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Philly e-waste recycler employs, supports formerly incarcerated people

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E-waste recycling and management is also a growing industry and Jones was inspired to start PAR-Recycle Works after learning about a similar program in Indianapolis called RecycleForce.

He was also motivated by his own experience of being incarcerated for almost seven years.

“Going to jail was one of the best things that ever happened to me, in hindsight,” Jones said. “It was that catalyst for me changing my life.”

PAR-Recycle Works in North Philadelphia hires people who were formerly incarcerated to deconstruct electronics. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jones’ post-prison life wasn’t easy. After his release in 2011, Jones was ready to start over but had a hard time finding work.

“Many people gave me a scarlet letter, even though I was capable,” he said. “That has been my why — I want people not to have those same experiences that I had, of being told no.”

PAR-Recycle Works has worked with more than 110 formerly incarcerated people. The organization connects with potential employees in a variety of ways: They host virtual job fairs with correctional facilities, correspond directly with people who reach out to them, and receive referrals from other reentry organizations. Sometimes, people also just walk up to the warehouse.

Andre Davis, one of PAR-Recycle Works founders, walks new hires through orientation. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jones loves what he does. It’s more than a job to him — it’s a calling, a purpose.

“I love that individuals can have a place that is unlike any other employment they ever get anywhere else,” the 41-year-old said. “It’s a place of teamwork. It’s a place of community. It’s a place where we want to see each other flourish and be successful.”

‘You can change your life’

Bill Allen has worked at PAR-Recycle Works for two and a half years. The 53-year-old is charismatic, stylish, and wears a big smile. Officially, he’s the first-ever warehouse manager and helps train new workers, but his role is more than that — he’s a mentor or big brother to the people who come through the employment program.

“I did 20 some years in federal prison. With that, I lost a lot that I can’t bring back. So my thing is enjoy life because life is too short and you only got one life, so why not be happy?” Allen said. “So I tell the guys, ‘Just enjoy your life…you only got one.’”

PAR-Recycle Works in North Philadelphia hires people who were formerly incarcerated to deconstruct electronics and aims to lift-up their employees with mentoring and positivity. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Allen’s experience and positive attitude makes him approachable. Many workers come to him with all kinds of personal and work-related “situations” (he doesn’t like the word “problems”), and he helps find solutions.

“You can’t think when you’re mad,” Allen said. “So I tell these guys, ‘Never get mad because you can’t think when you’re mad. Sit down, rationalize stuff, plan it out and you’ll be OK.’”

To Allen, PAR-Recycle Works is the ideal workplace since he gets to use a variety of skills, beyond the technical.

“It makes me feel good because I’m helping somebody and I’m changing these guys’ lives,” he said. “I’m changing the lens of how they used to look at things, of how they look at things now.”

A man stands outside of a garage entryway.
Andre Davis directs a truck into PAR-Recycle Works’ warehouse in North Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Sometimes employees at PAR-Recycling Works need a bit more support. Many find themselves needing assistance with everyday necessities and when that’s the case, Andre Davis is there to help. He’s a reentry navigator.

“A lot of our guys will be struggling with housing or with transportation, struggling with food, clothing,” Davis said. “My task is to find out which guys have those problems and connect them to the proper resources.”

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