For the first time in more than a month, ex-convict Michael Ta’Bon left his hand-made jail cell a free man.
Through a frigid February, Ta’Bon, 36, bunked day and night inside a small plywood structure to show and talk to people about the consequences of a crime-laden life and the harsh realities of prison. He only left to use a portable restroom and testify at a City Council hearing called to explore the idea of waiving criminal record checks on job applications.
“I’m trying to present it to you before you go [to prison] and have to find out for yourself,” said Ta’Bon, who spent nearly a decade in a state prison in Albion, Pa. for armed robbery.
“There are some young boys who think they know and they really don’t know,” he added.
The first phase of the outdoor, outreach project, housed in a vacant lot along Hunting Park Avenue in the Nicetown-Tioga section of the city, was originally set to stop at the end of February. But Ta’Bon added an extra week to his self-imposed sentence to illustrate how one misstep can land you right back in jail.
“Even when you get out on parole, you’re still trapped,” said Ta’ Bon Saturday. “Bottom line is if I get in any type of trouble I get the same DC-141 paperwork as if I was upstate.”
Ta’Bon said he will continue to wear the orange jumpsuit until his parole period is up – in 2012 – to drive home the message.
On a mild-March day, Ta’Bon was joined by several supporters to chat and share some food. When asked if he thought he reached people with the project, Ta’Bon shook his head affirmatively.
“I knew I would,” he said.
Shawn Johns, 29, who’s lived in the neighborhood his entire life, said projects like Ta’Bon’s are important because they spark much-needed dialogue.
“The way to get about the message is to preach the message, talk,” he said. “People need to talk and unify themselves more often so we can try and handle issues and take things one day at a time.”
But Ta’Bon isn’t finished yet. He said he’s looking at taking the show on the road so he can continue the work he believes he was destined to do.
In particular, Ta’Bon is in the process of setting up visits to schools in the area to share his experience with students and to talk about solutions to cutting down on the city’s street crime. Many school principals, he said, have already asked for as much.
He’s eager to get started. “We don’t want to waste no time because death ain’t waiting. Evil don’t take no break. Someone is probably going to get shot tonight in the city of Philadelphia. Somebody is probably going to get robbed tonight,” said Ta’Bon.