The First 72+ is, at its core, a community of people who first showed up to get help, but then turned right back around to be there for the people they grew up with, the people they did time with. As Ben Smith would say, to be there for “the next man up.”
And that is the one thing that is sorely missing from our work today.
Before The First 72+ had a house, a logo and a sign on our roof, or a team of 16, I think a lot of people will agree that the most valuable reentry resource in New Orleans was Ben’s van. He would pick you up, drive you to see your P.O., get your birth certificate, social security card, and state ID. He’d get you a haircut and a fresh set of clothes so you could see your family for the first time feeling confident. Then he’d give you a job working on the back of his iconic Mardi Gras-colored grill trucks, for his business, Da Grill.
People often ask why we decided to call ourselves “The First 72+,” and no one explained it better than Ben:
We’re talking about guys that been locked up 15, 20, 25, 40 years some of them. The Purpose of this place is to give them a place to get started. That’s why the name of this place is The First 72+ because those first 72 hours are so crucial. After that, we plan for the long term-- getting out and staying out.
This 3,200 square foot house, named in Ben’s honor, will be home to 8 men transitioning out of prison and serve as a space for culinary courses and technological literacy programs. We aim to honor Ben’s legacy by creating not just another transitional house, but a comprehensive “Welcome Home Center” to provide our clients with a supportive place to land as they return home from incarceration.