A History of Violence by Segun Akinsanya
In this recent Toronto Life article, Segun Akinsanya tells his story. It’s distressing to read how his life unraveled, and how he ended up in prison. It’s also inspiring to learn how he found a way out. Here is an excerpt which describes the turning point:
I’d been attending anger management sessions as part of my sentence. One day, I was talking to my facilitator, who was giving us exercises for controlling our frustration. When he told me to count to 10, something bubbled up inside me and I just lost it. I thought, He doesn’t even know why I’m angry! He doesn’t know what led me here. At that moment, I realized that neither did I. I needed to sit down and think about what I had gone through. Many young men in jail had faced the same barriers as I did. If I figured out where I went wrong, maybe I could help myself and others like me.
For the next six months, I became obsessed with writing a manual based on my own experience—a book that would help kids avoid getting into trouble. I conducted written surveys, asking fellow inmates what happened to bring them to incarceration. I was looking for common threads. And I found them: peer pressure, single-parent households, racism, low incomes, getting shunted around the education system, precarious housing. We were all just living up to our own stereotypes. I wanted to break the cycle.
I made a decision: as soon as I got out, I would look into launching programs for marginalized kids.
When Segun finally was released from prison, it was very difficult for him. (If you read some of the comments at the end of the Toronto Life article, you will learn about the prejudices he still has to deal with.) Organizations like 360Kids gave him some initial support, and he also was successful in getting grants to support the development of new programs. This is very encouraging!
But is this sustainable? It’s one thing for governments and non-profits to support people like Segun. The real challenge, though, is to shift attitudes and overcome prejudice. If you were an employer, what would you say to Segun if he showed up at your door?