Stu Bykofsky: Vick got his second chance. Others less fortunate could really use one

Hiawatha Peterkin (left) and Jeanette Robinson did their time and will work for less than $1.6 million.
Hiawatha Peterkin (left) and Jeanette Robinson did their time and will work for less than $1.6 million.
Posted: September 03, 2009

FOR THOSE WHO are floating on a cloud of self-righteousness after drinking the Michael Vick Second Chance® Kool-Aid, here's a chance to widen your circle of compassion.

While the millionaire ex-felon got his "second chance," what about the 48,000 other Philadelphians on parole or probation right now?

They're not all unemployed, but enough are. About 80 percent committed misdemeanors, leaving roughly 10,000, mostly male, who are ex-felons, just like Vick. Many need a "second chance," a job - and they'll work for less than $1.6 million.

Many Vick apologists amused themselves by demanding of animal advocates, "Why don't you care about people?"

There's no evidence we don't, but many (not including me) condemned the Eagles' generous "second chance" to Vicious Vick.

Many, many more applauded the Eagles for giving the felonious QB a "second chance."

I ask those in the Second Chance Brigade: Is your sympathy restricted to pro athletes? How about the real people who are desperate for a break?

How about asking your boss (or looking in the mirror, if you are a boss) to find room on the payroll for an ex-offender who needs a "second chance"? I'll tell you about a couple of them in a minute.

I am not rubbing your nose in the slack you cut for Vick. I am asking you to put your jobs where your mouths are.

Back when this story broke, I wrote that I stand back from Vick because I am not convinced that his contrition is sincere, but I understood what the Eagles did. I don't like it, but I accept it because I believe in "second chances."

It's not mushy humanitarianism on my part. If we don't offer ex-offenders a way to make an honest living, they will make a dishonest living. That puts you and me in jeopardy of being hit on the head with a tire iron for our wallets or having a gun stuck in our faces.

That's why Mayor Street in June 2005 launched the Mayor's Office for the Re-entry of Ex-Offenders, which offers a $10,000 tax credit, under certain conditions, to businesses that hire ex-cons.

A very good idea. Almost 100 businesses are in the program, which has placed about 300 ex-offenders during this fiscal year, interim director Carolyn Harper tells me. She said that the program has only a 3 percent recidivism rate. The usual Philly recidivism rate is between 45 and 60 percent.

Many employers, Harper says, don't even apply for the tax break. Maybe they know good works are their own reward.

Overbrook resident Jeanette Robinson needs a "second chance." The 57-year-old mother of three has done time, more than once, with her worst crime being identity theft and her longest stretch one to three years at Muncy. She had no violent convictions.

When she realized a life of crime is a highway with a brick wall at the end of it, she found an off-ramp. She's now a straight-A student majoring in business at Philadelphia Community College. She has experience in customer service, accounts payable, accounts receivable and collections, and she knows more computer applications than I do. She types 50-65 words per minute and can do data entry.

I found her to be clear, courteous, smart and focused. She learned some of her business skills in prison, but wonders what good they are if no one gives her a chance.

Is she less deserving of a "second chance" than Vick?

How about 49-year-old Hiawatha Peterkin, who admits that his first name caused him "plenty" of trouble growing up in Logan? After his honorable discharge from the Navy, there was more trouble.

He's served stretches for burglary, getting out of an upstate lockup in February and into a halfway house. Since then, no work. He has been a city sanitation worker and an assembly-line worker. For the future, he's midway through a Salvation Army 12-week culinary course. He found, to his surprise, that he likes cooking and can picture himself, someday, as a pastry or sous chef. If someone gives him a chance.

He has three sons whom he's in touch with and a fiancee, Les-lie, about whom he raves and wants to marry, but first he needs to get on his financial feet.

Is he less deserving of a "second chance" than Vick?

Not to be snotty, but I asked the Eagles if its Michael Vick Salvage Project could be expanded to offer jobs to guys who don't wear helmets and pads. Do they have openings for people who take your tickets, sell you beer, move stuff in a warehouse, sweep up the stadium?

Given two days to answer the question, the Eagles didn't. Bad clock management? Or no interest in helping ex-offenders not named Vick?

In case you're wondering, my company hires ex-cons. Many of the men who hawk the newspaper on the street have arrest records. Ex-cons have worked in our mailroom. I'm proud of that.

Local business can and should do more to reach out for ex-offenders who aren't going to make $1.6 million this year.

I challenge every person who crowed about a "second chance" for Vick to seize this moment to put deeds behind their words. You don't have to, but won't you feel better if you try?

The risks are small. The rewards are great. Football's fun, but this is life.

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