ROSES to a new group dedicated to helping recently released prisoners find their way to a successful life on the outside.Brandon Thomas, who spent 10 years behind bars for armed robbery and assaulting a police officer, is leading the group, called the Re-Entry Partners. While he was in prison, he got his GED, earned college credit and began practicing yoga, and now that he's out he has dedicated himself not only to re-integrating successfully into society himself but to helping other ex-offenders do the same.The Re-entry Partners held their third meeting recently in a Hillsborough church. The group hopes to help ex-offenders find jobs, housing and advance their education.There will be those who view any such effort with skepticism and scorn, who view all former felons with suspicion, and who believe that anyone who ever chose to commit a serious crime has forfeited forever the right to a decent job, an education and acceptance by law-abiding society. Ironically, it is that attitude itself that makes it so much more difficult for ex-offenders to re-integrate and become contributing members of the community. Denying former prisoners who have served their time the chance to get on the right track makes every sentence a life sentence.
ROSES to Ben Strong, a young man from Chapel Hill who is one of the nation's best basketball players in NCAA Division III.Strong, a 6-11 senior center at Guilford College, last week was named a first-team All-America for the second year in a row. The National Association of Basketball Coaches honor makes Strong eligible to win a second straight National Player of the Year award; last year he shared that honor with Amherst College's Andrew Olsen. He has already been named the Old Dominion Athletic Conference player of the year for the second year running. He led the conference in scoring (25.8 points per game), rebounding (10.8 rebounds per game) and blocked shots (2.21 blocks per game).He owns far too many records to list here, but here's one that jumps out at you: last year in an NCAA Division III tournament game, Strong set tournament, ODAC and school records by scoring 59 points in a single game.So much attention is riveted on the NCAA Division I tournament this time of year, it's easy to forget that there are spectacular players -- including at least one from right here -- doing wondrous things at other levels, too. Congratulations, Ben.
ROSES to Allen & Son restaurant, which recently got noticed by a major national publication for something most of us already knew.Esquire magazine named Allen & Son the place to get the best chopped pork sandwich in America.No kidding. Folks around here know that Allen and Son has been dishing up second-to-none barbecue for a long, long time now. Esquire, noting that owner Keith Allen still splits his own hickory logs, calls his restaurant "famous among the vinegar-based smoke pits of North Carolina for its tart, smoky sandwiches." Throw some slaw on that, will you?