Testimonies / Support


The HER Group Program Works

Written by:

Ms. Vanessa Williams

First I would like to give thanks to my God and the Lord Jesus Christ, for putting these special people in my life. These people that I would like to thank are Emmanuel Avraham CEO and President of The HER Group, Mayor Kaseem Reed City of Atlanta, Ms. Crystal Allen (Atlanta Day Reporting Center), Ms. Debra Lum (Director of Atlanta Workforce Development Agency AWDA), and last but not least Mrs. Elianah C. Avraham the Senior Vice President of The HER Program. I am very grateful for all of you.

I want to tell a little about The HER Program and what it has done to improve my new way of life. While coming to The HER Program I learned a lot about love, how to love, and why I must love. Mr. Avraham had each one of us to share about our life history before we began the class as I heard each person share. I began to get open-minded about why we all was here in the class, and were here to get a better outlook on life and what will be ahead of us as we go on in life. Mr. Avraham also thought me how to not look down on people, unless I was reaching down to pick them up. We never know what a person maybe going through, so always be a caring spirit for the next human begins. I really enjoyed this class and wish it was longer than six weeks, because the love that we got in class is a lifelong love you can never get enough of it. I know we must move on to our next journey. The HER Program class has introduced me to a lot of people to put in my network, and how to use them to get what I need to get to my next journey.

I will never forget Mr. James Byrd (Right Way Wrong Way) maybe because thats my brother name. He really touched my soul when he talked about how you can put yourself out of getting a job. When you go to a company and smoke outside of the place and the employer see you and they dont want you in their company because of the one action that you showed by not caring about how you look or smell. It almost made me stop smoking. I have really enjoyed my six weeks and will miss each one of the people that have crossed my path in this class.

May God Bless each one of us and may our journey be successful as we go on to the next phase. I want to express that The HER Program should be open for people who are in the prison system, and people who are coming out of the system, and most of all to the children in schools before they get into trouble, because I think that The HER Program prepare people for the future. I know that I needed change and most of all to change my thinking. Before I became willing to change my thinking was messed up. The HER Program has taught me a better understanding on how to change the way that I think, and I really believe that once people get a taste of The HER Program, their life will change for the best. If it worked for me it can work for anybody. Thank you and have a blessed life.


President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors speaks TRUTH.

Testifying before the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer (D) urged lawmakers to address the transitional needs of ex offenders returning to the community so that they can have a better chance of leading productive, lawful lives.

Mayor Palmer shared with the Committee the need to return The Life Skills Academy (the name prior to The HER Group) and Emmanuel Watson-Avraham, back within the New Jersey Department of Corrections and throughout New Jersey. The services is much needed and works I have the proof it works, and I know that it works Mr. Chairman, stated Palmer. The Mayor requested that Chairman Assemblyman William Payne (D) look into Governor Jon Corzine (D) request five months ago to review the effectiveness of The Life Skills Academy services after several negative media reports. Many questioned the timing of the cancelled contract, and the status of this review process.

Mayor Palmer, and many others have said previously, We expect The Life Skills Academy to return. No one has said the services weren't good. In September of 2006 the for profit company, The Life Skills Academy wrote a four page letter to State officials seeking an opportunity to answer the many false and negative media attacks.

What is so odd about the whole matter is rumor has it that these false and negative attacks were spearheaded by a former out of state official who wasnt reappointed by Governor Jon Corzine (D), and wanted revenge on certain New Jersey officials for failing to support their reappointment. We have some in the media who wanted a story, and a mean spirited former high ranking state official who wanted revenge.

What a combination. Henry Contel a former inmate in the New Jersey Correctional system who served over 25 years, said When I came home from prison I came to a new world. There were no microwave ovens when I went to prison, no computers when I went to prison, no IPods when I went to prison, and no one to help me when I came home. Mr. Contel addressed the Committee in a very compassionate way, It wasnt until I received The Life Skills that my life on the outside began to adjust. The system needs The Life Skills Academy, both on the inside very badly and on the outside if we are to have a chance in this new world.

Life Skills works and it changes lives. Many question why the only minority (Black, Hispanic, or Woman) contractor doing business within a multibillion dollar industry, have come under such negative media attacks; after providing such a great service for over 12 years with not one infraction prior to these negative media attacks. Minority owned for profit companies make up less than 1% of contractors doing business with The State of New Jersey. The projections are that 70,000 ex offenders will return to New Jerseys communities in the next two years, Palmer said. We know that without transitional support for housing, life skills, jobs and transportation, large numbers of these individuals will return to crime. To prevent this waste of human potential, not to mention the tax dollars spent on recidivism we need to strengthen community and faith-based support for these returning individuals. Their success will benefit our entire society.

But more needs to be done, Palmer said, voicing his support for The Life Skills Academy and proposed legislation that would allow expungement of the criminal records of certain nonviolent offenders who do not re-offend. Given the numbers of ex offenders and their potential to stop being a burden on society and on their families, we need to create appropriate conditions under which expungement of criminal records will open doors to jobs, because that stabilizes lives.



Osman Sharif

My name is Osman (Frank 9X) Sharif and I spent twenty one (21) years in Trenton State Prison; of those years I spent twenty (20) years in MCU (Management Control Unit) isolation (23 hours out of 24 in total lockup). The cost to the State of New Jersey for this intensive care was approximately $1,000,000 (one million dollars) for me (one inmate); $50,000 annually for 20 years. This doesnt include the years spend prior to these 20 plus years.

I was released on August 9, 2001. I maintained my sanity by my total and complete Faith in God. Prior to being sent to MCU, for no warranted reason, except being suspected of having a tremendous influence on the prison population and therefore could affect the smooth running operation of the prison. Those were their words, not mine and that justification was used at every annual or semi annual review hearing until my actual release from prison. I emphasize again that I was not sent to MCU for anything I had actually done; just suspected of what I was capable of doing!

These hearings are long past due and critically important. I come before this panel to address several extremely important issues: (1) The cruel and unusual punishment that is rendered to inmates and indirectly their families is a crime in and of itself and should be an embarrassment in a so called civilized society. Prisons are/were supposed to be places of punishment, reformation and rehabilitation. Taking a persons most valued liberty freedom and reducing them to slavery. Theres no better word for what these warehouses have become. Particularly with the deliberate move to privatization and the corruption and creed that comes with same. Stock market gains, cheap labor, inhumanity, degradation and unbridled violence. The bottom line in the Prison Industrial Complex have become profits and not human excellence.

Families are treated with contempt, humiliated, disrespected and abused with exorbitant phone costs, commissary thievery for clothing and food purchases, visitation restrictions, etc. Due to the inhumane treatment prisoners find it very difficult to maintain or develop tolerance, compassion, love and civility which are necessary to be a productive citizen; which is expected of one, once released. How does one be treated like an animal for years and then be expected to be a disciplined and balanced human being? The new found wisdom entitled Re-Entry has appeared on the scene as if its a new awareness!

This leads me to my (2) important issue: My Re-Entry into society in August of 2001. I was blessed to have a loving wife and family that supported me and welcomed me home with open and loving arms. With Gods help, my family and the most effective Re-Entry Program that was the only minority contractor within the New Jersey Department of Correction up until August 2006. The H.E.R. Group (The Human Excellent Resource Group - formerly The Life Skills Academy / Amer-I-Can Academy of New Jersey) under the leadership of Emmanuel Watson. The H.E.R. Group afforded me the training, support and preparation to become gainfully employed and further the work of teaching and helping others make a successful Re-Entry.

Let me emphasize that you have a proven model that Re-Entry must start before release. One that should not be apart of the prison structure but separate and apart from the system. You do not have to re-invent the wheel. Never in my 30 plus years of history of being incarcerated in county, state, and federal institutions have witnessed any program as effective as The H.E.R. Group.

Seriously review the studies and findings of the effectiveness of The H.E.R. Group.

Thanks you so very much,

Osmar Sharif (formerly Frank Simmons)



Pamela Smallwood

Hello my name is Pamela Smallwood and my first arrest occurred in 1985 for shoplifting.

My first prison stay was in 1993 for CDS (drug charge) at Edna Mahan Correctional Prison for Women (Clinton) and was released in 1995 without ever receiving any real help of rehabilitation.

I returned to prison in 1996 for violation of parole, and was released from Edna Mahan in 1997 after one year.

I returned to prison in 2001 on a CDS charge (drugs) once again, at which time I was introduced to the Life Skills Academy. For the first time in my adult life while incarcerated life had become very meaningful. During this prison bid my beloved mother passed away and things became very difficult for me.

However, while at Edna Mahan I signed up for the Life Skills training. Ms. Cathy Momski Gorrell of The Life Skills Academy was my instructor and after the training she gave me a Life Management Plan one day during our enhancement sessions. This document helped me arrange my life plan for life after prison. I felt that at the time I was strong enough to deal with the loss of my beloved mother to whom was so dear to me.

I was released from Edna Mahan in late 2002. For three years I was living a life of true freedom because of what I had learned from The Life Skills Academy.

However, lifes challenges began to get the best of me. In the back of my mind a voice kept telling me to stick to your life management plan, but my old drug addictive behavior got the best of me during a very weak time.

In late 2005 I returned to the womens prison on another drug charge of CDS. This time they placed me in the Maximum Security Unit. The light came on, and all I wanted to do at this point was to get my life back together.

I signed up for The Life Skills Academy training once again. This time I was determined to make it. Mr. Lou Mercer was the new instructor for the class. I wanted to get back into Life Skills Academy and share with the other women in the Maximum Security Unit on how important it was for them to take full advantage of the training. This time there was a long waiting list. Too long. I mean too long. One day I approached Mr. Mercer and shared with him my history and how much I needed to return to the class. He found a way to get me back into the class.

You see, for three years I was free because of the voice of my mother, The Life Skills Academy and my God.

Graduating from the training the second time was truly an honor. The Life Skills Academy made us feel like we were very special. Martin Luther King III, Dr. Martin Luther King Jrs son was our guest speaker. It was truly a great day and I felt the presence of my mother in the building smiling at me.

So many women were heart broken at Edna Mahan when the State didnt renew the contract of The Life Skills Academy. We felt that the system didnt care about woman, blacks, hispanics, or poor whites. Our attitudes changed once again. We felt like all they wanted to do was just to warehouse us.

Many of us didnt understand the reasoning of the State. We started to hold readings from the book and reflected upon the things that we learned from Life Skills Academy to get us through our prison time. It became our secret organization within the prison.

I have been released from Edna Mahan since early 2007 and I have been totally drug free. One day while reviewing chapter 15 & 16 of The Life Skills Academy training manual and my life management plan on my bed in prison the decision was made by Me to get out of prison and get some additional help for my drug issues and the longing in my heart for my mother.

Upon my release from prison - I felt I needed to assure that my old drug habits didnt take over my life again so I admitted myself into Integrity House in Newark New Jersey.

l have a steady job now, and about to go to school through Catholic Charities for food service certification.

On the question of Re-Entry and Recidivism? The H.E.R Group (formerly The Life Skills Academy) was the best program to ever happen for me and other Women in prison. That is a fact that I can attest to.

I wish to thank you all for allowing me to share these few words with you. May God Bless each of you for reading our pain.


Henry (Condit) Muhammad 

Henry (Condit) Muhammad is a former member and President of the award winning SCARED STRAIGHT PROGRAM.

In 1996 I was transferred from East Jersey Prison to the Clinton House. Finally in 1997 released from prison after 23 years under the conditions of beginning on Parole for LIFE. Thats correct Parole for Life.

In June 2006 they vacated my life on parole. Thats when my soul first felt true freedom. The parole officers said I was the first Lifer to ever get off a life sentence on parole in less than ten (10) years.

While serving 23 years in New Jersey State Prison for robbery & murder at East Jersey State Prison (Rahway State Prison) I was a member & President of the Lifers Group Scared Straight Program. Also, I authored the only prison based family counseling program.

For the past 11 years I have continued my work with juveniles and at risk youth all over the country. I have traveled throughout the United States sharing my history with the youth and adults in an effort to deter them from a life of criminal and antisocial behaviors.

In prison news spreads fast, and all those who wanted to do what was right heard about the program being headed by Emmanuel Watson.

Once in the community I immediately contacted brother Emmanuel and got actively involved in his efforts both on the streets and in the prisons from the outside. The system wasnt going to allow me to come back into the prison to instruct training while still on parole.

Emmanuel started getting many many letters from inmates at East Jersey Prison wanting his company to come into the prison. DOC had allowed the training to take place throughout the institutions except for East Jersey Prison and Trenton State Prison. Over 800 inmates from the prison signed petitions requesting that the training come into East Jersey Prison, and it did. These guys have never signed a petition for anything. But they did, to get this program into East Jersey Prison.

What was so funny, former DOC Commissioner Jack Turhune changed the prison dress code and became such an enemy of the inmates, that he couldnt even go to Trenton State Prison to address a graduation program. The Commissioner called upon Brother Emmanuel of The Life Skills Academy (presently The H.E.R. Group) to address the inmates on his behalf.

The Life Skills Academy was very active in the surrounding communities and within the prisons. Participants trusted the staff and the human development life management skills training with their lives.

Listen, we are talking about a very direct meaningful pro active prevention and intervention approach within The H.E.R. Group. It gets no better than what we do as a tool.

My 28 years experience working with troubled youth as part of the Scared Straight Program has helped me so much in my present job working for The New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission as a Transitional Coordinator, assisting young men with their Re Entry into the community.

While I dont possess a college degree, I do possess:

A masters in prison-ology.

A masters in crime-ology.

A masters in street-ology.

We will continue to share our experiences with youth and adults in such a way as to make them seriously think about their actions. We seek to inspire them to redirect the course of their lives in a positive direction.

Many questions are seriously going unanswered about the States level of commitment to the issue of Re-Entry and the reduction in Recidivism.

Dozens of programs have been established with grant monies earmarked for Re Entry. However, how much of these monies is actually spent on prevention and intervention?

There are many ex offenders who have achieved a successful transition back into the community. However, they are not tapped for their knowledge of how they achieved a successful Re-Entry.

The answer to successful Re Entry lies right within The H.E.R. Group (The Life Skills Academy). With those who had the direct pain and have achieved Re-Entry.

Thanks you so very much for this opportunity.

Your Brother, Friend & Servant Henry Condit