First Mr. Smith wondered whether he could get to Washington. Then Mr. Smith went to prison. Now, he’s returning to St. Louis to help inmates transition successfully to life on the outside.
Former state Sen. Jeff Smith, who spent time in federal prison for violating federal election laws during his 2004 campaign for Congress, announced on Facebook that he will be returning to St. Louis to work for Concordance Academy.
Concordance Academy, as Smith describes it, is a non-profit that will help the formerly incarcerated successfully return to the community.
“While I’ve loved NYC and teaching at The New School, I’m pursuing this because I don’t want to be an exception,” Smith wrote. “I want others leaving prison to get the same type of opportunity The New School gave me, and Concordance will make that a reality for thousands of people — starting in St. Louis, where my heart has never left.”
Smith had been a rising star within the Democratic party, buoyed by a grassroots campaign that nearly saw him win the 2004 primary to replace retiring Rep. Dick Gephardt. That campaign was chronicled in the documentary, “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?”
However, Smith was later found guilty on federal charges of obstruction of justice, relating to false affidavits filed for actions taken during the campaign.
After leaving federal prison in Kentucky, Smith was offered a job at The New School in New York and wrote a book about his experiences and the prison system in general, “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison.” He says while researching the book, he learned how hard it is for those who leave prison to return to society.
“I’m so grateful to The New School for hiring me 5 years ago to a position for which I applied from a halfway house,” he wrote. “I left prison with every advantage relative to most guys with whom I served: I had a place to live; broad community and family support; savings to fall back on; and a world-class education. I’d suffered no lasting physical or psychological trauma in prison. I was white. That I was offered a real second chance was an exception.”
Smith says he knows he was the exception and that his goal is to help more inmates without the advantages he had be able to successfully reintegrate into society.
At Concordance Academy, Smith will lead public policy and community engagement efforts. Concordance Academy is run by former Wells Fargo CEO Danny Ludeman.