Landlady Providing Second Chances
Linda Dean believes in second chances. She operates Kera’s House—a home environment for ex-offenders transitioning back into the community after incarceration. Her mainstreaming efforts include advocating for and educating each tenant to rebuild them into productive and contributing members of society.
Post-incarceration, most men move to halfway houses, shelters, or slums.
“Kera’s House is a home,” she said, stressing that a safe, positive home is an important part of rehabilitation. “These men see it’s possible to live well. I believe it inspires them to feel motivated about their prospects and make life changes.”
Dean’s rehabilitation program, which she started with her husband, Alfred, in July 2008, extends to male ex-offenders she handpicks based on their motivation and potential to succeed. They either have to be in school, learning a trade, working, or looking for work.
“We put together their life plans based on their passions. I help them get themselves together.”
On a case-by-case assessment, Dean works closely with probation officers and various community service agencies to connect her residents with vocational services, educational and personal goal setting, day-to-day life skill support, employment, budget counseling, resume writing assistance, career counseling, transportation assistance, on-the-job training, and health care. Through CareerLink, Dean researches for them and helps generate alternatives.
Dean also leverages a partnership with Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministry Inc., providing prerelease and reentry services.
“With so many programs to take advantage of, there is no excuse not to do something with yourself,” she said.
She also realizes that things happen in life. Her tenants sometimes have difficulty finding employment, their hours get cut at work, or there isn’t enough money in the paycheck for food.
“I encourage them to bring me their problems, and I help them find solutions,” Deal said. “I buy groceries sometimes. I show them where the food banks are and where they can walk to the bus stop.”
Kera’s House has rules and chores that reinforce and instill respect into the former inmates. Dean’s tough-love mothering approach not only helps the house run smoothly, but also provides the men a family-style environment to focus on self-improvement.
“I admit I’m tough on them. Many have placed limitations on themselves that aren’t there. I push them to do better, to take advantage of their second chances,” she said.
Why are second chances so important to Dean? She had one herself at age 3, after falling down a well in her backyard in rural South Carolina. She described that day as “unforgettable and spine-chilling.”
Dean’s father dropped his plow when he heard her mother yelling.
“He lowered the water bucket into the well, telling me to grab the rope and hold on tight. I tried holding on to the rope, but my little wet hands kept slipping off,” Dean said. “As he pulled me up, I would fall back down into the water. After I slipped off the second time, he calmly called me by his pet name for me, ‘Banky, grab the rope, sit on the bucket, and hold on to the rope as tight as you can.”
When her father wound the bucket to the surface, her mother grabbed her and ran her back into the house.
Dean defied the odds by surviving that day. Her own second chance has given her a testament to a higher power and higher calling for her life’s work.
“After I became an adult, I became a community advocate and dedicated my life to giving back,” Dean said. “I work to help others who have fallen, to find their joy and have a second chance in life.”
While growing up, Dean’s mother influenced her to serve.
“I watched my mother’s kindness throughout my childhood,” remembered Dean. “She owned a corner grocery store in Harrisburg. When customers, especially single mothers, needed groceries, she would give them credit. They could pay on payday.”
Dean cultivated her mother’s caring into her five children and 13 grandchildren. Her life quote and constant reminder to lend a helping hand whenever possible is: “The strongest people make time to help others, even if they are struggling with their own problems.”
In addition to her work with nonprofit Kera’s House, Dean has volunteered her time over the past 40 years to several other nonprofit organizations. Her contributions are usually in the capacity of a community activist or public relations practitioner.
For almost a decade, she has served in local and regional officer positions in Toastmasters International. In addition to helping its members develop public speaking skills, Toastmasters also offers personal and professional growth. (Her local club is Camp Curtin Toastmasters, not far from Kera’s House.)
In another second-chance program, Dean serves as an alternate courier for a subcontractor who works with the Gift of Life Organ Donor Program. Couriers on call are dispatched immediately after receiving information for pickup and final destination.
During her first dispatch, the feeling of being part of a lifesaving network was palpable to her.
“I had the surreal feeling of an unexplainable, protective force with me as I drove down the highway in the middle of the night,” Dean said. “It felt strange being by myself. I’m used to having my husband by my side. I felt at peace, all the while asking myself, ‘Is this one of the many things I was destined to do?’” BW