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image of Delancey Street

The Delancey Street Experience

Article originally published here.

image of Delancey Street
the front of the restaurant

In a world where it can be hard to dig deep into our humanity and look past first impressions, Delancey Street is heartwarming evidence of how everyone deserves a second chance. Delancey Street is a criminal rehabilitation foundation, established to teach trades and job skills to ex-convicts to reduce recidivism rates. Often when we think about criminals, we tend to deduce that oh, they’ve made their choice; we condemn the incarcerated to be past redemption with assumptions about their lives and situations. The truth is, many factors are involved in the ways people get convicted with crimes; none of us should pretend to be superior to others. MAP’s Delancey Street trip illuminates a different perspective on our world’s outcasts while also giving us an inside look at this innovative form of criminal rehabilitation and residents’ life stories.

The group walking to the Delancey Street Restaurant.

Delancey Street is an organization that strives to teach former inmates practical skills and trades while they work to earn their stay. As our tour guides talked to us about their experience, one name kept coming up — Mimi Silbert, philanthropist and founder of Delancey Street. It was startling, at first, to hear grown men gushing about someone so enthusiastically; this level of praise is rare. Then I learned who she was, the lengths she went to, the obstacles she had to overcome, and the sheer determination that all fueled her as she established this incredible organization. I couldn’t stop thinking, Mimi Silbert is a force of nature. She had a vision of a different kind of criminal rehabilitation center – one that would help ex-convicts receive education and learn essential skills for real life – she pushed for it with everything she had. Delancey Street boasts rightfully on their website: They said it couldn’t be done. But Delancey Street and Mimi Silbert defied the odds, and now look: The 400,000 square foot complex they built. The ex-addicts who became teachers. The ex-gang members who now fix automobiles and have the skills to be contractors. The residents who are running moving businesses and delicious restaurants. And most of all, the locations across the country that continue the cycle of rehabilitation and help more and more people turn their lives around. Impactful change at first seems like a pipe dream — impossible, up until it’s not! With enough determination, the overwhelming successes, both material and in spirit, serve as even more proof that we can truly make a difference if we set our minds to it.

The group talking to the tour guides.

Personally, as a newcomer to MAP, I had no idea what I was expecting out of this trip. Beforehand, I found the premise of criminal justice reform intriguing, but as with many concepts outside the realm of a typical teenager’s mindset, I had never stopped to truly ponder the subject past surface level. Having no expectations coming into it, Delancey Street was even more of a vivid, immersive experience filled with amazing group members and a newfound appreciation of the hardships people go through every day. Not to mention, we experienced the beauty of learning about and from people who have completely changed their lives around and now lead honest lives, serving and caring for others that are struggling. Many of us usually have no idea where to start in order to dig past the surface and empathize with others’ hardships, but luckily, that’s what the Mitty Advocacy Project is all about! Through trips like these, it’s both an opportunity for the residents of Delancey Street to share their insights with us, as well as an opportunity for us to then advocate from this newfound, straight-from-the-source awareness.