RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Reducing recidivism and restoring the rights of felons is being discussed both within area re-entry programs and even on some campaign trails.
But for one area non-profit organization it’s more personal and being challenged by the People of Purpose.
In 1987, Pahokee native William Freeman joined the U.S. Navy for a better life.
“If you don’t change your mind in there how can you change you mind outside,” Freeman said.
But he never made it to an assignment.
“Because I couldn’t swim I had to come back home as a non-recruit. And so I felt like a failure at that point,” he said.
And over the next 30 years he coped with a drug addiction which resulted in four stints in prison but the time in prison gave him an opportunity for education.
”I promised myself I’m not going back to prison,” he said.
Freeman acquired over 30 certifications — from parenting to using a fork lift — and on Jan. 1, 2021 he opened a non-profit to give purpose to others like him.
”We have every platform right now for substance abuse — except for crack. Crack cocaine hit our streets in 1985 and I was one of those individuals who fell into that crack,” Freeman said.
People of Purpose, Inc. founded by Freeman provides life skills, work placement and transitional housing to people like Solomon Brown whose working two jobs and married to a rising attorney.
”If a man doesn’t have a purpose he feels helpless and he doesn’t have anything really to lose,” Brown said.
Brown is a man with new found purpose, but that’s only part of the story in a state with an imprisonment rate that’s 23 percent higher than the national average and 47-percent Black, according to this data.
”The biggest challenge is financial support,” Freeman said.
During a panel discussion with U.S. Representative Charlie Crist members of the reentry community detailed how Level 2 background checks which can disqualify a person because of their criminal record ruins opportunities, careers and even housing prospects.
”What does my background consist of — was it something that I did when I was 16 because I paid my dues and I’m still living this out,” said Lasendra Wilson, Gulfstream Goodwill Youth Re-entry Services master mentor.
Wilson says this “gray area” begins a cycle.
”They’re going to find a way to survive so now I got to go back to what I know because you didn’t give me a chance,” Wilson said. “You didn’t want me to work on your job. You didn’t want me to live next door to you.”
Rep. Crist met with members of the re-entry community as part of a statewide tour announcing his Justice for All policy plan. Rep. Crist a candidate for governor wants to seek a new state law that would enable felons who have been released from prison to have their voting rights restored automatically — even if they owe court, costs, fees and restitution.
”All people deserve justice and it’s been disproportionately unfair to Black and Brown people throughout the state and frankly throughout our country and enough is enough and it’s time to fix it,” Rep. Crist said.
But the rights of felons to this panel don’t stop there.
”It’s beyond voting,” Wilson said.
Rep. Crist’s plan would also accelerate clemency requests and seek stronger gun safety laws. Proposed gun safety effort includes universal background checks for legal buyers as well as a ban on large magazine and assault rifles telling WPTV “we don’t need weapons of war on the streets of Florida anymore.”
Rep. Crist took his message to Fort Lauderdale and on Wednesday will be in Miami. To learn more about Rep. Crist’s Justice for All plan, see the image below.
To learn more about the People of Purpose, Inc. visit, here: https://www.peopleofpurposefl.org/.