Abraham House history pieces (Part 3 of 3)
Images and texts from newsletters and brochures: 1986 - 2004

"I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . ." --- [Matthew 25:36]

From a brochure entitled:
Abraham House:
An Innovative Alternative to Incarceration

providing new life and new hope
for the incarcerated and their families

Abraham House runs on a shoestring. It does not accept money from most State of New York programs because these grants are restrictive, mandating specific rules of operation. Instead, Abraham House relies on non-traditional and cost-effective approaches.

Abraham House has been located in the South Bronx since May 1993, but before it came to that location or had any name, it was taking shape above a Fourth Avenue soup kitchen in Brooklyn. Its founders come from far and wide, from Belgium, France and America's Baptist South.

1992 brochure images & texts

Above is an image of the front cover of a 4-page brochure-invitation.

Brochure cover text: BEGINNING MAY 31, 1992. COME JOIN US, BROTHERS. BRING YOUR FAMILIES TO OUR SUNDAY MASS AND SOCIAL HOUR AT OUR LADY OF VILNIUS, 570 Broome Street between Varick St. and the Holland Tunnel in Southern Manhattan

Brochure text with image below:
The Pastoral Center will start as a House of Prayer for those who have experienced a lot of hurt in their lives. It is the brainchild of Father Peter Raphael, Sr. Simone Ponnet, Sister Amy Henri and The Little Sisters of the Gospel. On the drawing board, with a goal of completion in the summer of 1993, will be a halfway house, offering social services to men returning to society. Initially, the group will be limited in size.

Abraham House's Executive Director, Sr. Simone Ponnet, was the first of the Little Sisters of the Gospel to arrive in New York from Europe. The Little Sisters take jobs, using a small portion of their salary for subsistence; with the rest, they help the poor. Sr. Simone found lodging at Village Haven, a halfway house for women coming out of prison and for three years cleaned houses in East Harlem.

Soon after Sr. Simone's arrival in New York, she was joined by Sr. Rita Claus and Sr. Amy Henry from her order. Sr. Rita went to work as a cook for Burger King and Sr. Amy found a job on an assembly line in a Manhattan factory that manufactured boom boxes.

The three women each had their ministries: Sr. Simone began volunteering at Rikers Island (the city prison had just 8 chaplains then, it now has 60). Sr. Amy visited other prisons and Bellevue prison wards on weekends. Sr. Rita utilized her training as a practical nurse on the Lower East Side.

Meanwhile, Fr. Peter Raphael, a French priest who would be pivotal in the founding of Abraham House and now supervises the residents and lives among the men, had arrived in New York City from the Appalachian coal mines. As a worker priest, he had labored alongside his people serving as a welder. He became an aide in a Bronx nursing home and a Bowery detox center.

Because of overcrowding in New York State prisons, it appears that the laws on mandatory sentencing in lesser felonies and lesser drug cases soon may be relaxed. Judges will have the opportunity to use alternatives.

From these religious' farflung experiences, what is now called Abraham House began coalescing in the early 1980s. The group, joined by a large squad of volunteers, turned to the ministry of Rikers Island prisoners and their families.

Several Department of Corrections officers, who watched these efforts and the impressive results, encouraged the creation of an alternate-to-prison program. These DOC men believed innovative methods could break the cycle of recidivism. They offered their experience and agreed to work on the project. Meanwhile, by 1983, judges had begun asking Fr. Peter and the Sisters to take custody of men in their fledgling alternate-to-incarceration program.

"Capital Campaign"
brochure images

Above is an image from the back cover of a 3-fold, 6-panel brochure entitled "Transforming Lives: A Capital Campaign for a Growing Abraham House."

The text with the image immediately above reads: "Abraham House is a religious experience. It is not a place that proselytizes but it offers a spiritual way to be whole and includes a religious dimension in life." -- Father Peter Raphael, Co-founder, Abraham House..

Note the painting "Free Me Lord" that can be seen behind Fr. Raphael in the image immediately above is the same painting that can be seen behind him and Sisters Simone and Amy in the image from the 1992 brochure further above. The painting is a water color presented by an inmate named Baptista, a native from Cap Verde Island, on the25th anniversary of Fr. Raphael's priesthood.

Below is the front cover of the "Capital Campaign" brochure:

By the early '90s the number of residents had grown, increasing numbers of families of prisoners were seeking aid and counseling, and men the group knew from Rikers were leaving prison and in need of support. The program moved to Mott Haven in the South Bronx and took the name Abraham Hose, rising from the rubble of an abandoned building.

George Soros' Open Society Institute, a supporter of innovative approaches in the criminal justice field, has provided funding, as have other grantmakers and friends. The founders continue to use salaries and pensions earned elsewhere to subsidize Abraham House, and even the residents, once they are employed, contribute a portion of their wages.

Begun solely as a residential alternative to prison, Abraham House has since expanded to provide a full range of assistance and services any person who has been incarcerated and to the families of inmates, particularly their young children. Our goal is to break the cycle of crime, from grandparent to parent to child. To achieve this, we offer a heartfelt welcome -- and constructive aid -- in order to improve these people's lives. .

This small, rigorous program allows judges to place non-violent, first-time offenders in a pro-active environment, rather than warehousing these men and women in prison. The goal is to ensure that these offenders are sufficiently prepared, usually after from one to three years in the custody of Abraham House, to return to society and become productive members of their communities.

To graduate from the Abraham House Residential Program, an offender must meet minimal educational requirements (receiving a General Equivalency Diploma), be counseled on a regular basis for social and substance-abuse problems, be drug-free, learn to take personal and community responsibility, seek to rebuild family connections and get a job and keep it.

The 1.5% rate of recidivism among Abraham House graduates contrasts sharply with the norm of 70% recidivism in New York correctional facilities. Part of our success, of course, is that we choose prisoners for the program with care, realizing that not every prisoner wants to change his/her behavior. The smallness of Abraham House obliges us to be selective. We do not accept prisoners charged with arson, assault or violence.

From the start, the Residential Program has been used by some of the toughest judges in New York. The Open Society Institute has called Abraham House "a national model for faith-based programs serving current and former inmates in a community setting." Though it is a faith-based program, Abraham House does not oblige offenders to be religious. We do not discriminate on the basis of race or religion.

Abraham House provides supervision and guidance to other offenders who are placed in its custody but permitted by the courts to reside with their families. These generally are minors and women with children. These people receive the same intensive individual instruction and direction as our residents.

More "Capital Campaign"
brochure images (uncaptioned)

A vital ingredient in preparing offenders to return to society, we believe, is rebuilding family connections and support. For that reason, Abraham House operates a Family Center for offenders, ex-offenders and their relatives. In the, course of a year some 550 of these families seek Abraham House assistance. On a typical weekend 250 people come to our South Bronx brownstones needing counseling of every sort (e.g. substance abuse, spousal abuse, parenting, legal or housing). Others seek food, clothing, emergency services, or simply wish to take part in our prayer service or enjoy a place of community.

Those who use the Center find a helpful commonality of experience - all things can be discussed - and longtime members of the community provide good sense and solutions for handling everyday concerns.

Prisoners' families, especially speak English or are illiterate, may be unaware of public services available and their legal rights. The Center attracts many immigrants from Central and South America and offers personal sessions with volunteer attorneys, not to prepare cases but simply to take the baffled and confused through the, bureaucratic maze. Literacy and English as a Second Language classes are offered.

Abraham House operates a one-on-one tutoring program for children (aged 6 to 13) of inmates and ex-inmates. The focus is on essentials (reading, writing, math and computer literacy) since most of the youngsters attend poor public schools and some are further hampered by having parents who only speak Spanish and are illiterate. Often these parents do not value education.

The children face drugs and AIDS in the household, physical abuse, overcrowded housing and parental imprisonment, all of which inhibit their ability to learn and cause stress and anger. The staff grapples with these realities while providing a safe haven and structure in the children's lives. The program is open six days (20 hours) weekly.

ABOVE: Abraham House:
An Innovative Alternative
to Incarceration

brochure front cover.

This is another facet of our mission to halt the cycle of crime in families. An August 2000 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics profiled parents in prison. The majority (70%) did not have a high school diploma, 60% indicated they had used drugs in the month before the offense, 77% had a prior conviction, and more than half of these offenders, who expected to serve six years in state prisons, had not had a personal visit with their children since their incarceration. Without Residential and Familv Programs like those at Abraham House, the cycle of intergenerational incarceration will continue
. . . . .

This is one of the most impressive social action programs in New York .... Consider the productive work that will be done by those who have gone through Abraham House and the savings to society.
-Jobn Cardinal O'Connor

At 75, after many years as a nomad, Abraham is challenged by God to redirect his life. In accepting this call he changes not only his own life but builds the destiny of a people who would become "as numerous as the sands."

Abraham House draws its name and inspiration from this forefather of all Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

The Abraham House community offers the incarcerated hospitality and a chance for a fresh start. Practical assistance and support are provided, and offenders learn to take responsibility for their own lives.

Whatever their faith, these men and women are called upon to believe, as Abraham did, more deeply in God and in themselves.

Abraham House is located at 342 Willis Ave., South Bronx,
P.O. Box 305, Mott Haven Station Bronx, NY 10454.
Sr. Simone Ponnet, Executive Director
Phone: (718) 292-9321 -- Fax: (718) 292 -5925
Abraham House is under the auspices of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.

Image above from The Link -- 2/28/86

NYCHS presents these image and text excerpts from Abraham House and "pre-Abraham House" newsletters and brochures by permission. Abraham House's rights are reserved and retained. For more information, contact Sister Simone or Fr. Raphael at Abraham House where he is spiritual director and she is executive director.
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