Vote of Confidence: Ex-offenders play key role in university’s research

Shayne Hodges first landed work at a pizzeria when he left prison in 2007.

Owned by a friend, the shop gave Hodges a meager, but steady, income as a delivery driver, until it closed a year or so later. Convicted at 21, he found himself “bouncing around” retail jobs, always grateful to find employment despite his criminal history.

“There’s only two ways back,” he says, “the streets or work.”

Ten years later, surviving still isn’t easy for Hodges, now 39. But through Flint’s MADE Institute, he enjoyed a recent work experience unlike most offered to ex-offenders. MADE (Money, Attitude, Direction, Education) participants, who are returning citizens, successfully completed an independent water study in cooperation with Wayne State University.

The opportunity paid Hodges $23 an hour, which helped him support his family.

“This never happens to a guy with a felony. They don’t give those jobs to us,” says Hodges, despite having a masters degree.

Founded by Leon El-Alamin, the MADE Institute provided office space for Wayne State’s researchers in its headquarters at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village. There, the college launched Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP).

El-Alamin says the employment opportunity was a tremendous vote of confidence in those who wear one of society’s worst stigmas.
Three MADE participants, including El-Alamin, were recruited to a team of 30 “community navigators” who conducted fourth-month surveys of about 200 homes with “high-probability” of contamination that causes Legionnaires Disease. Legionnaires and its relationship to Flint’s water emergency first led Wayne State to investigate 188 randomly chosen homes last year. Legionella bacteria were found in 12 percent of the dwellings.

Since the earliest days of the emergency, MADE offered bottled water to residents and facilitated lead testing at Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, located on Saginaw Street. El-Alamin says he and the program members welcomed Wayne State’s interest in their area.

“We accepted the responsibility of housing them, we brought the support of neighbors,” he says. “We helped them navigate areas of town that are usually neglected.”

Also an ex-offender, El-Alamin says the employment opportunity was a tremendous vote of confidence in those who wear one of society’s worst stigmas.

“Some of the guys from our program have never had a legal job, so this is huge to have on their resumes,” he says.

Even greater for the community was MADE’s contribution to a water-related study conducted by non-government researchers, El-Alamin says. After two years of public meetings, health outreach efforts, and proposed remedies to lead exposure, many in Flint remain concerned about the long-term impact of the water crisis on their health and well-being.

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