Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Johnson: Leon Kelly helping to keep parolees free - The Denver Post

Johnson: Leon Kelly helping to keep parolees free - The Denver Post

The calls come every single day.

This time the man's name is Alex. He is 35 years old and a 16-year penitentiary loser out on parole with a voice as sweet as an angel's.

Indeed, he says over the speaker phone, he and his wife have just finished scrubbing the kitchen floor of his 80-year-old neighbor's.

He also tells of having a great lead on a job doing fundraising work. Hopefully, he says, it will be the one thing that finally launches him on a "normal life."

The Rev. Leon Kelly hears this, throws himself backward in his big, plush office chair and beams a smile that would warm pretty much every square foot of surrounding Lower Downtown.

"You have come a long way," Kelly tells him, still beaming, repeating the man's words, before asking about the man's wife and whether there is anything he can do for them.

This may represent the next act for Leon Kelly, who for 25 years has struggled mightily to keep gang warfare from exploding in Denver.

Now Kelly, who turns 57 today, is rapidly focusing his life on keeping gang members he might have missed from re-offending and returning to prison.

He sat with me, and we chatted a long time about his newest project.

Last week, he graduated the second class of his "Flipping the Script" program, in which he works with 10 to 12 parolees to keep them from ever landing behind bars again.

Among this recent class of 11, not one was ever a saint.

Drugs, robbery, burglary — "these have been very bad people," he says of the group he now calls his "children."

He got them for six weeks. He sought not one of them out. They were told what he was up to. Not one was required to take part.

"Each of them looked me in the eye and told me they were tired of prison, that they wanted a life," Kelly says.

He can't remember the length of the parolee list he was given. He selected more than 20 for one-on-one interviews. The parolees ranged in age from 28 to 35.

He could tell the ones who were not ready, were still too hostile and wanted back in the gang life. Those he turned away.

"I told them, 'If I take you on, I will treat you like my own son or daughter.' Some simply were not ready for that," Kelly says.

If they were ready, he would teach them how to change their life path, how to better communicate, how to get a job or finish their education, how to lead a happier and more productive life.

"Not one of them had ever had someone, a father or other role model, who had ever respected them enough that they could trust and actually listen to," Kelly says.

He always knew that was why the penitentiary gates were constantly spinning with the same people.

He had mentioned this to a Department of Corrections higher- up, a man who asked for his ideas and greenlighted this one.

Of the 21 parolees in his two classes, three no longer have contact. Kelly knows they are not back in prison. He just wonders why they don't call.

The other 18 still show up every Thursday night to chat with Kelly.

"It is about adjusting their mind-set. That," he says, "is the biggest thing for me."

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