Many of us have probably heard that old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. It is a great phase that illustrates how everyone has a role to play in the raising and training of children in our communities, to ensure that they become productive, thriving adults. I believe that same thinking should be applied in our perspective of those within the criminal justice system, especially the formerly incarcerated population.
I grew up on Detroit’s east-side in the shadow of criminals and major drug rings. As a young person, I viewed these negative influences as role models, which led to my criminal conviction and 14-year prison sentence. My prison experience in was horrible – there was not much in the way of rehabilitative programming happening. However, MDOC did allow prisoners the right to worship, and that more than anything else is what helped me. My faith in God is what enabled me to move toward a more positive life path.
After being released from prison in February 2006, I had to overcome great obstacles, hardships and challenges. During this period it took a village to help sustain, encourage, and motivate me to pursue my professional and personal goals. My wife, my pastor, family members and friends believed in me, and provided the support I needed to make it through the difficult transition from prison to reentry.
After earning a degree in paralegal studies, I worked for various attorneys for nine years as well as the owner of a small business doing contract legal work. These employers gave me the opportunity to earn a living, despite knowing that I had a criminal record. After serving as Director of Prison Ministry at Vision of Victory Christian Center for five years, I founded Worldview Christian Ministries which has a strong focus on formerly incarcerated men and women. My accomplishments are not my own, they are because of my village that I have been able to achieve so many of goals.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any of the industrialized nations on earth. This means that we also have a higher rate of returning citizens to our communities. These returning citizens are often faced with putting their lives back together after having gone through what can at best be described as nightmare experience. In order to assist those who sincerely wish to put their lives on solid ground after incarceration, there needs to be an “all hands on deck approach” within the community of those who care about this issue. For the millions of Americans who are incarcerated, about to be released, or are returning citizens, my belief is that it still takes a village!
Kevin Harris is the Project Coordinator of Nation Outside, Pastor of the Nazarene Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, and currently a Legislative Aide for Representative LaTonya Garrett in the Michigan House of Representatives.