Tone Stockenstrom Photography
“To think, they actually tried to throw us away…”
Eleven men who were each incarcerated for between 13 and 35 years for youthful convictions came together on Saturday, September 28 to help change the equation for so-called “violent offenders.”
Our first apprentice, Wendell Robinson, organized the benefit to support the new Future Leaders Apprenticeship Program (FLAP). (Wendell is now a full-time project manager for Restore Justice.) More than 100 supporters, some new to us and others who’ve been with us since the beginning, attended. We heard compelling stories of resilience from the formerly incarcerated men and auctioned lunches with 11 of these returning citizens, raising more than $7,000 to support future apprenticeships.
Wendell and his 10 peers are working to make our communities stronger, safer, and more just. Each man’s story is uniquely impressive, and each of the men emphasized that they are not exceptions; they are simply examples of the type of people “thrown away” in the criminal justice system. Here are just a few highlights:
Joe Rodriguez is working 60-hour weeks to repay his family for supporting him during the 30+ years he spent in prison.
Eric Blackmon is a paralegal on track to become an attorney. He wants to fight for better treatment of people who represent themselves in court.
Fred Weatherspoon is a case manager at a restorative justice hub in a part of the city plagued by violence.
Marshan Allen is the policy director at Restore Justice. His recent wedding was performed by an Illinois Supreme Court justice.
Deon Patrick is a leader in the Institute for Nonviolence, in addition to owning his own business.
Yaacov Delaney is now a policy advocate at Community Renewal Society. “Thank you … for having the courage to invest in leadership that’s driven by those closest to the problems and for a wonderful event that honored the experiences of 10 formerly incarcerated men who are living examples of resilience and revival,” Yaacov said.
Xavier McElrath-Bey, a leader in the National Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, said, “I have never felt so sharp and uplifted. … It is so important that formerly incarcerated individuals are able to receive appropriate leadership training to help propel the movement toward meaningful criminal justice reform.”
Leonard Goodman hosted the event at his home, and Melissa Matuzak, one of they attorneys central to Wendell’s release, helped produce the event. Katie Nordine and Nordine Events and Hoopla Communications contributed their time and talent to make the evening special. In addition, we’re grateful for our DJ Pierre Hill, photographer Tone Stockenstrom, and caterer Inspiration Kitchens. Thank you also to Evanston Township High School’s Big Apple Jazz Combo for providing live music.
“We are builders, we are creators, we are innovators,” Fred Weatherspoon said in his closing remarks. We agree. It is time to change how we think about, support, and ultimately pass the baton to people who have served extreme sentences.
See more photos here.