Thursday, July 13, 2006

The one who walked away

Sisters, brothers, and all gentle & fierce souls:

This article describes the work of a violence reduction program in South Bend, Indiana, called CeaseFire.  It's success seems to be attributable to the combination of a clear mission, creative program, the right people and the right time. 

Might a similar program make sense in your area?  If so, contact me for help getting started. 

Are you already involved with a similar effort?  Send news that I can share!

Blessings on all peacebuilding efforts,

~ Matt Guynn
On Earth Peace


The one who walked away
By Gwen O'Brien

Jay Caponigro '91 paces the sidewalk in the dark at the corner of a normally busy South Bend intersection. Back and forth. Back and forth.

It's a horrible night.

City police shut off the Friday-night traffic along this stretch of Mishawaka Avenue, not far from Caponigro's home. They're investigating the shooting of one of their own. It happened in the parking lot on a nearby side street. Details are sketchy at best. The officer was off-duty and not in uniform when he was shot. He's fighting for his life at a local hospital.

Caponigro's concern is not that of a resident worried about his property value going down from neighborhood violence. But he is contemplating another investment -- the time and effort he and others have put into the community to prevent something like this happening.

Caponigro is director of the Robinson Community Learning Center, started by the University of Notre Dame five years ago. RCLC sits on Eddy Street, a couple blocks south and a world away from campus. Caponigro and others affiliated with the center have been working to reduce violence by offering residents opportunities for a better future through education and job training. They work tirelessly with at-risk youth. He just found out he knows a young man who may be involved in the shooting.

When Caponigro heard the series of gunshots pierce the quiet of this mild April night, he picked up the phone and within minutes had more information than even police had. The person on the other end of the line was a man named Rey Newbill.

Newbill was at RCLC getting a midnight barbeque underway. He's the lead outreach specialist of CeaseFire, a violence intervention program brought here about a year ago from Chicago and incubated at the center. If anyone could find out what was going on, it was Newbill.

A hard life

Newbill grew up seeing his dad slide a pistol in his shoulder holster before heading out the door. By the time Newbill was a teenager, he was carrying a gun with him wherever he went.

Having a gun at the ready is like an insurance policy when you spend your day in the urban jungle. If someone pulls a gun on you, you got to be quick on the draw. One day in 1988, Newbill was quicker than the drunk, coked-up man who pointed a gun at him. He fired his pistol and killed his father.

Authorities saw it as a case of self-defense. The 19-year-old Newbill was not charged, but he convicted himself. Within a year, he tried crack cocaine to escape what he'd done.

"Just dealing with killing my father got me into the drugs. I didn't have anyone to talk to." Newbill's parents had divorced when he was 12. He lived with his mother and, he says, she was always working. "Mom would buy me things to make up for not being there, but I really needed her there for me. Since she wasn't, the streets took me in."

Newbill ran with the South Side Dawgs. He sold crack, weed and, later, heroin. In 1996, he served a short prison sentence for a handgun violation. He racked up numerous warrants for gun-related charges ranging from battery to criminal confinement. Newbill moved from state to state to escape the law, but by age 35 he was tired of running and selling.

"I just grew up," he says. "The Lord opened my eyes. I knew about the Lord, but I ran from him. I was scared of being a man."

Newbill returned to South Bend and got himself a lawyer. He says the old charges went away. "I gave my life to Him and He started making things happen."

His mother introduced him to her pastor, and they talked about what he could do with his life. "I told him I wanted to work with kids and show them there's a better way."

The pastor introduced him to Jay Caponigro in October 2004, just as Caponigro was looking to bring CeaseFire to South Bend. In a year's time, the burly tattooed Newbill gained the trust of countless African-American teenage boys and helped many of them get their GEDs and jobs. He became particularly close to a young man we will call Devon.

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