"Reinvention in the Rust Belt," is the newest installment of Inara Verzemnieks' CNN series, "The Reckoning"
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Jose Rivera used to walk through the newly redeveloped blocks of central Allentown, Pennsylvania, feeling the weight of his college textbooks in his backpack, surrounded by soaring office towers and apartments with rooftop gardens where there had once been boarded-up storefronts.
He was a member of the Latin Kings who had spent more than half his life in and out of prison, until he was released last summer after a 13-year sentence for distribution and trafficking. In the months since he had traded his prison cell for a halfway house, Rivera had done a great deal of thinking about recovery, and its many forms. He’d signed up for college classes through the Second Chance Pell Grant program, an Obama-era initiative that’s been expanded under President Donald Trump. “I remember thinking, ‘What is it I am not doing? I keep coming to jail. I keep walking around the yard like cattle,’ ” he said. “I thought, ‘Forget the yard. I’ll pick up a book.’ ”