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StoryCorps Flint: Remembering life lessons learned in prison

headshot of Leon and Eleanor
Flint resident Leon El-Alamin spoke to StoryCorps facilitator Eleanor Vassili about the M.A.D.E. Institute, which he founded. It helps formerly incarcerated people and at-risk youth find education, jobs and housing.

In 2003, Flint resident Leon El-Alamin was arrested for dealing drugs and gun possession. He was 19 years old. El-Alamin spent seven years in prison. He’s 38 now. He spoke to Eleanor Vassili about that experience and the M.A.D.E. Institute, the organization he founded to help people as they get out of prison. Their conversation is part of a series of StoryCorps interviews recorded in Flint.

Leon El-Alamin: When I got arrested my family members was there too. To see them handcuffed and placed on the ground along with myself was one of the most humiliating experiences. I put their lives in danger as well as my own.

Prior to that, I would say the streets was kind of like my religion. I didn't really have many goals or ambitions and then really no direction in my life or where I wanted to go.

Eleanor Vassily: I'm curious if you want to speak to what your prison experience was like.

LE: I had an opportunity to meet some lifers while I was incarcerated who became like mentors, big brothers to me who really saw something in me that I didn't see in myself and encouraged me to dig within myself to pull out those talents and gifts and use them for a righteous cause and to better my life and help others. I really grew up. I discovered a lot about myself.

EV: I'd like to know what it was like once you were released from jail and what reentry was like.

LE: It was a different reality. I didn't even know what Facebook was. My nieces and nephews, they're talking about Facebook and showing me different things, technology. So I had to quickly adjust. Trying to adapt into the society wasn't easy at all. I was discriminated against in certain schools trying to, you know, get into college, temp services and housing because of the criminal record. You know if no one will give a give me and people like me a chance, what are we to do?

That was one of the driving forces behind creating the organization that I created – the M.A.D.E.  Institute – which stands for money, attitude, direction and education. So our mission is to provide comprehensive programming in the areas of workforce development, life skills, violence prevention. We do a big piece on transitional housing.

The stigma is like you do serve your time and then when you come back our society still wants you to serve time. You know we preach this in our country about second chances and things like that, but are we really living up to it?

Michigan Radio is featuring conversations recorded at the StoryCorps mobile booth in Flint every Friday on Morning Edition during the month of September. 

Lauren Talley is Michigan Radio’s Morning Edition producer. She produces and edits studio interviews and feature stories, and helps manage the “Mornings in Michigan” series. Lauren also serves as the lead substitute host for Morning Edition.
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