Pennsylvania prisoners are giving their own money to families impacted by gun violence

File photo: Hundreds gathered at Gorgas Park Thursday for a prayer vigil following Tuesday's deadly shooting at Roxborough High School. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

File photo: Hundreds gathered at Gorgas Park Thursday for a prayer vigil following Tuesday's deadly shooting at Roxborough High School. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

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A group of Pennsylvania prisoners, many of them serving life sentences for gun crimes, is pooling together their own funds to help Philadelphia families who lose a child to gun violence.

The Community Bereavement Fund is a partnership between Right 2 Redemption, a statewide prisoners’ rights group, and G.R.O.W.N., a Philadelphia nonprofit founded by formerly incarcerated men who now work to prevent shootings.

The idea for the project came up about a year and a half ago as Philly’s gun violence crisis began affecting more and more children, said G.R.O.W.N founder Donnell Drinks. So far this year, 186 people under 18 have been shot, 26 of them fatally according to the Office of the Controller.

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“The bulk of the money came from men on the inside with their donations, trying to give back to the community,” Drinks said. “To show that they want to be a part of the fabric of healing our communities.”

Saadiq Palmer, chairman of Right 2 Redemption who is serving a life sentence at the State Correctional Institution in Graterford, said in a statement given from prison that he and other prisoners want to help make change.

“I humbly ask for forgiveness for the trauma and harm we’ve caused in our communities,” he said. “We’ve brainstormed ways to give back … but one issue stood out more.”

The fund will provide up to a $300 stipend to families who lose a child to gun violence, mainly to cover burial costs. Organizers say they’ve raised enough to provide for about 30 families and are continuing to collect donations from prisoners, private donors and organizations. Families are eligible if they lose a child from today onward, and will be given support on a first-come, first-serve basis, Drinks said.

Prisoners who donate are transferring money from their monthly earnings while working behind bars, Drinks said.

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Wages for Pennsylvania prisoners range from 19 cents to $1.21 an hour, depending on skill level and work performance, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Prisoners are permitted to send their money to family, friends or charities of their choice.

“The men and women who are incarcerated are still human and they are still attached to what’s going on in our society,” Drinks said. “They aren’t the most financially stable … so anything they give is significant”

Drinks said staff at G.R.O.W.N. will work directly with families as well as with post-mortem providers to cover expenses related to burials and funerals, including Janazah services.

The cost of funeral services is often a major point of stress for families who’ve lost a loved one suddenly, said Adara Combs, director of the Philadelphia Office of the Victim Advocate.

“When a person receives a call … nobody is thinking immediately about the financial cost,” she said. “Nobody is thinking about paying for burying a child.”

Combs said there is a statewide compensation fund for victims of crime, but those dollars require people to submit reimbursement, which can be tedious, and may take months to come in.

“At front of their mind might not be filing an invoice for the caterer … because they might not be able to get out of bed,” Combs said.

She said a combination of government and community resources are needed to make sure that people affected by the trauma of gun violence have resources to process and heal.

Community members who want to donate to the Community Bereavement Fund can make a PayPal Donation at GROWN’s website: www.wearegrown.org and specify “Community Bereavement Fund”

A list of resources for people who’ve lost someone to gun violence can be found here, and residents can also call 2-1-1 and pick the gun violence option.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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