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I am more than my record. I am...

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Eric Gordon spent more than six years behind bars, for a 1997 armed robbery conviction. He says it stemmed from his first arrest. Gordon says before he turned his life around, he also assaulted people, sold drugs and carried guns. He says several factors helped him change his life for the better. He says it was so painful to leave his daughter behind when he went to prison, that he vowed to be a nurturing presence in her life, and married his daughter’s mom. Gordon says in prison, he began writing down and working through his feelings, instead of vocalizing them. He says God has influenced his behavior, and continues to play a role in his life. And Gordon says he’s become a vegetarian, which has made him more conscious of life.​

I am a tax payer.

Darius Phifer is a business student who hopes to run his own non-profit one day. He has an artistic side, too, and enjoys writing screenplays. Phifer says since he’s been released from prison, he’s also been spending time getting to know his three children. He was behind bars during many of their formative years. Phifer was convicted in the 1990s on drug and armed robbery charges, and for operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent.

Bobby Sliwinksi says when he was breaking the law, he avoided friends and family who tried to push him in the right direction. Now, he wishes he had listened to what they had to say. Today, he is focused on his family, including on being a role model for his nieces and nephews. He says he writes in a journal to express his feelings, instead of keeping them bottled up.​ Sliwinksi’s record shows more a dozen felony convictions from 1992-2012, a number of them for driving a vehicle without the owner’s consent. He has been sentenced to prison and to jail.

Jafar Banda is the president of the UW-Milwaukee student group, Community Uprise, which focuses on issues related to mass incarceration, such as citizen restoration and the reinstatement of the pardon advisory board, and promotes youth education. Banda is an alum of the Milwaukee Area Technical College and is currently a junior at UW-Milwaukee. He was sentenced to four months in jail and years of extended supervision after being found guilty of being party to possession with intent to deliver heroin. It was his first offense.

(Photo by Cynthia Hoffman)

Joanne Boone is the mother of Melvin Louis Boone, who was convicted of first degree intentional homicide and armed robbery. Sentenced at 18, Melvin is now 51-years-old and hopes to be released by the parole board soon. Joanne says during his incarceration, he has served as a mentor for young men coming into prison at Oak Hill and works doing small appliance repair. He also writes books for children, for which he has won an award. His writing has been featured in a compilations of essays written by prisoners. Joanne says she’s “very proud” of what he’s achieved while behind bars. But she says Melvin believes he could never forgive himself for killing a man, and now tries “to do everything he can to rectify and help others because he knows that (these are) things that this man will never be able to do…because he took his life.”

(Photo by Cynthia Hoffman)

"The cleanups are making a difference, especially for the people who live there."

From: Milwaukee Man Starts Mentoring Program for Black Youth in 53206

At the beginning of summer, Milwaukee police arrested an 11-year-old boy for breaking into garages. Neighbor Andre Ellis talked with police to get the boy released and decided to offer him $20, if he would spend a Saturday morning cleaning up where he messed up.

Now, about 50 boys show up every Saturday to clean up the neighborhood.

Truman Shumpert is a brother, son and father, as well as a mentor to youth and a historian. He says he has collected stories about his family history and the Milwaukee of days past. In 2003, Shumpert was sentenced to 2 years in state prison for forgery and spent two years on extended supervision. He previously had been found guilty of multiple felonies, including burglary, fraud, operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent, and intent to deliver/distribute a controlled substance.

(Photo by Cynthia Hoffman)

David Russell Sims is a family man who loves his wife. He credits her with pushing him to take college courses while he was incarcerated; he earned an associate degree in juvenile delinquency and child psychology. Sims was convicted of two counts of forgery and two counts of armed robbery, and served 16.5 years in prison in Waupon.

(Photo by Eleanor Peterson)

I am a community organizer.

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From: Black Male Incarceration Devastates Milwaukee Neighborhoods

Dennis Walton is the outreach coordinator at the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative. A lifelong resident of Milwaukee’s 53206 neighborhood, he says he got caught up in street life and later was found guilty of felony fraud. He says he served time in jail, but his strong family helped him turn his life around. He went to college, then came back to the neighborhood he grew up in to work as a community organizer. Recently, Walton helped establish the Amani United Neighborhood Association.

(Photo by Erin Toner)

Jose Vasquez is a youth mentor at Holton Youth and Family Center. After being incarcerated, he went to school to get a youth intervention certification, and now works to “be the mentor that (he) never really had” for other young men and women. He hopes they can learn by his example, and that he can be a positive factor in the community “because for so long (he) had been characterized as a disadvantage or a black eye.”

Vasquez says he spent 10 years incarcerated, for crimes including felony theft, felony robbery with use of force, felony burglary, misdemeanor battery as a party to a crime.

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