Darrell Redmond Is Breaking Cycles and Building Bridges
When 11-year-old Darrell Redmond saw the flashing blue lights, he went running. There had just been a shooting, an all-too-common event in his Portsmouth, Virginia, neighborhood. Darrell wasn’t involved in the incident. But that day, he found himself in the backseat of a police car for the first time.
Darrell met a barrage of questions from police. They assumed he had something to answer for. “Who did it? What’s going on? What do you know?”
But Darrell didn’t have answers. He felt afraid and alone. Their interrogation rattled him.
Soon, the officers drove Darrell to his grandparents’ house and left.
Looking back, Darrell says his view of law enforcement began to change that night. “I was like, ‘Why are you doing this to me? I told you the truth, and you don’t believe me.’ Immediately, it started a distrust with law enforcement, because these [police] were the same people saying they were supposed to help.”
A HOPELESS CYCLE
Every community deserves safety and respect. Everyone wants to feel safe walking down the street. But without relationships of respect and cooperation between police and the public, however, communities cannot enjoy security. Many communities have been harmed by legacies of racial injustice and highly visible reminders that injustice still plagues modern policing. Lack of trust makes it harder for police to respond to crime, endangering lives of those in and out of uniform.
From the time he was young, Darrell knew violent crime as a normal part of life. He had family members who died by gun violence, and many of his relatives had been robbed. Most of his friends had similar experiences.
Some of Darrell’s peers aspired to be firefighters or even police officers, but many got caught up in street life. Along with violence, drugs were rampant. Some of his older role models sold drugs. To Darrell, they looked tough and successful—the kind of person he thought he wanted to be. “When these are the people you see every day, you want what they have,” Darrell says. “And you believe the only way to get [ahead] is by partaking in the activities they partake in.”
For Darrell, the road from abusing drugs to selling them was a short one. Then he moved on to breaking into houses and stealing cars. Fights were commonplace.
By age 13, Darrell was incarcerated for the first time at Tidewater Detention Home in Chesapeake. From there, he cycled in and out of jail. Darrell estimates he only spent about nine months at home over the course of the next 26 years.
AN AGENT OF CHANGE
Prison Fellowship Academy Core Values
Integrity: Knowing and doing the right thing.
Restoration: Seeking and promoting reconciliation.
Responsibility: Owning your actions and committing to change.
Community: Building relationships and caring for others.
Affirmation: Recognize others worth, strengths, and achievements.
Productivity: Using your time and energy constructively.
When Darrell first arrived at St. Brides Correctional Center, a state prison in Chesapeake, he was placed in segregation for his own protection. The only thing more consistent than Darrell’s incarceration streak was the violence he’d seen. By then, he had witnessed the worst of life behind bars.
“When I walked into prison that last time, the first thing I said was, I don’t know if I’m ever coming home,” Darrell says. “[Violence] was normal. In prison back then, if it was a day that everything was calm, then something isn’t right.”
At St. Brides, Darrell met “Coach” Mike Dunavant, who recognized leadership potential in Darrell and encouraged him to join a peer mentoring program. Darrell mentored other prisoners and developed as a positive role model.
Then the first Prison Fellowship Academy® site in Virginia launched at St. Brides, with Coach Dunavant as program director. The Academy uses targeted curriculum, compassionate coaches, and restorative community to replace participants’ criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed purpose and biblically based life principles. Graduates complete the yearlong program as change agents and good citizens inside and outside of prison.
Darrell says the Academy took “the worst building at the prison” and transformed it into a haven. Academy participants developed values of Good Citizenship™: productivity, responsibility, affirmation, integrity, community, and restoration. In prison, a calm, supportive community like the Academy once sounded too good to be true. But that community empowered Darrell to reshape his entire worldview, as he learned to embrace new life principles and help others in the process.
“The principles of Prison Fellowship [Academy] directly impacted and affected my life,” says Darrell.
People often leave prison with little more than a bus ticket and the clothes on their back. When Darrell was released, he carried with him a new set of values and purpose that could change not only his future, but also his community back home.
After more than two decades behind bars, Darrell returned to the Portsmouth, Virginia, area where he once saw himself as part of the problem. Now he’s part of a solution.
Wherever he can, Darrell shares his story of redemption with local youth who remind him of a younger Darrell. He started a nonprofit, Give Back to Da Block, to steer young people away from crime. He is a trusted voice in his community.
And as a trusted voice, Darrell serves as a credible messenger by building connections with law enforcement and the public. Credible messengers are often faith leaders, well respected community members, or formerly incarcerated or justice-involved people who have experienced transformation and want to be a resource to help others in their community. In Darrell’s case, the local police chief sought his input, valued his personal experience and wisdom, and recognized the need for credibility and trust that Darrell represents in the community.
“It’s a blessing that we have a police chief that actually believes in what’s going on,” says Darrell. “Our police chief can tell you firsthand how valuable credible messengers are. And we’re credible because every act that’s being committed out there, we’ve lived it.”
Darrell acts as a bridge between his community and law enforcement. When someone witnesses a violent crime or similar crisis, they often call Darrell before calling 911. Through this work, he is a force for good, taking a proactive and innovative approach to curb violent crime in his hometown while fostering a sense of trust between the community and local police.
‘ONE BLOCK AT A TIME’
For more than 45 years, Prison Fellowship has walked with incarcerated people and departments of corrections, instilling healthy community values inside prison walls. We also strive to advance a more restorative justice system that respects the God-given worth of each person. And we care deeply both for those who police our communities and those who commit or suffer from crimes.
Through Prison Fellowship® programming, including the Warden Exchange® and Prison Fellowship Academy, we have witnessed firsthand the way treating people with human dignity and providing opportunities for transformation have a positive impact on every person, from those who live and work in prisons, to our communities. When those responsible for safety embrace values-based strategies that uphold the God-given dignity of each resident and staff member, trust can be built. Peace and security begin to take root.
If this can happen in prison, it can happen in any community. Beyond prison walls, we believe that ethical, accountable policing can save lives and allow our diverse society to thrive.
The legitimacy of police authority demands both proactive prevention of misconduct and meaningful accountability, especially where community trust is damaged. A restorative approach to policing uses proven crime-reduction practices and promotes community education and participation in solutions. Access to community programs and resources can foster safer, healthier neighborhoods, as Darrell has seen the credible messenger program encourage in his hometown.
“The police are paid to perform a duty, but we as citizens have a duty too,” says Darrell. “A safer community creates a safer environment which creates a safer society. It starts one block at a time.”
WATCH: POLICING | THE JUSTICE CHRONICLES
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