BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The auditorium erupts in applauds as Jerome Hearn slowly stands, looking around at the crowd.
“I never really thought I would be doing this,” said Hearn, who has had a long, winding road getting to the stage.
The 42-year-old from Georgia, was raised on the East Side of Buffalo. He had doubts about being able to do this after spending more than two decades in and out of prison. His latest stint lasted longer than four years.
“I had the same mentality and that’s what got me back in prison. When I went to prison here, I saw I didn’t want to be like this. I woke up.”
His wake up call came in the form of a meeting with Pastor Charles Walker – the manager of the re-entry program.
“Sometimes individuals think they can make it on their own and some do but a vast number of them don’t,” said Pastor Walker.
The statewide recidivism rates are pretty high — around 90% of young men who are incarcerated before turning 19 find themselves back in jail before they’re 28. The re-entry program’s recidivism rate is significantly lower – less than 3%. Of the 138 people enrolled in the program, only 4 have been incarcerated again.
“If you don’t have a mechanism in place, chances are you will go back to what bounced you inside of prison. That’s why it’s important to have support.”
And Hearn says that is what has made all of the difference now.
“I wish my mom could be here,” said Hearn, through tears. “I know my brother would be proud.”
Hearn says he never thought he’d be able to say he is proud of himself but after graduating from Erie 1 BOCES, holding a full-time job now – he is and he’s determined to stay on his path.
“My mentality, where it was and where it is now, I know if I can do this, I can do anything.”