History and Mission

“The seed for Abraham House was planted at a Christmas Mass at Rikers in the early ‘80s. I witnessed 250 men, the ones in Maximum Security, coming together prayerfully as one. Everything seemed to be normal, a gathering you would find outside. That experience told us to be with them, to not just provide a roof and food but to help them make the transition to a better life.”

- Fr. Peter Raphael, Abraham House co-founder/spiritual director

Abraham House traces its origins to the meeting of two Roman Catholic clergy at Rikers Island in the early 1980s. Sr. Simone Ponnet, a Belgian nun of the Little Sisters of the Gospel order, was a volunteer chaplain in the jail. Fr. Peter Raphael, a French priest, celebrated Mass for the inmates in the maximum-security unit.

Sr. Simone, assisted by two other nuns, Sr. Amy Henry and Sr. Rita Claus, worked with inmates and families in the maximum security and hospital units. Their work eventually attracted 100 volunteers and the notice of the corrections officers and the courts.

The group was troubled by the despair they saw in the inmates and their families. The incarcerated seemed to hunger for a better life, seeking out counseling, worrying about their families. But those who were released usually ended up back behind bars; often their children modeled their criminal lifestyle and behavior and became involved in crime themselves.

To address this cycle of repeat offenders, the group put fresh ideas into practice, and began working with inmates, ex-offenders, and their families to offer an innovative alternative to incarceration program for first-time offenders, especially those convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Abraham House officially opened its doors in 1993 in a brownstone on Willis Avenue. A second brownstone was acquired in 1998 and a third in 2006; a successful capital campaign allowed Abraham House to combine the buildings into one modern structure. A fourth brownstone in the row was acquired in 2008. Abraham House significantly improved the block between 140th and 141st streets on Willis Avenue; the block is unrecognizable from the run down and abandoned buildings that stood there in the early 90's.

Today, Abraham House offers extensive services to hundreds of adults and children affected by incarceration or other social factors like poverty, violence, and truancy, that may cause a family to live from crisis to crisis. Yet the fundamentals remain the same. Abraham House is small in scale, modeling itself on a family rather than an institution.

In 2008 the organization celebrated its 15th birthday. Sr. Simone retired from her role as Executive Director in order to allow her more time to spend in direct service to families. She remains active at Abraham House and provides prison ministry to the incarcerated at Rikers. In February 2010, Andre Pabon took the helm as the new Executive Director, dedicated to upholding Abraham House's founding principles while putting his own stamp on the next stage in the organization's life.

 

THE FACT

Nationally, more than half of released offenders are back in prison within three years. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

While people in every state and of every race, gender and income level make up the nation's dropouts, the crisis affects low-income youth, males, Hispanics and African-Americans disproportionately. Center for Labor Market Studies.

Strengthening the family network improves outcomes for both the prisoner and the individual family members. Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center.