An Erie County program is helping those who have been incarcerated to start a new life.

We are hearing the story of an Erie man who has spent decades in jail and is now helping others navigate what can be a difficult transition.

After spending more than 40 years in prison, Allen Brown has another chance at life.

Brown says reentry wasn’t easy transition as he was convicted when he was only 17.

“I felt like I was some caveman that they just unfroze out of the ice and then, ‘ok, there you go. Go survive.’ It was a hard road, but I was extremely determined. I had a lot of years to train and prepare for everything that I wanted to do,” said Allen Brown, peer advocate, Erie County Reentry Services.

Brown said he tried to make the most of his time while he was in prison, taking English classes, learning engravement skills, helping as many people as he could.

He also did a lot of reflecting.

He was convicted of fatally shooting Michael Bibbs in 1976 and said he continues to grieve for his family today.

“My greatest motivation was probably my victim’s mother who remained my mother’s best friend. She came to visit me, and I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. She put her hand on my face and said, ‘I love you. I forgive you.’ It’s like she lost two babies that way. She lost her son and she lost me,” said Brown.

Supreme Court rulings made it possible for Brown to be resentenced and to be released from prison.

He noted the Erie County Reentry Services Support Alliance helped him get back on track.

The organization would eventually hire him to be a peer advocate for others reentering society.

He said he did similar work when he was in prison, taking a year to teach another inmate how to read.

“I just tried to help as many people as I could see the value in their lives and turn them around. It was almost like I was training for this job decades before I would ever have it,” said Brown.

The manager of the reentry program said Brown sets an example by helping others navigate what can be a very difficult transition. 

“He came from the system. He’s been in the system for 47 years. So he can identify with these men and women who are coming out and let them know, ‘this is what I did to succeed. This is what we can do to help you succeed,'” said Helen Carter-Snell, program manager, Erie County Reentry Services Support Alliance.