Following a deadly month of violence in Columbia, a group of men hope to use their past experience in prison as a means to mentor young people away from a life of crime.
“I think that we operate in the capacity of scouts,” Mataka Askari said. “What we’re doing is coming back and saying ‘Hold on, that’s not the right route. Danger lies there.'”
Askari, Dimetrious Woods and Cory Crosby are three of the five people hosting “Time 2 E.A.T. (Experience as Teachers)” on Saturday at Douglass High School from 1 to 3 p.m. All five have spent time in prison for various crimes, including drug and weapon crimes – a fact the group does not hide, but hopes lends credibility to their advice.
“We’re trying to save people that we see, children, that could potentially go through the things that we went through, and learn the lessons that we did,” Woods said. “But we went through it the hard way.”
The event comes weeks after a violent month in Columbia. The six homicides in September broke a 19-year record for the deadliest month in the city.
Crosby said he envisioned the event as a place for young people exposed to the violence to talk about how the feel, and hear from the group about how to work through it. He said he hopes their advice helps children avoid making the same choices they did that led them to prison time.
“It’s more important now than ever that they have an opportunity to speak up,” Crosby said. “Have somebody to talk to, say what’s on their mind.”
Woods and Askari said fear may drive many to possibly retaliate against others in spates of violence.
“How many murders? These kids have to deal with that,” Woods said. “So what are they going to do? Get a gun, be a good guy? What choice are they going to make? Who’s telling them, ‘Hey, I know how you feel.'”
“When you don’t have a healthy outlet, and that emotional volatility starts to build up, and then you hear the pop… no healthy outlet to express these things,” Askari said.
St. Louis boxer Vaughn Alexander will also be at the event.