Floor manager Gerald quickly disassembles a desktop computer for recycling at Recycle Works. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Who knew there was that much money to be made from old computers. More importantly, who knew that ex-offenders could build new lives from those spare parts. NPR affiliate Newsworks Philly, offers stories that begin with two Vincentians in Germantown and how their program, PAR-Recycle Works, led to the stories of four changed lives.

Two Vincentians: Timothy Lyons, C.M.,  and Laura Ford, are involved in a process of restoring lives through recycling electronics. Actually, it is not so much their stories as the stories they are making possible for Malik, Maurice, Gerald and Brandon.

PAR Recycle Works is a social enterprise and a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation. It began in the ministry of St. Vincent Depaul parish but has become a larger collaborative work beyond the parish.

Chestnut Hill resident Laura Ford, a long-time parishioner at St. Vincent’s, has worked in prison ministry and helped develop and run reintegration programs for formerly incarcerated men and women for almost 20 years.

Fr. Timothy Lyons, CM, former pastor and now Assistant Superior at the Motherhouse of the Eastern Province in the same neighborhood, continues his involvement from his new assignment.

“After a number of years working with people returning from incarceration, the clearest need was the need for employment.  It took us a while to figure out the need for employment and the need to serve the earth through recycling could be joined together for mutual benefit.”

They are key figures in a Germantown nonprofit in St. Vincent’s parish that offers that offers ex-offenders new life through temporary jobs recycling electronics.


At $10 an hour, three days a week, it’s not the kind of gig that will make paying for life much easier. But participants, such as Malik, say the value of a place like Recycle Works extends far beyond a paycheck.

“It gives a guy a sense of self, and it prepares him for a skill set going out into the workforce. Which is to say, he gets up every morning, on time, he shows up for work, he works hard, he feels fulfilled,” said Malik, who served 20 years after committing an “economic” crime.


Fellow ex-offender Maurice, operations manager at Recycle Works, said the nonprofit also provides its employees with a much-needed support system.

Coming home from prison is often harder than being behind bars, where there are no real-life responsibilities and far less temptation. Having someone to talk to — someone who knows what you’re going through — helps, he said.

“I’ve been in the desert,” said Maurice.

Maurice has been out of prison since 2011. He was arrested after trying to rob an undercover cop. He was selling drugs at the time, but said he wasn’t making enough to feed his family.

Six years later, Maurice said he still misses the “brotherhood” — the sense of community — he had while he was locked up. It’s why he’s happy to hand out his cell phone number to employees at Recycle Works who may be struggling to find their footing on the outside.

“A lot of guys just say, ‘Tell me something good.’ And one of the things I tell them: ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ Or they’ll say, ‘I’m thinking about doing X.’ Listen, that’s not what you want to do. Do you want to go back to jail? Sometimes they need that wake up call,” said Maurice.

The hope is that the organization can be a stepping stone for securing permanent employment — for staying on the straight path.

Board member Laura Ford likens Recycle Works to a nest, a place that nurtures and teaches its employees they’re valuable despite their criminal pasts.

“There’s all kinds of valuable things inside of a computer — gold, copper, and all kinds of precious metals. And there’s all kinds of precious things inside these men,” said Ford.

Employees typically stay on for six to nine months though there’s no hard cut-off for leaving the program.



For pictures and the stories of Gerald and Brandon visit NPR affiliate Newsworks

See also earlier CMEAST story

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