Philly pizza parlor hopes to help formerly incarcerated, revitalize neighborhood

Down North
Posted at 1:13 PM, Dec 15, 2021

PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia pizza parlor is hoping to help those who've been formerly incarcerated and are looking to revitalize the neighborhood.

“We’re at 28th and Lehigh,” said north Philadelphia resident Abdulwahid Muhsin.

“It’s been a lot of violence in the neighborhood. You see the stuff changing around,”

Muhsin’s family has been in North Philadelphia for 70 years

“My grandmother bought the house in 1950,”

“These neighborhoods are just a byproduct of a neighborhood trying to survive on limited resources and trying to survive,” said Muhammad Abdul-Hadi.

He lives in the same neighborhood, believing the area is ready for some TLC.

“See, all these buildings are opportunities man, that’s how I look at them. These abandoned buildings are nothing but opportunities for something to come in that could potentially be a benefit to the community,” said Abdul-Hadi.

Abdul-Hadi puts his money where his mouth is, investing in a community restaurant: Down North Pizza.

“Down North Pizza is a mission-based for-profit restaurant. We exclusively hire formerly incarcerated,” said Michael Carter.

Carter spent 12 years of his life in prison.

Today he’s the executive chef at Down North Pizza.

“In Philadelphia, one out of every 23 persons out here in the workforce is on parole,” said Carter.

Two in 3 prisoners will get arrested within three years of their release, according to federal data published in 2021.

Four out of 5 will be arrested again within a decade.

It’s a trend that Down North and other businesses across the U.S. would like to reverse.

“Well, first of all, it's essential for you to know parolees to get jobs in general,” said Becky Trammell, an associate dean at Metropolitan State University Denver and has spent the better part of two decades studying prison populations in the US.

She says businesses like Down North are doing an essential job.

“It's not addressing the problem in the aggregate, but it will change lives. And it will help individuals, and so we need to support these types of programs that are doing something for this it's a big big problem,”

Muhammad wants people to stop seeing the formerly incarcerated as the enemy.

“The modern stereotype is that they’re evil, they’re bad people, they can’t get it right, which for the most part is the total opposite,” said Abdul-Hadi.

“If we keep dehumanizing these people and pretending like they're the monsters in the closet waiting for us to go to bed so that they can pick a machete for us, then we won't be. We won't have any incentive to try to do things to stop crying in the first place," said Tramell.

For Carter and some of his other coworkers, just because they’re out doesn’t mean they’re out.

“I’m on parole. So it’s like, I walk softly out here, every day. Do you know what I mean? Because any day one false move could mean I’m back on the other side automatically,” said Carter.

The hope is that Down North can represent redemption, both for its workers and community.

“We hope that it will get better. We hope that more businesses will open up to revitalize this,” said Muhsin.