Program Gives Ex-Offenders A 2nd Chance At Life

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new program for out-of-work and struggling men is teaching them to build homes, and build a better future for themselves.

For the past five months, six students have learned the math and hands-on skills it takes to construct a home.

As part of their course, they helped rehab a foreclosed house in North Minneapolis.

“These people in this community are on some type of county program. We don’t want welfare. We believe the best social service program in the world is a job, but you have to have skills to get a job and you have to have a network to connect you to it,” said Louis King, President and CEO of Summit Academy OIC.

Summit Academy and Hennepin County partnered to create the program with the help of local, state, and federal tax dollars.

It’s designed for African-American men who’ve had trouble finding jobs, or trouble with gangs or drugs.

“It takes so much energy to be a thug. It takes so much energy to be a gang banger. It takes so much energy to be something outside of you,” said 42-year-old Willie Lloyd Jr., who knows that life well.

He recently got the job as the instructor for the program.

“I spent so many years helping to tear down a community and now to be able to build it up, one house at a time is very fulfilling,” he said.

His father was a notorious gang leader in the Midwest who killed a state trooper and ended up being shot and paralyzed by other gang members.

“I thought I wanted to be like him,” he said.

Lloyd was only 17 years old when he got into a fight with another gang and killed someone.

“I was incarcerated for 23 years from 1988 to 2011 for first degree murder,” he said.

It took years for him to change his attitude and his heart.

It started with reading the dictionary and then books. He said he wanted to expand his vocabulary, and become a better speaker because he grew up with a stutter. He was reading 13 books a month in prison.

But the real shift happened when he lost his mother.

“What’s the best way to honor my mother, by being the man she always thought I would be, that was when the light first came on,” said Lloyd.

He said he took for granted he would see his mother again someday, but his mother’s death lead him to a path of mentoring other prisoners, and creating a future for himself.

When he was released in the summer of 2011, Lloyd enrolled in Summit. He was so successful that he was appointed to be an instructor.

Now he’s helping other men who have walked similar paths measure up to what they can be.

“How do you place a value on having your dignity restored, being able to take care of your family, being able to walk with your head up high,” he said.

Lloyd recently got married and said his main focus right now is being a good husband and father to his two grown sons.

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