Ex-offender group marks milestone

Fifteen years ago, Michelle Simmons was caught in a vicious cycle of prison, prostitution and drug abuse that promised to send her to an early death.

Then, one day while incarcerated in Los Angeles, a woman introduced her to God. Last Thursday, Simmons celebrated the 10th anniversary of Why Not Prosper, a nonprofit organization she founded to help rescue female ex-offenders like herself. Since 2003, her program has served 93 women, 55 of which have graduated.

“It’s been through the special grace of God,” said Simmons, 43, now an author and minister at New Hope Baptist Church in Norristown. “I am totally living beyond my wildest dreams. I never thought the little, tiny dream I had would grow up and live this long.”

“What we do at Why Not Prosper is deal with the guilt and the shame. The [assessment] shows that when they lose the rights to their kids that is the most the traumatic thing that causes them to go back,” said Simmons, whose own children were once in foster care.

Malissa Gamble, who entered the program around 2005, now runs her own nonprofit called The Time is Now to Make a Change.

“When it comes to this population, the women are so underserved. Michelle, she goes beyond the call of duty,” Gamble said.


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