Pastors and prisoners meet behind bars to stop youth violence

Pastors and prisoners met to discuss crime at the prison in Pendleton.
The Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition is trying a new strategy to stop youth violence.

To help our children and make our streets safer, the faith-based crime-fighting team is turning to prison inmates. Eyewitness News went along with five area pastors inside the maximum-security state prison in Pendleton.

It may seem like an unlikely alliance - men in jumpsuits with men of the cloth, meeting together behind bars. But in the battle against youth violence in Indianapolis, a union between pastors and prisoners makes sense.

Five pastors with Ten Point and five inmates at Pendleton sat across a table in the parole board room and talked strategy Tuesday morning.

"We want to know how can we build a relationship together that we can help save a lot of people out there on the streets," Rev. Charles Harrison told the inmates, who all grew up in Indianapolis and all said the violence out there right now, even shocks them.

"You need to listen to what's going on out there, listen to the kids. You know what I'm saying? Because it's hard out there," said inmate Bryant Clark. "When you get caught in that street, the street just snatches you up."

"It's really a noble thing to see you guys out there in the trenches fighting to save our youth," added inmate Willie Simon. "They need to know this is the end result of losing in the trenches."

These are men with a surprisingly common background. Both the pastors and prisoners have experienced loss and violence and the temptation of crime. They say one choice, one decision, is what landed them on the other side of the table.

"I was a foster child. My family threw me away," said Pastor Willoughby of Promise Land Christian Community Church. "I knew the biggest drug dealer in Haughville. I could go work with him. I decided to join the Navy and I took the test and they put me in. That decision is why I'm here."

"Being in prison ain't no fun," said inmate Douglas Cure. "I don't know nobody here who woke up one day to say, 'I want to go to prison just to see what it's like.'"

That comment brought laughter, head shaking and then poignant silence from the group. These inmates at Pendleton Correctional Facility are doing hard time for serious crimes. But through faith and counseling and classes, they've turned their lives around behind bars.

They've also seen what's going on, on the outside. It disturbs them.

"Every time I turn on my TV, I see another mother crying, a father disappointed," Clark said. "It's a war now down on those streets and we just gotta constantly figure out how can we help this, man?"

The prisoners reached out by mail to the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, in hopes of reaching young people to let them know prison is real, consequences of crime are dangerous and a different path is possible.

Kids don't want to end up here. And they don't have to.

"Why should prisoners help? I can see people asking that," said inmate Leonard Brickhouse. "But we've been there, done that. So what better people to get certain advice from than people that have gotten incarcerated that want to change? I want to help the community. It warms my soul, man, it really does and that's what makes me want to be involved."

"There are a lot of individuals in prison who really want to help and they want to give back. They want to make sure those on the street right now really understand the consequence to their actions and there's a  better way," Harrison said.

For nearly two hours, the group inside Pendleton shared stories and strategies to help young people.

A few takeaways?

Ten Point already uses reformed ex-cons to help patrol streets and calm chaos. Now, they may use parolees who've been through the prison's PLUS program to bring it to the outside.

PLUS, which stands for Purposeful Living Units Serve, is a faith and character-based program used at 15 Indiana prisons. The inmates say it's life-changing and it works. They want to see it used before people end up behind bars.

Another prison program Ten Point may use on the outside - have youth in juvenile detention meet with crime victims, to see firsthand how violence really affects them.

Inmates also encouraged pastors to give kids a voice and a feeling of value. They say youth on the streets often feel ignored, judged and trapped by their circumstance. Peer pressure often overtakes good decision-making, without positive mentors.

Leonard Brickhouse wants to do the work himself.

He has seven-and-a-half years left at Pendleton, after getting convicted for dealing drugs. When he gets out, Brickhouse plans to make a positive difference on the streets where he went astray.

"I want to work with them. I want to be able to keep other kids out of the streets," Brickhouse said.

This was just the first step for Ten Point and the Indiana Department of Corrections. They plan to meet again and further develop plans to use prisoners to help stop violence. Both sides say they left inspired by this new partnership made behind bars.

"I'm excited, I really am," Brickhouse said.

"Certainly, we need them and their families," Harrison added. "They can help us in this struggle to reduce all this crime and violence."