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.
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.
Cherish began to learn about the carceral system in America in the summer of 2020, noting the many ways in which the institution negatively affects both former and currently incarcerated individuals, psychologically and physically. The more she researched about the topic, the more she wanted to learn, and the more she wanted to contribute toward alleviating the carceral system’s collateral damage.
Working with Chainless Change has bolstered Cherish’s advocacy journey, and she is grateful to be able to support individuals in obtaining their second chance at life.
To Cherish, recovery is re-entering a state of healthy productivity through the support of friends, family, and support groups. As a psychology major, she recognizes it is important for those in recovery to know that they are supported as they try to reach their goals. During her time at Chainless Change, she hopes to be that support, to help provide the tools needed for people to genuinely recover. Her personal motto is: “You are the main character of your own life, but only you can write your own story.”
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.
After Cierra’s nine-year battle with depression, suicidality, anxiety, and panic attacks, all while facing the darker side of the mental health system, she developed a desire to help guide others towards their own brand of healing and recovery. An arrest in her 20's also put Cierra face-to-face with the oppressive criminal legal system that continues to profit off of poverty and people’s lack of access to resources.
After a lengthy process of healing, and distancing herself from the disempowering diagnoses labels that were put upon her, Cierra began to see herself as mentally well, not "mentally ill." Even though psychiatrists told her she would need medication to live healthily, she has been in recovery and med-free for over four years. Recovery, for Cierra, is defining wellness on your own terms. It's learning to love yourself so you can love others while believing you are worth healthy, compassionate, peaceful interactions. Recovery sometimes involves going against the grain, mustering self-trust and self-validation, and understanding what is best for you without a cosigner. It is also rest; what the Nap Ministry calls " a form of resistance against burnout culture....a Black body at rest is radical, is liberating, and it's freedom.” The need for change is absolute.
When Cierra's not working, she's writing and performing spoken word poetry. She's also kind of obsessed with apocalyptic lit; the Lahaye and Jenkins series are some of her favorites.
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.”
On March 14th, 2014, after a nationwide crime spree to support her lavish lifestyle, Yohansan was picked up by the U.S. Marshals Task Force and extradited to Jackson, Missouri, to answer for her crimes. She found herself 1,171 miles away from home, with no one to talk to or lean on. As the first developed trans woman to ever come through Jackson’s system, she was forcibly placed in isolation, without medical access, a phone, or even writing material. All she had was a hard bed, thin sheets, and four walls to stare at, sunrise to sunset. Yohansan found herself in a state of depression like never before - one she wouldn't wish on anyone. It was the first time in her life she’d thought seriously about suicide. After trying to end her life on multiple occasions, she was placed in a ‘turtle suit,’ stripped of all dignity.
After praying day and night for God to take her from the awful mental place she was in, one day, a psychiatrist named Dr.Young was sent from another facility to speak with her. She treated Yohansan with care, like she was her own child, and had her moved to her facility, where she talked with Yohansan daily for over six months. This support helped her to stabilize, and she was eventually reconnected with her family. Because of Dr.Young, Yohansan knows first-hand how a support system can literally mean the difference between life and death. She believes she will love working with CCI because this job allows her to pay it forward.
Yohansan defines recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. She is a kind-hearted, down-to-earth, ride-or-die person, who lived life on the wild side before making a difference in the LGBTQ community. Yohansan wants her time at CCI to be about seeking justice for her LGBTQ participants.
When Alex was fresh out of the Army, he was arrested in South Carolina, and was nearly left to rot behind bars after the officer in charge refused his request to use the phone. Thankfully, someone in a nearby cell asked one of their family members to contact Alex’s father so that he could post bail. Alex still remembers what that person did for him, and wants to ensure that they, and the thousands of other people who are incarcerated, can live free from persecution.
Alex has spent most of his adult life studying and practicing the art of grassroots organizing. From the military, to high-level marketing, to old school activists who organized with the Black Panthers in Oakland, Alex has had some amazing mentors in a number of fields. He has worked all over the country, and has organized just about every type of political action. Because of these experiences, he knows what works and what doesn't. He is also a highly-skilled martial artist. For Alex, recovery is a part of life's ongoing process of growth and change. It is only through integrating the lessons we have learned, and healing from life’s injuries, that we become stronger and wiser.