detroit-style pizzas.



Down North Pizza hires people previously involved in the justice system and also trains them to help ease them into the job. The place currently has eight employees and they were taught different kitchen skills to help run the place. "We just want to meet people where they're at and help them along the way," said Evans. "It was very important for us to help these people coming from the system and break the cycle of mass incarceration." Evans and Abdul-Hadi go the whole distance in trying to help ease them back into society. Employees, who struggle with housing, are offered six months of free rent at the upstairs apartment, which helps to save up for a permanent living.



The American justice system has a huge incarceration problem, with the country having the highest incarceration rate anywhere in the world. Even larger countries such as India, China, and other totalitarian countries, fall behind America when it comes to incarceration. A 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) revealed that close to 2.2 million adults were held in America's prisons and jails at the end of 2016. That means for every 100,000 people residing in the United States, approximately 655 of them were behind bars, reported CNN. Even worse was that two-thirds of all inmates in local jails were not convicted and were in jail simply because they didn't have money to post bail and their court hadn't reached a verdict on their case, according to a BJS report in 2016.


The American justice system is also skewed against the African-American community. Despite African-Americans making up only about 12% of the total US population, they represent 33 per cent of the federal and state prison population. Evans and Abdul-Hadi are hoping other establishments find similar ways to give back to their communities."If you want to get involved, you can start by partnering with local organizations that are like-minded," said Evans. "Usually the community is speaking to you about what it needs, you just have to listen."

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