In the fall of 2011, I interviewed the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, executive director, Ana Yanez-Correa for a story on effects of incarceration and families.
“There are a lot of people who should not have been put in prison to begin with, especially people with substance abuse problems. We really have to be careful that we are not throwing away human beings.” -Ana Yanez-Correa
Each Thursday, a group of adults meet at the recreation center at the heart of Booker T. Washington Terrace Public Housing Complex in Austin, Texas, for an adult bible study. On this evening, Terrence Jefferson and Jauque Knight sit around the table with other members who live in the community.
Bibles rest on the table as members listen, understanding the difficulties that the others face on a daily basis. The hum of children’s laughter echoes through a plastic curtain that separates the men from the kids’ study groups.
Both men have lived in Booker T. Washington most of their lives, with the exception of the time spent in prison for crimes committed in their youth. Religion has been a key factor in their turnaround.
“So many of our youth are lost to the streets,” Jefferson said. When he reflects on what is happening to the youth in his community he says we only need to “look down in Travis County (jail), look down in Gardner-Betts (juvenile center), look toward Huntsville (penitentiary), that where you’re going to find ever last one of them.”
Jefferson is now a Christian rapper whose stage name is Slim Gotti. He says that then he was growing up, Booker T. Washington was “notorious” for drugs and gang activity.
Jefferson and Knight both sold drugs in their East Austin neighborhood in the early 1990’s. Now both men believe that their earlier actions helped destroy their community, which has been devastated by incarceration.
They are trying to repair some of the damage they inflicted on their neighborhood by working to provide guidance to the boys in the community without father figures.