Michael Ta’Bon has a simple message for his community: “Stay out of Jail.” He’s going to great lengths to deliver it.
The ex-convict has built an 8-foot-by-8-foot jail cell on the grounds of the Berean Institute at 17th Street and Girard Avenue in North Philadelphia, and plans to live there for 28 days to show people what jail is really like.
He said he expects school groups to visit, but if students can’t come to him, he’ll go to them — in shackles and accompanied by a group of fellow ex-cons.
Drawing on his nine years in prison, Ta’Bon might tell them how an inmate can turn an ordinary object, like a toilet flushing mechanism, into a knife. Or he might give someone a “jailhouse haircut” using only a razor blade. He might explain why it’s important to keep your toilet clean in jail (because if there’s a lockdown, it will be the source of your drinking water; because that’s where you wash your clothes). Or he might describe how inmates caulk drafty cells with toothpaste.
The problem is that neighborhood gangsters make prison seem glamorous, Ta’Bon said.
“We make it seem stupid,” he said. “We want them to say, ‘This is for suckers.'”