When it comes to violence, formerly incarcerated individuals are subject-matter experts. Violence has affected our lives on every level, whether we created it or whether we were the victim. Violence is as old as America, and it’s unfortunate that it disproportionately impacts the most disinvested communities.

Violence is a community problem. To me, that means it’s all state sponsored, whether it’s stuff that happens in communities or through policy and legislation. It’s centered around a lack of resources and opportunities that allow communities to thrive, behold, and be a part of the American experience. Those things help create and produce violence by extension, because their systemic nature is never addressed. Slavery was never addressed. Then sharecropping, then redlining, then gentrification.

We live in a state where more than 1.5 million people have been convicted of a felony [according to Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJAI)]. Most eventually return to the community where they were arrested. If we as ex-cons create opportunities to reduce recidivism, that is a benefit to society.

ECCSC does behavior modification and social justice work that changes the way that those returning think about gangs, drugs, and violence. We represent experience and expertise on how to prevent more at-risk youth from going to prison. With our connections, resources, and partnerships, we’re able to link formerly incarcerated persons to labor opportunities and training that can help them become tax-paying, law-abiding citizens.

That’s the definition of public safety: We’re no longer shooting and killing one another. We’re no longer robbing and stealing. Now we have an income, and a different mindset of what community and being a good citizen looks like.

Ex-cons are the most permanently underclass and discriminated against group in this country. So we’re always looking for partners that will say, “You’ve served your debt to society. Now it’s our time to give you an opportunity to provide for the common good.” We have manhood and mentoring services, we’ve got a trauma-informed prevention program, and we have [our support group program] Phoenix—rising from the ashes to success. Everyone can use support, and ex-cons need support groups more than anyone so that we can encourage them to stay on the right path, not to reoffend, and to build networks of trust. Now we’ve become a fulcrum to help them see that change is possible.

Ex-cons are subject matter experts, so I don’t know why we’re not called to the table more to help society with these issues; it’s unfortunate that society doesn’t figure out ways to better use our talents and gifts.

Tyrone F. Muhammad is an entrepreneur, author, and activist. After serving 20 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, he founded Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC) in 2017. The organization is dedicated to preventing violence and reducing recidivism through job training, mentoring services, and building community networks for formerly incarcerated individuals as well as local youth. ECCSC’s Support Your Local Weedman initiative provides professional development opportunities in CBD production and sales to those hurt by anti-drug laws. This summer, SYLW will open a storefront in Washington Park.

This is a paid sponsored content article from Green Thumb Industries. 

Learn more about Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change at www.eccsc.org.