By Allison Dikanovic
Last week was a homecoming of sorts for Avery Stewart, who met his nephews for the first time.
Stewart had just finished serving a three-year sentence at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution a week earlier and was starting a new life back in Milwaukee, where he lives with his sister.
Besides hanging out with his nephews, ages 2 and 5, Stewart also attended a welcome home ceremony at the Alma Center, 2821 Vel R. Phillips Ave. as part of his participation in the Alma Brothers Smart Reentry program.
The event felt like a graduation party: plates of fried chicken and roasted potatoes, djembe drums, thoughtful gifts, encouraging words, hugs, handshakes and well wishes.
And in a sense, it was. Those gathered were honoring the beginning of a new chapter, and four men returning from prison to Milwaukee were the guests of honor.
“We’re having a party to celebrate these men in a way they haven’t been celebrated in a long time,” said Julie Landes, director of operations at the Alma Center.
Wisconsin incarcerates black men at a higher rate than any other state in the country, and more than half of African American men in their 30s and half of men in their early 40s have been housed in state correctional facilities at some point in their lives, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“We want them to know that they are loved, they belong, and we are happy they’re back,” said Becky Redmond-Walker, re-entry services manager at the Alma Center. “We believe that they can come home and be a positive force for change.”