Juveniles find new beginnings at local correctional facility

HIGHLAND HILLS, Ohio -- Former gang members and juvenile delinquents are taking major steps at turning their lives around and helping others to not make their same mistakes.

Right now there are 130 juveniles at Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility. About a third of that group volunteered to begin a new peace project that has been known to transform prisons, jails and schools throughout the country.

"I wasted three-and-a-half years of my life," said juvenile M.V.P.

To protect his identity, we're calling the subject of the story M.V.P., which is his nickname at Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility.

"Most violent person, I was very violent," said M.V.P. "I didn't care. I was assaulting people and helping to assault people."

In and out of prison since age 14, M.V.P. became one of the leaders in a well-known gang.

"When I was in it I was down for it because I didn't look from the outside perspective," said M.V.P. "Seeing that we really fight over what city we are from. That's really ignorant and stupid, and now I can honestly say if I had known what I know now, I would've been released a long time ago."

That mind change started with a 40 day Power of Peace Project that challenges people like M.V.P. to study historic peacemakers, and take steps in their own life to make a change.

"They meet together every week and they study a journal of men and women who changed the world, and they start learning how to express their feelings, and it gives them an out without losing respect which is huge," said international speaker and Founder of Power of Peace Project Kit Cummings. "And then all of a sudden they are known as peacemakers, and people stop messing with them."

The project has helped some institutions drop violence by up to 50 percent.

"Put prisons out of business, turn prisons into universities and get them out and keep them out, instead of it being a revolving door and a repeat customer business," said Cummings.

The once repeat customer, M.V.P., graduated from Power of Peace with a new nickname.

"My whole attitude went from negative to positive so they named me Most Valuable Player," said M.V.P. M.V.P. has since been released, and now the only time he comes back is to inspire the current inmates to make those same changes.

And it's working. Cuyahoga Hills set a statewide record for the lowest number of seclusion hours for its inmates, a feat accomplished when it started the 40 days of peace.

But 40 days is just the beginning. Cummings says he plans to use the peace project to transform entire communities, and that it all starts with the youth.

"I had that young dumb person's mentality, that I'm going to do what I want," said M.V.P. "It felt good, but now that I'm older and more mature, I realize I wasted all that time."

Last weekend Cuyahoga Hills graduated 52 students. It starts a second class with 35 participants Thursday.

Follow WKYC's Wale Aliyu on Twitter at @WaleAliyu and on Facebook at Facebook.com/WaleAliyuTV


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