By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A unique celebration was held at the Minnesota State Capital Thursday for people who have been released from prison.

More than 10,000 people are serving prison time in Minnesota. Most of them will be released, and that’s where it can get complicated.

The event, called “I am PROOF,” was a celebration of post-prison success. Where some of the most powerful Minnesotans work, this group is reclaiming their own power.

Event organizer James Badue-El once served time, and he is now thriving.

“It’s time to tilt the scale where we recognize people who’ve been incarcerated,” Badue-El said.

Demontra Davis from east St. Paul says peer pressure led him into gang life.

“We looked at each other as brothers and sisters in my neighborhood,” Davis said.

He eventually fell into selling drugs and served one-and-a-half years in prison. He is now serving his community as an east side basketball coach with a nationally-known program. He is also the manager of a Caribou Coffee.

“I’m very humble and happy where I’m standing now,” he said.

Gina Evans is standing tall as well after travelling down her own rough road.

“I have 15 felony counts. I started shooting meth when I was 15 years old,” Evans said.

She now works for Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, and advocates for reform.

“An event like this is just so cool to welcome our brothers and sisters back into community, and help them understand getting out and staying out is possible,” she said.

Badue-El hopes the community will be open to providing housing and jobs.

“We want to make sure we have a society where people are accepted,” Badue-El said.

One issue that will come up next week here with the Sentencing Guidelines Commission is the possibility of capping probation to five years in Minnesota.

There will be a public meeting at the Capital on Dec. 19 in the Senate Building.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield