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Metro Atlanta center helps formerly incarcerated people with jobs, housing, therapy

The Inner-City Muslim Action Network, or IMAN, has helped dozens of former inmates find work, housing and purpose

ATLANTA — Eddie Smith needed a clean start after 30 years in prison. He was initially locked up as a teenager. He's now in the Green Reentry program at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, or IMAN. He does maintenance work and mentorship at the center, affectionately known as "The Village."

"Imagine going in at 17 and coming back and your whole family has died since you've been gone," Smith said. "You have nowhere to come back to. The Village provides an opportunity for a restart, a beacon for the community and whatnot. It's reentry housing for those who are coming home looking to get on their feet and get started."

Aseelah Rashid, IMAN program director, said the reentry program offers life and trade skills, training, mental health counseling and low-cost housing to former inmates. IMAN started in Chicago 25 years ago and has been in Atlanta for seven years, Rashid said. 

She noted the center stands in an area of Southwest Atlanta that has several rundown buildings nearby, along with a dearth of healthcare resources and limited housing and job access. 

“The Inner-City Muslim Action Network is an organization, at its core, that takes this wholistic model to health, wellness and healing within the inner city,” Rashid said. "We’re not just going to address one issue as if it’s a singular thing. We know by addressing one issue that it affects all aspects of one’s life and being.”

Rashid said former inmates who live at the center helped turn it around a few years ago when it was a dilapidated building. IMAN currently has four staff members and plans to purchase more land to house a future health and wellness center and to provide more housing for women. 

Brendan Salters spent nearly a decade in prison, but he said he found a purpose, home and family when he got out at IMAN. Mentors he met there encouraged him to grow in his faith and become stronger than his excuses. 

"I got out here with no formal training, no idea about how to survive as a man, had no father growing up," Salters said. "Most people would look at what they see out here in these types of environments as unsavory, and I’ve found some of the best souls there, some of the best people there. They're literally helping me hold my life together and giving me something to do in my life on several different fronts.”

Salters and Smith were statistics, two of 47 thousand felony inmates in Georgia, according to the state Department of Corrections. They were both able to get a clean start and rewrite their stories.

"I believe everything happens for a reason, so even my worst mistakes were a big part of me getting to my big successes," Smith said.

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