FLINT, Michigan -- Sex, drugs, money, and living on the edge is how Flint native Dion McKinney describes his life before getting locked up. But he isn’t alone. Many have taken the same or similar roads. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, they are a part of the approximately 2.3 million people imprisoned in the United States.
Without the appropriate intervention, they are bound to go back upon release. As a single father, McKinney was constantly in and out of jail on petty drug charges, with his first arrest being at the impressionable age of four-years-old. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, the current recidivism rate is 26.7 percent, the lowest rate in state history. It is almost less than half what it was in 1998 (45.7%). The recidivism rate, measured by the percentage of individuals returning to prison, is placing Michigan among the best in the country and positioning them as a leader in the field.
Jail-diversion programs, specialty courts and state corrections reforms are among the reasons for the improvement, according to Michigan Department of Corrections Officials. But several non-profits such as CEO, The Nation Outside, and the M.A.D.E. Institute are flying under the radar while making a major impact in the lives of returning citizens that are looking for a better way.
Research shows there is a high risk of recidivism facing parolees who return to the troubled communities they left attempting to seek normalcy. This is especially true concerning those that return to the northside of Flint. M.A.D.E. Institute founder and executive director Leon El-Alamin knows the struggle all too well. He was in their shoes over 10 years ago after serving seven years for drugs and gun possession. When he discovered the lack of basic resources and employment opportunities available to those that were released, he made it his life’s mission to be a change agent. Out of this humbling experience emerged the M.A.D.E. Institute. Since 2015, this Flint-based organization has provided key support services for ex-offenders transitioning back into society.
“We work to restore the civil/human rights of the formerly incarcerated and those affected by violence,” said El-Alamin. “Pushing the ‘Clean Slate’ legislation, skilled trades programs, an entrepreneurship program, mentorship, trauma-informed therapy, transitional housing for men and women, and providing re-entry care packages are a few of the ways M.A.D.E. is impacting the lives of returning citizens and their communities. These types of efforts are exactly what is needed as Flint continues to move forward.”
Feeling hopeless and giving over half of his life to the system, McKinney just wanted to start a family and build stability. M.A.D.E. is helping him achieve just that. At 48 years old, he is gainfully employed as a full-time operations manager at M.A.D.E. making his goals become a reality.
When asked how he found out about M.A.D.E, McKinney said, “My mom rents a beautiful two-bedroom energy-efficient home with a finished basement from them.”
“I rent fully remodeled homes to ‘the villages’ that have been impacted by mass-Incarceration and violence,” El-Alamin said. “This is an unconventional approach to caring for returning citizens and the ones affected by them going away. Since Dion’s mother was impacted by his incarceration, she was able to take advantage of this great program.”
According to McKinney, so much has changed since he went to prison in the 1990s. It is a struggle to adjust to this new world. “I’m not complaining,” he said. “I’m just happy to have a another chance to get it right”
For more information about the M.A.D.E. Institute, contact El-Alamin at (810) 835-8304 or [email protected] or visit their website.
Ladel Lewis is a community contributor for Flintside as part of our On the Ground neighborhood reporting and engagement series, which is currently being funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation.