NEW ORLEANS — For some inmates getting out of prison, The First 72 is a life-saver. The non-profit organization operates a transitional house in New Orleans that helps get the ex-convicts back on their feet.
When Troy Snavely was released from Angola last month after serving 21 years on a drug conviction, that meant help getting a driver’s license, making contacts with potential employers, as well as even more basic necessities.
“When I came here they gave me clothes,” Snavely said. “The clothes I'm wearing came from them.”
About 10 men live full-time at the First 72 transitional house at any one time. In addition to finding jobs and getting acclimated to the free world, the men volunteer time to keep the house operating and raise money for future residents.
During Lent in New Orleans on a Friday, a surefire way to raise money is through seafood. In one of the First 72’s biggest annual fundraisers, the residents and other volunteers fry catfish, cook several side dishes and serve the full platters with dessert and cold drink for $10 on every Friday of the season.
Business is already brisk on the first Friday of Lent, with a steady stream of customers and several large bulk orders which the group delivers by car.
On top of the money raised, the sense of accomplishment and teamwork provides a visible boost to the ex-convicts who spend the day cooking, packaging and delivering the meals.
“It's really a good thing for me for trying to come back because it's part of my parole stipulation, that I do community service,” Charles Sneed said.
Sneed served 44 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder as a 16-year-old boy. He was granted parole last year.
As a resident at The First 72, Sneed said the Lenten fundraiser also gives him a chance to use the skills he was taught in prison.
“I was trained in culinary school,” Sneed said.
Now Sneed is the Friday fry master. Tyrone Smith, who served nearly five years in prison for murder before his conviction was overturned, is one of the organizers.
“The money that we raise here is all about helping somebody else that's coming out of prison who needs a hand up, who really need somebody to be here for them,” Smith said.
Snavely, who doesn’t live at the complex, but visits regularly to volunteer. He said he feels lucky to be able to give back at the same time he’s relying on help from others.
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“It’s great to come home and be able to be a part of something,” Snavely said. “With these people helping you out, it’s not so much that you owe them, but if you have any kind of morals about you then you want to be willing to help and do whatever needs to be done.”
Snavely said the day goes by quickly.
“We got the little assembly line thing going on and it's rolling, things are moving fast,” he said. “It's just part of being something, getting acclimated back in society.”
The First 72 is located at 2917 Perdido Street in New Orleans.