Prisoners give straight talk to local youths

September 26, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

“My hope is to be able to kill the lie,” said Mac Hudson, a former Academy Homes housing development resident, about the street-cred lifestyle that put him in prison. “I want to stop seeing my people die behind this illusion.”

Hudson was not speaking in a Gazette interview. He was unavailable—19 years into a life sentence for murder at Old Colony Correctional Center.

His words come from the recent documentary “Voices from Behind the Wall.” In the movie, Hudson and eight other lifers warn today’s youths about the realities of prison and death.

Clips from the documentary, and much more youth outreach information, are now available on a new web site called The Strongest Link ( www.strongestlinkboston.com), organized by Boston ministers, City Councilors Chuck Turner and Charles Yancey, and others.

The Strongest Link’s goal is to connect those prisoners with the community in general and youths in particular. The idea is “to increase peace and safety and to decrease negative behavior and neighborhood violence,” according to the site.

Jamaica Plain’s Jackson and Egleston squares are among the city’s youth violence hot spots. A teenager was shot to death last week in the Bromley-Heath housing development. [See related article.] Both areas are also represented in the prisoners’ outreach efforts.

“Voices from Behind the Wall” was produced by Teen Empowerment, a nonprofit group that has an active Egleston Square branch. And Hudson won respect for his work with at-risk youths at the Judge Richard L. Banks Community Justice Program in 2006, when he was out on bail during an appeal.

“The inmates were trying to reach the population of youths we work most closely with,” said Teen Empowerment spokesperson Stephanie Berkowitz of the documentary. “The goal of the inmates was to demystify and de-glorify what prison life is really like.”

The message is stark. The prisoners describe how their supposed best friends and family members disappear when things go wrong, and how much they miss their freedom now that it is gone.

Among the prisoners is Herby Caillot, who will spend the rest of his life in prison for first-degree murder. He recounts how he entered prison a functionally illiterate ninth-grade drop-out.

“Prison is a real wake-up call,” Caillot says. “I’d rather you all wake up on the streets than wake up in here.”

The documentary was the brainchild of one of the prisoners—a father who knew his own children were on the streets, at risk of repeating the cycle. The state Department of Corrections approved the project. The movie premiered in May at the Youth Peace Conference in Dorchester.

In the late 1980s, Hudson lived the street life from Jackson Square’s Academy Homes. In 1990, at age 18, he was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting of two men on a Roxbury street in a drug robbery. While warning youths about the street life, he has also maintained his innocence.

For four months in 2006—during an appeal— Hudson was back in Jackson Square at the Banks Program, a Bromley-Heath organization that provides legal advice and outreach to adults and youths.

“We’re about helping people turn their lives around,” said Banks Program Executive Director Eva Clark. Among the organization’s efforts is outreach to at-risk youth by ex-offenders—the type of people who can speak credibly while also scaring kids straight.

Clark said that before meeting Hudson, she refused to work with inmates on life sentences. “Some of them, there’s no hope,” she said. But Hudson won her over despite her reservations about his “horrific record.”

“He’s not so institutionalized or bitter,” Clark said.

She was impressed enough to take responsibility for him when he was out on bail and put him to work doing youth outreach.

“I told him, ‘Some want to see you fry. Some want to see you fly. I want to teach you how to fly,’” Clark said.

Hudson worked with court-involved kids through the Department of Youth Services, sometimes appearing with them in court. He was also a prominent voice in the controversy over trespassing arrests in Bromley-Heath that led the Boston Housing Authority to make its policy more lenient.

“He was really good with the law enforcement community and the kids,” Clark said.

“Follow-through is a big thing for most of these kids,” Hudson said in a Gazette interview at the time. “If you follow through, they’ll follow you to the end of the Earth.”

The Banks Program continues that sort of work today, despite being “unfunded” in an area where the need is growing.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Clark said. “I could use Mac right about now.”

Teen Empowerment is doing outreach work as well. Right now, the Egleston branch is looking for youths to hire as community organizers. Its activities include safe social events, gang resolution, youth-police dialogues, arts events and more. The general idea is to give youths responsibility and power.

“Voices from Behind the Walls” has become popular, Berkowitz said, noting that a copy was sold to someone in New York the day of the Gazette interview. Buyers include schools, violence-prevention programs and public health agencies, she said.

Teen Empowerment’s Egleston Square center can be contacted at 442-4684, and the Banks Program at 522-7870. For more youth outreach programs, see the Strongest Link web site and the Gazette’s JP Resource Guide .

Correction: The print version of this article misidentified prisoner mac Hudson’s former affiliation. He was not a member of any gang. The Gazette regrets the error.

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