Harold Bailey’s three siblings went to Brown, Yale and Loyola. At the age of 23, Bailey went to prison.
His near 20-year incarceration—for a fight that resulted in a homicide—affected his entire family. But instead of turning their backs on him, family members’ support helped Bailey muster the determination to keep learning and improving through reading and continuing his formal education. As a result, Bailey’s post-prison life has been successful. He earned his bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. He has been steadily employed, is a dedicated church-goer and has worked as a literacy tutor for others.
Too many former prisoners don’t share his post-release experience, Bailey says, and much of that has to do with the lack of support while in prison and after release.
“Fortunately, I had incredible family support,” he says. “Many individuals who have been incarcerated are around negative naysayers and toxic personalities. And they are disabled in terms of literacy. They cannot read, cannot write and cannot compute. My life’s passion is to assist them because I know the struggles they go through.”
Through the Re-entry Employment and Economic Empowerment Program, Bailey will work with formerly incarcerated black males to help improve their re-entry outcomes. Over the course of his fellowship, he will work one-on-one with up to 125 men to help them finish their schooling—or help them learn to read and write, if necessary—and go on to sustainable careers.
Heritage United Church of Christ, of which Bailey is a member, will serve as host site to the project. And Bailey also will partner with Tuerk House, a substance abuse treatment and recovery center.
With the assistance of these and other partners, Bailey will help his program participants develop a resume and short- and long-term goals. He’ll provide educational, employment and life counseling as well as deceptively simple practical information such as how to replace a lost Social Security card, the meaning of internal fortitude and persistence and why smiling is a much better way to greet people than scowling.
“When you’re incarcerated, smiling may not have been the thing to do,” Bailey says. “But we’re not incarcerated anymore. Many of them have to learn how to relate outside of prison.”
He’ll also motivate the men he works with by continuously reminding them of their value to their families and their communities.
“I came out of prison a better person, so I feel I have a moral incentive to give back,” Bailey says. “Many of these men fear failure, but many of them fear success. They don’t believe they deserve it. It is important that they learn to wake up to their own humanity and self-worth.”
In prison, Bailey read voraciously. One book that motivated him was Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. A quote from Mandela serves both as Bailey’s personal inspiration and a mantra for the men who he hopes will experience success in his program: “There are few misfortunes in this world that cannot be turned into personal triumphs if one has an iron will and the necessary skills.”