Helping a Newly Free Man Adjust to a New World
Kevin Robert Evans expected to die in prison. Sentenced at age 17 to life without parole for his role in a botched and fatal robbery, the 61-year-old Chester native spent more than 43 years in Pennsylvania prisons.
But in 2016, the United States Supreme Court overturned the automatic life sentences of all juveniles, and Kevin began to realize that his freedom might one day come. In May of this year, he was released, and now, with the help of some Swarthmore residents, Kevin Evans is building a life for himself for the first time.
Kevin grew up on 15th Street in Chester in a large family that grappled with poverty, addiction and mental illness. Several of his siblings died young; others have served lengthy prison sentences. Kevin Evans had not had a family visit in his last 25 years in prison, and when he was released, he had no family support system.
I got to know Kevin as a member of the legal team that obtained his release. When he made parole and arrived in Philadelphia, we met to have breakfast and discuss his needs going forward. They were many. A Philadelphia re-entry group helped him get his vital records together, helped him with computer literacy and job search skills. Though he had a place in a halfway house, his worldly possessions were the clothes on his back and $10.
When I posted a social media request for donations to help Kevin, Swarthmore residents immediately stepped up to help. Dagmar Zuefle saw in my post that Kevin sought work in the food industry and reached out to Swarthmore friends Brian Fries and Carter Quigg. Within days, Kevin Evans had a job washing dishes at a Fishtown luncheonette through the group “Cooks Who Care,” thanks to Brian. In the summer, Carter brought Kevin in for an interview at Whole Foods store in Wynnewood, where she is general manager. He aced it, and in August began working in the prepared foods department at Whole Foods.
While Kevin was getting his career going, a community fundraiser netted $740 to tide Kevin over. Isabel Paynter was one of the first to make a donation via Venmo. Colleen Guiney came through with a cash donation for food, transportation, and other necessities. Herb Mondros gave a Philly classic — Wawa gift cards — and my son Dylan helped Kevin learn the all-important skill of the Wawa touch-screen ordering system. But it is because of Carter and Brian that Kevin Evans enjoys the dignity of employment that pays a decent wage and offers room for growth.
Kevin bought a used bicycle for $25, fixed it up, and is using it to explore Philadelphia, a city he never knew in his youth. He knows that Philadelphia offers him the best opportunity for success, even though it is relatively new to him. After 43 years of incarceration, a lot of things are new to Kevin. At age 61, he has never seen the ocean…never driven a car…never been to a baseball game or the theatre. The other day, he said, while he was riding his bicycle, “I just had to stop and look around, and I couldn’t believe it was real. That happens to me from time to time.”
Kevin Evans still resides in a halfway house in Center City as he searches for a small apartment or room rental closer to Wynnewood. He is saving for a rental deposit and for furniture. If you want to help Kevin continue to make the most of his second chance at life, please get in touch with me at 484-222-2505.