January 31, 2021 - 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Annual Mitzvah Heroes Awards to honor our fourth cohort of Mitzvah Heroes.
The virtual Mitzvah Hero ceremony will take place on Sunday, January 31st at 4:00 p.m. During this hour-long event, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County hopes to honor 18 individuals — one from each of the congregations in our Federation catchment area — who embody the values of tikkum olam and who will receive a Mitzvah Hero award that day.
B’nai Israel Member, Barry Diamond, to Receive Mitzvah Heroes Award for Program Helping Former Inmates
One program graduate had once been a gang leader convicted of homicide charges. Another alumnus sold drugs to support his habit. A third participant had severe anger issues that put him behind bars. The list goes on. All of them have a few things in common. To start, they are all graduates of a unique and successful training program developed by Barry Diamond of Trumbull, a member of Congregation B’nai Israel for the last 48 years. In addition, all are convicted criminals who today are successful entrepreneurs running productive, competitive, and legitimate businesses serving the community. “They almost all say the same thing which is ‘we have to buy diapers too,’” said Diamond, a retired business development consultant.
Diamond’s People Re-entering into Doing Entrepreneurship (P.R.I.D.E.) business training program is aimed exclusively at prison inmates, people with criminal backgrounds, and people who have friends or family with a criminal record. More than 600 people have been through the program over the last seven years. Many of the graduates go on to hire other ex-convicts to work for them. For his efforts, Diamond is due to be honored in a ceremony on January 31, organized by the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County at its 4th annual Mitzvah Heroes Awards. “More than ever, the quiet heroics of individuals are a reason for celebration,” said Stacy Kamisar, the program director, who described award winners’ efforts as, “the silver lining of these challenging times.” Diamond is one of 18 individuals to be recognized, one from each of the congregations in the Federation’s region. According to Diamond, that onetime gang leader today runs a successful landscaping business. The graduate with severe anger issues is now a program administrator. The drug offender now runs a memorabilia sales program over eBay and has had as much as $800,000 a year in sales.
Before starting the program in his retirement, Diamond operated a very successful business-to-business consulting firm. He uses many of his business development and business modeling skills with his new clientele. Personal services are often good outlets for his students and frequently businesses involve landscaping, catering, personal shopping, dog walking, operating food trucks, and perhaps surprisingly, creating clothing lines. One program graduate sells high fashion, $400-a-pair sneakers, adorned with hand-painted art and decoration, Diamond said. “We say to the students, ‘look, if you’ve sold drugs, you’re already an entrepreneur but you just don’t realize it. We want you to keep on hustling but you need to find products, services and business models that are not going to land you back in jail. We accept you for who you are,’” said Diamond.
Follow-up research indicates only 10 percent of P.R.I.D.E. graduates go back to prison. Some 60 percent start their own businesses and 20 percent obtain jobs. Ten percent of graduates are still unemployed but are not in prison. The program started out with in-person classes held in five Connecticut prisons. Pandemic concerns brought that to a temporary close. Learning now takes place through written correspondence courses administered by P.R.I.D.E. and in virtual programs taught online to people once they leave prison. Prisons in Connecticut do not let inmates have access to the internet, Diamond said. The program is approved by the Federal Department of Corrections and is recognized by a wide range of corrections and community leaders. Diamond said he also works closely with perhaps the area’s best-known former prison inmate, Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, specifically through the Mayor’s Initiative for Re-Entry Affairs (MIRA) program. “Barry likes to talk about ‘saving the world one person at a time’. It is an excellent example of our Jewish goal of tikkun olam, repairing the world,” said Rabbi Evan Schultz. Diamond adds that if any B’nai Israel members are interested in volunteer opportunities helping released prisoners and their families, they can contact him to discuss an array of local organizations with which he is familiar. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.