Independence Day had special meaning for Margaret Day: The 42-year-old Prince George’s County woman walked out of a Leesburg, Va., prison early yesterday morning.
She celebrated by joining friends in Southeast — including some former convicts who, like her, have been helped by a church-based rehabilitation program.
“She worked hard and she made it. Everyone needs another chance,” said the Rev. Judith Talbert, founder of Faith Tabernacle of Prayer and RAPP, or Reintegrating Alternatives Personal Program.
To welcome Ms. Day, about two dozen friends, church members, ex-convicts, RAPP workers and children gathered in a tabernacle room decorated with balloons and ribbons, around a table of sandwiches, chips, fried chicken and soft drinks.
Ms. Day, who was born and grew up in Prince George’s County, said she committed a “white collar-type” crime in Leesburg and was sentenced to four years in prison. A RAPP appeal to the judge resulted in the suspension of all but seven months, which ended yesterday.
Ms. Day, already friends with Wanda Jackson, resource coordinator of RAPP, was assigned to a prison work force that picked up trash, tore down brick walls and did other community services worth $2 million annually to Loudoun County.
“The work was harder than I expected. I loved it,” said Ms. Day, who had been a Giant Food administrative assistant for 20 years while raising two sons, now ages 21 and 15.
After leaving Giant, Ms. Day attended a truck-driving school and got a driver’s permit, which was revoked when she was sentenced.
“Now, I get to go back and get my permit,” said Ms. Day, who was accompanied by a long-time family friend, and now her fiancee, Rick Hodgens, 54, of Vienna.
“We provide a safety net,” said Ms. Talbert, explaining that RAPP helps convicts and ex-convicts to take up honest lives and avoid recidivism. National statistics indicate that three of every five inmates released from prison eventually end up behind bars again.
Among those on hand yesterday who have benefited from RAPP was Terrance Ingram, 39, a Xerox employee and business management student at the University of the District of Columbia. Mr. Ingram once did 13 years in prison for armed robbery.
Also there was Howard Chambers, 39, in and out of prison about 20 years for dealing drugs, robberies, stealing cars and getting into fights. He has been working for a trash removal and recycling company and is active in RAPP.
“I came home two and a half years ago,” Mr. Chambers said. “I’ve never been on the streets so long.”
Among the celebrants was 3-year-old Keontae Jackson, who was born after his father was sentenced to prison. RAPP has been providing videos to the father, who records messages and reads books on the tapes for his son.
Ms. Talbert organized RAPP four years ago, but, long before, she had been mentoring, advising and helping ex-convicts in all other ways to avoid repeating crimes.
“We’ve been in the prisons for about 28 years,” Ms. Talbert said.
About 2-1/2 years ago, Ms. Talbert helped organize Faith Community, a group of 39 churches in the District that work together to help rehabilitate and reform ex-convicts.
Faith Community works with the federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. About 2,500 District convicts are released annually.