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Life Lessons: Delancey Street--a place for second chances

By Nancy Werteen, Anchor / Reporter, NWerteen@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 28 2013 04:00:00 AM CST

For 43 years, one woman has made criminals want to turn their lives around.

One woman has made criminals want to turn their lives around: Mimi Silbert.

For the past 43 years, Silbert has headed the Delancey Street Foundation, an organization that offers violent criminals a second chance.

"A little 100 pound Jewish woman has kind of turned us all around in the way we see things," says Delancey Street resident Robert Nelson.

"That's what Delancey Street is about: it's about trying to become the best of yourself after you've been the worst of yourself," Silbert says.

Delancey Street houses up to 500 residents right on the bay in San Francisco.

Some are sent by court order, sentenced to prison, others come willingly when they get out.

Here they receive an education, an apartment, and a job. There ís also a restaurant, a moving company, and a finance department to run.

But there's no professional staff, the residents do it all, without any government funding.

"When you don't take any government money, you can do what you believe in, deep in your belly," Silbert said.

Silbert believes teaching these former convicts how to give up themselves is the key to their success.

"And that's how you earn your self-concept, and if you don't earn that, then you have nothing to lose, and if you have nothing to lose, you're going to throw your life away," Silbert said.

The minimum stay at Delancey Street is two years, but many ask to stay longer.

To date there are more than 14,000 graduates.

There are three rules: no drugs or alcohol, no physical violence, and no threats.

Mimi says run-ins are almost non-existent.

"We have no violence, which is fascinating," says Silbert.

Delancey Street costs about $50,000 a month to run. Most of the funding comes from the resident-run businesses, and the rest from donations.

As for Silbert, she doesn't take a salary at all. It seems that hugs are payment enough for someone who is now fighting another battle: against cancer.

"I have health problems. I feel they're irrelevant. I feel I'll conquer all of them," Silbert said.

Silbert started Delancey Street when she was 29, after working in prisons. She holds a Masters in psychology and a Doctorate degree in criminology.

There are five Delancey Street locations around the U.S., and residents range from teens to senior citizens.

Dr. Karl Menninger conducted a long-term study on Delancey Street graduates and found a success rate of 98 percent.

Learn more about the Delancey Street Foundation.