Finding a good job or even renting a decent apartment can be tough for someone with a felony background. But DeAndre Brown with the Frayser-based outreach LifeLine to a Dying World Ministries helps ex-felons ease back into society.
The problem, Brown says, is many felons have made criminal or immoral behavior a normal part of their lives. Everything from smoking while pregnant to not batting an eyelash when a friend or neighbor ends up in jail might seem like regular behavior to someone with a criminal past.
That's what Brown, himself an ex-felon, hopes to change. He spoke with the Flyer about why he feels his work is an antidote to crime. — Lindsay Jones
Flyer: How did you get into this type of ministry?
Brown: I'm an ex-offender. When I got home from prison, I did not find any programs for ex-offenders. That's when I started with the prison fellowship. They focused more on re-entry.
What did you do to end up in prison?
Identity theft and bank fraud. I was in for 25 months [six years ago]. It was actually forging checks. We stole checks and then forged the information on them.
So you weren't acting alone?
I had a co-conspirator.
What turned your life around?
Being in prison, I actually started reading the Bible. I started preaching in prison. And after I came home, I didn't want to do the stuff I [had done] anymore.
How old were you when you went in?
I'm 36 now, so I was 27.
How did you fall into a life of crime?
[I liked] the challenge of attempting to get around the system. I attended Rhodes College when I graduated high school. I had a full scholarship, the whole thing. But I quit after two years. The checks came later. I wasn't living the lifestyle I wanted. After leaving Rhodes, I made crime my lifestyle. I came from the country and a house with no running water. I saw people in the big city doing big things. So I thought, enough of this.
do you address different issues, or do you focus on ex-offenders?
Our program is focused on ex-felons, but our main issue is dealing with the criminal culture.
What parts of the city do you work in? Is it mainly Frayser?
Frayser's our target, but we do work in all areas.
What do you think sets Frayser apart?
One, I live in Frayser, and when we started, this is where we began. It's what we're familiar with. And Frayser is highest in all of the columns you don't want to be in [i.e., crime, infant mortality, foreclosures].
How do you measure your success? Are you looking for a sea change, or are you making changes incrementally?
We gauge it basically on the individual, when men and women no longer find crime attractive, when they want to volunteer and give back to the community, and when they [go and recruit other volunteers]. I would say that's an improvement.