Vote of Confidence: Ex-offenders play key role in university’s research

Vote of Confidence: Ex-offenders play key role in university’s research


Shayne Hodges first landed work at a pizzeria when he left prison in 2007.

Owned by a friend, the shop gave Hodges a meager, but steady, income as a delivery driver, until it closed a year or so later. Convicted at 21, he found himself “bouncing around” retail jobs, always grateful to find employment despite his criminal history.

“There’s only two ways back,” he says, “the streets or work.”

Ten years later, surviving still isn’t easy for Hodges, now 39. But through Flint’s MADE Institute, he enjoyed a recent work experience unlike most offered to ex-offenders. MADE (Money, Attitude, Direction, Education) participants, who are returning citizens, successfully completed an independent water study in cooperation with Wayne State University.

The opportunity paid Hodges $23 an hour, which helped him support his family.

“This never happens to a guy with a felony. They don’t give those jobs to us,” says Hodges, despite having a masters degree.

Founded by Leon El-Alamin, the MADE Institute provided office space for Wayne State’s researchers in its headquarters at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village. There, the college launched Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP).

El-Alamin says the employment opportunity was a tremendous vote of confidence in those who wear one of society’s worst stigmas.

Three MADE participants, including El-Alamin, were recruited to a team of 30 “community navigators” who conducted fourth-month surveys of about 200 homes with “high-probability” of contamination that causes Legionnaires Disease. Legionnaires and its relationship to Flint’s water emergency first led Wayne State to investigate 188 randomly chosen homes last year. Legionella bacteria were found in 12 percent of the dwellings.

Since the earliest days of the emergency, MADE offered bottled water to residents and facilitated lead testing at Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, located on Saginaw Street. El-Alamin says he and the program members welcomed Wayne State’s interest in their area.

“We accepted the responsibility of housing them, we brought the support of neighbors,” he says. “We helped them navigate areas of town that are usually neglected.”

Also an ex-offender, El-Alamin says the employment opportunity was a tremendous vote of confidence in those who wear one of society’s worst stigmas.

“Some of the guys from our program have never had a legal job, so this is huge to have on their resumes,” he says.

Even greater for the community was MADE’s contribution to a water-related study conducted by non-government researchers, El-Alamin says. After two years of public meetings, health outreach efforts, and proposed remedies to lead exposure, many in Flint remain concerned about the long-term impact of the water crisis on their health and well-being.

Leon El-Alamin is among ex-offenders who helped Wayne State University researchers conduct a Flint water study. The opportunity provided $23-per-hour, temporary jobs for members of the MADE Institute. Photo by Alvin Brown

“People on the north side, who’ve felt disinvested for over a decade, they felt skeptical,” says El-Alamin. “I’m from the north side and I felt skeptical.”

Wayne State is expected to announce findings from the study. University officials say MADE participants successfully contributed to the outcome.

“The thing I appreciate and like the most is that Mayor Karen Weaver has advocated for researchers to come in and do this,” says El-Alamin.

Along with Flint, FACHEP dispatched community navigators into Ecorse and other river communities.

The program also introduced Hodges to “so many great doctors, scientists and professors,” people he says he would rarely, if ever, have had the opportunity to meet as an ex-felon. El-Alamin calls the experience a victory for returning citizens in Flint and elsewhere.

“It shows the work and the way formerly incarcerated individuals can benefit their community when given the opportunity,” he says.

MADE plans to use the experience as part of a portfolio to promote its participants and their achievements.

El-Alamin likens occasions when ex-offenders must perform under public scrutiny to acts of self-sacrifice. Having already served criminal sentences, returning citizens are often more quickly judged as failures when they make mistakes.

“I have to be the example, just like my brother Leon,” Hodges says. “If someone makes a mistake you can’t throw them away forever.

“We’re capable of just about anything and, with the right help, why wouldn’t you want to give a guy an opportunity when he comes home from prison?”





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