TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) – African-Americans make up just less than fourteen percent of the U.S. population, but constitute about forty percent of the prison population. One recent study estimates a black man born in America today has about a 1 in 3 chance of ending up in prison.
Worse yet, father, sons and brothers are often incarcerated together.
"In one incident it was a father and four sons in the same prison at the same time," said former inmate Mike Hampton.
Former inmate Javon Bruce told a similar story, "Once I saw a grandfather, a father and a son in prison together."
"I've been in prison with my dad before," said Lee Anderson.
The statistics are startling, the stories all too common, but one Toledo organization is working to break the cycle of crime.
The Reentry Coalition of Northwest Ohio is a group of agencies and organizations working together to help former prisoners reenter society.
The coalition brings together mentors, support groups and agencies which help former inmates secure birth certificates and social security cards, rectify unpaid child support and find jobs and housing. The organization even sends lawyers into jails before inmates are released to resolve outstanding warrants and other legal issues that could lead to re-incarceration.
Bruce, who was recently released and is working two jobs and taking college courses online, credits his success to the coalition. "To have someone reaching out like ‘you are exactly who we're looking for', you're like ‘Ok, I can do this," said Bruce.
Even with the coalition's help, former inmates say it is up to the prisoner to make the changes necessary to avoid going back to prison.
"The first time I came out I changed my body, the second time I changed my mind," said Scott Brown, who has been out of prison since 2006 and recently graduated with a degree from the University of Toledo.
Stephanie Bays, Executive Program Director of Abri Family Services, says prisoners have to take responsibility for their actions, and recognize only they can do what it takes to stay out. "[Some inmates think] it's the white man, or it's the policeman, or it's the governman," said Bays. "I tell the men and women, no it's you man."
Both Bruce and Brown are proof that with support from the coalition, and a desire to change their lives, prisoners can be rehabilitated.
"For us, the reentry coalition means safer communities, it means concerns for victims, it means families, it means changing folks way of thinking and doing," said Program Director Lenora Barry.
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