Executive Director - Frontline Dads
“The prison industry has become a part of the mainstream conversation,” says Reuben Jones.
Reuben is all too familiar with the ups and downs of the prison industrial complex. Reuben was arrested at the age of twenty-two and served a fifteen-year prison sentence, over eighteen years ago. Reuben was born in Alabama and later moved to North Philadelphia. His mother and father hoped their migration from the deep South to the North, would provide their children with better opportunities. But little did they know, the change would have a devastating impact on Reuben. “I had a southern twang and would get teased a lot. I had to learn how, to get back at the guys who were teasing me. This started my cycle of violence and lashing out.” Reuben came from a family of simple means and begin bagging groceries to earn extra money. Soon he found himself with the wrong crowd hanging out at a popular shoe shop parlor. “I begin following the older guys in my neighborhood to make a living and was known as the errand boy.”
Following the wrong crowd would soon land Reuben in a juvenile detention center and later serving time in a state prison. “My head was in the clouds; it was hard to wrap my head around a fifteen-year prison sentence.” While incarcerated Reuben’s evolution began. In prison, Reuben joined a group that studied black liberation and transformation. “The older guys would give me books to read, and we talked in groups about transformation. Shortly after, Reuben and the other gentlemen begin to advocate for black studies.
“The majority of the inmates were black, they had classes for everything but nothing that told us about ourselves.”
Reuben and his peers, voices were heard and their request was granted. They began inviting keynote speakers, to speak about black liberation and empowerment. Soon after, Reuben and the other men begin promoting the Million Man March, also organized their own march within the prison.
Reuben’s life and experiences were also used as a catalyst, to build an infrastructure for men whom wanted to build family relationships, while in prison. At the time of his arrest, Reuben’s girlfriend was pregnant with his first child. Reuben faced difficulty; when his son’s mother refused, to bring his son to prison to visit him. Reuben didn’t waste any time filing paperwork, to have parental rights to his son. He was actively engaged in his son’s life and used a proxy to establish visitation. He also started taking parenting classes. “I knew, I had no experience being a father,” say Reuben. Shortly after, he was highlighted by his course instructor and asked to facilitate for the class Long Distance Dads. Reuben worked as a facilitator for this course for seven years up until his release from prison. He has advocated tirelessly for fathers; as well as effectively helped to bridge the gap between incarcerated fathers and their children. “I know what it’s like being an incarcerated father and the challenges men face navigating the system in prison.” Reuben was also fundamental in an initiative that is existing till this day called “A Day of Responsibility”. Many years ago, this initiative was called “The Day of Atonement”, which gave the men an opportunity to make amends for the wrong they’ve done. They wanted to be known as liberated black men and would write letters to family and victims expressing their apologies.
Despite his transformation, Reuben found life outside of prison to be extremely hard initially. Reuben recalls vividly, the struggles he faced reintegrating into his community and the workforce. “Times were bad,” says Reuben. “I remember living off five-dollars a week. I used to alternate between peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and Bushes baked beans, just to get through the week.” Reuben, like many other citizens returning home from incarceration, was discriminated against, when he attempted to search for gainful employment. After his release, Reuben was offered a job cleaning porta potty’s. However, this offer was short lived. When the employer found out Reuben had a criminal background, he was denied the position. This sent Reuben into a deep depression and left him feeling hopeless. “I thought, if I can’t get a job cleaning toilets. How can I ever be able to make a living for myself?”
Although, Reuben experienced countless doors slamming in his face due to his criminal background. He never gave up! “Once I got out of my depression, I decided to enroll in school,” says Reuben. “I never wanted to be in that position again. I needed to make changes, so, I could have access to better opportunities!” Reuben received his graduate degree at Lincoln University for Human Services and Counseling. After receiving his degree, he began working with individuals who suffered from mental health and substance abuse addiction for five-years.
“I worked with people, that fell through the cracks. The people that needed help the most!”
Experience has been the best teacher for Reuben; he has dedicated his life to serving others. Reuben is the Executive Director for a non-profit organization called Frontline Dads Inc, who advocates for fathers and others affected by mass incarceration. Reuben works directly in the field on various criminal justice initiatives; such as, ban the box, which was the start of criminal justice reform issues affecting employment, banking and education. “The work has evolved over time,” says Reuben. “It initially started with one thing and then moved to other areas that were equally important.” Reuben was awarded the Presidential Service Award in 2016, from former President Barack Obama, for his work in criminal justice reform.
When asked about the current conditions of criminal justice reform and race relations. Reuben says, “I see there is more of a unified effort, that speaks of the issues that affect everyone. Seeing everyone come together for a collective goal, regardless of race, creed or gender has really left me feeling empowered. Years ago, I don’t recall seeing a lot of the initiatives, that we see today!”
Reuben is very happy to see the progress and says; “when the time comes, I’m willing to pass the baton and wisdom I’ve acquired to the younger generation. I want to watch them run their race.” He firmly believes, “anyone who is oppressed regardless of color, age or condition, has the right to fight for their freedom!”