Michael Ta'Bon's bright orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffs really stood out this afternoon among the sharp suits and snappy dresses sported at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's annual Mayoral Luncheon. Ta'Bon was one of six people from the Ex-Offenders Association of Pennsylvania who crashed the party at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to protest what they call insufficient efforts by Mayor Nutter's administration to help prison inmates re-enter society.
Nutter's 4,120-word speech, which spanned more than 33 minutes and covered a variety of employment and economic efforts, included one sentence about the city's Office of Reintegration Services For Ex-Offenders (RISE) and how it was helping to reduce the recidivism rate in the city.
The ex-offenders walked in about 20 minutes into Nutter's speech, sparking consternation from flustered Chamber and Convention Center officials who told them they had to leave.
"This is a silent protest," declared Malik Aziz. "We have the right to assemble. We have a right to a silent protest. This is the best time to do this, when everybody is here and everybody is listening."
Ta'Bon, who has been demonstrating for the last 10 days by staying in a jail cell he constructed on a vacant lot on Hunting Park Avenue, said he served seven and a half years in prison for armed robbery and has been out for nine months.
"If you want to create jobs, hire the convicts to stop the crime that we started," Ta'Bon said. That’s how you do it. You catch them when they’re in the half-way house and you train them to go inside the schools to stop the violence that we started. We are the solution to the problem. You can’t lock everybody up."
Nutter later said he did not see the group as they protested in front of the stage but is familiar with their concerns. RISE, he said, has found jobs for more than 500 ex-offenders and hopes to do more in the future.
"We’re looking to increase programs and services," Nutter said "We need more employers to partner with us. But it is absolutely a commitment because it is part of a crime reduction strategy. The best anti-crime tool is a job."