We are abolitionists committed to recovery, reconciliation and restoration.
Many people have "fly high" moments in life — where they think they’re too high to fall, or that they’re untouchable. Unfortunately, rock bottom often follows soon thereafter. And in my opinion, that's when peer support can be most helpful in someone's life. That ‘moment’ occurred for me just as I became justice-involved. Yet, I believe in turning pain into power.
Growing up, my family didn't have much. We went to church a lot, though, so a lot of my clothes were purchased for church events and other religious occasions. When I went to events outside of church, I often had to wear church clothes. Another kid began to call me "Miko Suavé," because to others, it seemed that I was always looking "smooth.” Soon, my nickname became"Suavé” for short. Deep down, I was actually really embarrassed, because I knew that we didn't have much. However, what I did have, I wore proudly.
This experience taught me a lot about perception. People will accept you in any situation if you OWN it first! I see recovery as a process of change through which individuals own their past, and live an empowered self-directed life focused on improving their health and wellness, and maximizing their potential. One of the main tools that has propelled me in recovery is meditation. It provides a conduit for learning how to let go. I use meditation to occupy my thoughts with positivity, and to make a conscious daily choice to live in peace. The mind is full of drama — meditation is actively choosing to silence the noise in order to elevate the mind to its highest potential.
In the last few years, Detra had some experiences that led her to becoming justice-involved. She reached out to an agency for support, and was connected with a peer support specialist. Detra described her as “a cool lady who offered support emotionally, spiritually, and physically.” Because the peer did not lean on the traditional case management techniques Detra was familiar with, their interactions felt more friendly, even familial. Meanwhile, as Detra desperately searched for work in her field, she kept experiencing rejection because she could not pass a background check. She was becoming discouraged, worried that she would never have the opportunity to do the work she loved again, helping others to succeed and prosper.
The rest, as they say, is history – because here she is. The more Detra learned about the mission of CCI, the more she fell in love with the organization. This is the first time in her career that she has felt aligned with a team that is as equally concerned about participants as the employees. ‘This culture is rare,’ Detra says. During her time with CCI, her goals are to grow professionally by fostering new skills and talents, while sharpening those she brings to the table, all while doing what she loves – being of service to others. She hopes that by openly sharing her testimony, lived experience, and knowledge of local resources, she will help her participants to thrive. Detra is driven by compassion, resilience, and determination, and is always pushing her own limits to grow.
Mei-Ling Ho-Shing recently transferred from Alabama A&M University to Broward College to pursue her bachelor's in political science. Mei-Ling feels that studying political science grounds her in the importance of political participation. Her advocacy is centered around Black liberation. After surviving the Parkland School shooting, Mei-Ling came to a realization about the criminal legal system: the police do not “serve and protect” – they just throw handcuffs on people after the damage is done. Though many things went wrong on that traumatic day, she will never forget how the police and security guards handled the shooting, which prompted her to begin to consider alternative solutions to policing: how do we really protect our communities? And can we offer solutions to problems before individuals hurt themselves or others?
For Mei-Ling, community is a sense of belonging among like-minded individuals - a feeling of fellowship with others who share our attitudes, interests, and goals, and make us feel like we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. As a young adult, Mei-Ling hopes to leave a legacy of organizing among young people during her time at CCI by creating an intern/volunteer student program where people can plug into CAMP efforts. She believes this will give her generation a more intimate understanding of the criminal legal system, and the willingness to challenge it. “The world is starting to see through the lies, and what is underneath is the unforgivable history of this system,” she says.
Organizing with her peers allows Mei-Ling to generate fresh ideas upon the solid foundation that older activist generations have left for us. In 2018, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, Mei-Ling organized a gun violence summit in Washington, DC, alongside The American Federation of Teachers. This space provided a platform for over a hundred students from all over the nation to organize around gun violence. She sees this as her most significant accomplishment thus far because she was able to create a safe environment for organizing, storytelling, and education, while still getting to be a young person. Mei-Ling calls on experiences like this to fuel her work at CCI. She believes this same energy will serve to address the injustices of the criminal legal system – and that there are stories that need to be heard.
For four years and eleven months of her life, she was inmate Jones, #01638245. On her journey, Ebony saw so much injustice, a lack of regard for the health and well-being of incarcerated people, and a strong need for legal advocacy. She believes that it is time for a change, and is grateful to be part of a team that is seeking the same justice that she is.
Ebony sees recovery as a state of transitioning. She inherently believes that people start recovery to better themselves, and to make better decisions and choices in their lives. At Chainless Change, Ebony is inspired by the opportunity to engage in community-driven advocacy work, and to be a voice for individuals who, due to their circumstances, are not being treated fairly as human beings. Ebony is full of life, free-spirited, and just an all-around people-oriented person. Her personal mission in working with Chainless Change is to bring integrity to the system, alongside genuine justice and equality.
Damean had to advocate for himself both while entangled in the criminal legal system and upon his reentry into the community. Through personal development, he learned how to navigate the difficult terrain of adult life with little to no peer support. At Chainless Change, he uses his lived experience to support others navigating that same terrain. He views his role as a Peer Support Specialist in the same way a member of DC’s Justice League views theirs: both necessary and noble.
To Damean, recovery is a lifelong process of structured self-care, identifying one’s own traumas and triggers, understanding old coping mechanisms, and forming new, healthier ones. Self-inquiry has allowed him to be able to do this for himself. Damean is a great admirer of Marcus Garvey, and is passionate about financial literacy for the advancement of underserved minority communities. He has played golf since he was seven years old (and describes himself as “damn good at it, too!”), but nowadays enjoys fishing and the stillness of the beach. Damean is inspired by his family, and is most proud of helping to raise his niece, Jaylene Kennedy, who was her high school Class President, and who is the current Governor of FAU Honors College.
Before the age of 22, Marq had spent seven years incarcerated in juvenile and adult facilities. As the child of formerly incarcerated parents, he entered the foster care system at an early age. His life’s trajectory was forever impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline, the child welfare system, and ultimately, the criminal legal system.
Because of his experiences, Marq developed a deep understanding of the challenges faced by justice-involved people. Post-incarceration, Marq encountered difficulties re-transitioning into society due to stigma, collateral consequences, and a lack of resources available to returning citizens. Most individuals exiting incarceration struggle to access employment, housing, and education. Although he overcame these barriers and created a second chance at life, he is driven by the reality that, for many, there is simply no ‘second chance.’ This is why Marq created Chainless Change, a community of recovery, advocacy, and support for those affected by the justice system.
In addition to his work with Chainless Change, Marq also serves on a variety of local and statewide advocacy boards and initiatives relating to ending mass incarceration and other systems change efforts. He is a Roddenberry Fellow, Radical Partners Neighborhood Hero, The Sentencing Project’s Race and Justice Award recipient, Broward Young Democrats 2020 “Trailblazer of the Year” and a member of New Leaders Council (Broward). Prior to becoming a community organizer, he spent years volunteering for local organizations, working to reduce recidivism by providing advocacy and support for at-risk youth and other underserved populations.
Marq studied Business Administration, but believes his most valuable lessons came from his personal experiences with being a black man in America and overcoming the barriers associated with his history of behavioral health conditions, incarceration and poverty.
To Marq, recovery is a life-long journey built upon both self-sufficiency and access to community. He is guided daily by the belief that everyone is capable of recovering, and by the reality that we need community to recover.
Keya still remember it clear as day - at around 14 years old, she was riding a bike with her childhood best friend, when a cop pulled them over for matching the description of “a negro and a mulatto breaking into a house.” Despite all she had been taught throughout childhood about being ‘good’ to avoid trouble with police, her good conduct and good grades meant nothing at that moment. While this one incident doesn’t account for all of their negative experiences, it was the first time she really realized how she was viewed by the police. Living as Black and brown Dominican and Puerto Rican kids, amongst a neighborhood of white Cubans, she often felt like they were a target for anti-Black sentiment - both from those sworn to protect them and community members alike.
To Keya, recovery is an act of self-preservation. It’s about choosing yourself at a time when life has become too chaotic and overwhelming. And the chances of a successful recovery greatly increase with the support of an empathetic and motivating community.
David Pina, Esq.
David Pina, Esq.
Oppression is like a birdcage – you may not see the cage if you look at one piece of metal at a time, but bend them in the right way and put enough of them together, and you’ll have yourself a whole system of second-class citizenship with no escape.
Such is the system David Pina hopes to play a small part in combatting. Although he has a license to practice law, he does not consider himself a lawyer. Instead, David considers himself an organizer —and, most importantly, a part of the Chainless Change family— who occasionally shows up in court in a suit when he’s been told it might be helpful. He believes lawyers spend far too much time thinking they have the solution when they’re often part of the problem. As Audre Lorde said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
David first became invested in criminal legal system “reform” through his interest in election law. Like many white liberals aghast at gerrymandering and other affronts to decency that get media attention, he believed that some nips and tucks in the system could bring about justice. David’s time in law school—learning the history of law, witnessing its consistent use for oppression and control, and seeing how many of his classmates were chomping at the bit to uphold white supremacy—led him to realize that liberation for all would only come through reimagining the world. Although the in-class curriculum often further indoctrinated students into systems of oppression, the many lessons he learned in organizing and power-building with directly impacted people while in law school were invaluable.
David sees abolition not only as the tearing down of walls, but also as the building up – of power, resources, infrastructure, and each other. He says, “We practice abolition daily by pushing back against the learned behaviors to seek vengeance, to negate people’s humanity, and to condemn others and ourselves.” And while most nonprofit groups define the parameters of the help they provide, David sees CCI as a community of people impacted by the criminal legal system who are simply taking care of each other on the long walk to liberation.
If he weren’t working at CCI, David says he probably wouldn’t be a lawyer.
Rokeia describes her background as “so colorful it can easily be mistaken for a rainbow, especially since rainbows are what manifest after a storm.” Because of the many storms Rokeia has endured, and the subsequent successes she has had in life, she feels deeply aligned with the mission of CCI.
As someone who has openly struggled with a history of substance use, Rokeia knows the value of support in the healing process. She defines recovery as the power to persevere and regain control of one’s life in ways they never thought possible. Going from jail to federal prison, she has since returned to the community and gotten a degree. Rokeia hopes that her life serves as living testimony that there is a way out and a way through, and she is grateful for the opportunity to show the way to others in her work with CCI. She aims to connect with and inspire her participants through compassion and empathy, and appreciates being the person for others that she needed when things were at their worst. She strives to be a healthy role model for her participants, and hearing words like, “Because of you, I didn't give up” keep her going. Rokeia’s personal motto in the work is “EAT, SLEEP, CHANGE LIVES, REPEAT.”