When people spend time in prison, it tends to change their views on life. Yusef Andre Wiley is an ex-convict who did time in the penitentiary of California and decided to provoke change in those around him.
One weekend afternoon about twelve years ago, when Yusef Andre Wiley was in the correctional facility, he checked the dining room at the Avenal State Prison in California.
Prisoners, wearing light blue shirts and navy blue pants, shuffled through the outdoor play area, through a large window, and entered the domestic violence prevention class.
He counted, and at least 40 people snuck onto the metal seats that protruded from the dining table.
"Who is imprisoned for domestic violence?" He asked the prisoner. Almost half of them raised their hands. When he asked who had emotionally or physically abused a loved one, others joined too.
A normally reserved man in his mid-40s got forward and revealed, with a shaking voice, that he was imprisoned for the murder of his wife. As he informed the gathering that he had never felt comfortable sharing his tale with others in a large group setting before, tears poured down his face.
“It made everyone open up,” says one participant. The room erupted into an all-out brawl regarding their own experiences with violence. He urged the men to bring up painful memories and confront their flaws head-on to begin the process of making themselves whole again.
It was because of this determination to change that he, an ex-inmate, founded the Timelist Group, a nonprofit that tries to fill the gaps left by the state's rehabilitation programs. He started the program while in prison 14 years ago, and following release in 2012, he expanded his services to help California's growing number of parolees with reentry.
Following a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling to lower the state's overcrowded prison population by over 30,000, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is reforming its system. In 2014, voters in the once-tough-on-crime state opted to reclassify mild charges, allowing thousands of nonviolent drug offenders to be released. The unexpected increase in parolees, as well as pending policy changes, has increased the demand for rehabilitation programs that assist offenders in preparing to reenter society.
As a result, Yusef and other former convicts believe that many of the state's jails do not provide the courses required for significant change. He noted that anger management, alcohol, and drug abstinence courses were some of the state's sole options for self-improvement when he was at Avenal State Prison.
Yusef noticed that there seemed to be a gap in the correctional services, a gap in reaching out to people who had difficulties other than anger, alcohol, and drugs.
His lectures are based on his personal experience as a gang member in the 1980s in South Central Los Angeles.
To this day, his classes are still being taught within the system. While legislators and correctional officers try to improve the overcrowded prison system through legislation and policy changes, Yusef Andre Wiley hopes that his courses will change the system from the inside out.
A Leader in the Community
After his 22 year term in prison, Yusef rooted himself in the community as a leader through youth mentoring and social reforms. His work was done both independently and as a public high school instructor. The story of Yusef garnered him respect and caught the attention of college campuses, local government organizations, and Silicon Valley companies.
From an ex-convict to a motivational speaker, Yusef Andre Wiley has an inspiring journey that has influenced those in the prison system to seek change. He has inspired students to turn away from violent lifestyles and live with good morals.