His high-profile case lends hand to others

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick offers Philadelphia more than Super Bowl dreams. His return highlights the societal divide between those who affix convict-for-life status to all ex-cons against those who think second chances are public safety necessities.

“If Michael Vick crosses the street wrong, he’ll be castigated, even though he’s already paid his debt to society,” Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison said. “We have to support ex-offenders. Society has to say that after you serve your sentence, we see you as a person of value. Michael Vick is a great step to begin that discussion.”

In the past two years, the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders (R.I.S.E.) has helped more than 500 lesser-known offenders reintegrate into jobs by offering tax incentives to the employers who hire them.

“We need people to have forgiveness and believe in redemption, so we can pull these people back into society,” he said.

But Malik Aziz, a local ex-con who chairs a national coalition helping ex-offenders, said many thousands of people — particularly violent, repeat offenders — still get neither an Eagles roster spot nor programs to change mindsets before their prison release.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong to work at McDonald’s, but these programs need more of a ‘work at McDonald’s while getting an education’ component,” said Aziz. Gillison conceded the program isn’t yet perfect, but it’s because “one-fifth to one-sixth of the city [with criminal records] would never be able to work in a job with a future” if societal understanding doesn’t change.

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