by: Erica Bryant Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A local foundation is working to help former inmates and their families.
It's planning a huge town hall meeting about reforming the criminal justice system.
“Hanging out with riff raff and sneaking out of the house, those are the days when my troubles started,” said Bondel Cook.
Cook carries an old photo of himself at age 15 when he began using and selling drugs.
“(I) started committing armed robberies and caught a 40-year prison sentence,” he said.
After serving 16 years, he was released.
“I knew I needed help because I was coming out as a convicted felon,” Cook said.
Cook found support through Dr. Madeline McClenney-Sadler's Exodus Foundation which connected him to mentors, jobs, and a scholarship to Central Piedmont Community College.
“I was met with open arms and felt like I was in a family and that's what I needed,” Cook said.
McClenney-Sadler said she started the program to tackle society's discrimination against people with criminal records.
“It was about what Easter is all about reconciliation, redemption and restoration,” said McClenney-Sadler.
These days, Cook is one of her success stories.
“When I go to a job interview, I will show this but I will also show this,” Cook said.
He shows his dean's list acceptance in contrast to his rap sheet as part of his testimony.
“People can change if they have the right people behind them and stay focused,” Cook said. “People can change regardless of what you used to be, this is what you can become.”
The Exodus Conference and Town Hall meeting to help those who've been incarcerated and promote justice reform is free. Click here for more information.