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In November 1997, Derrick Childs was a 19-year-old high school dropout living in Richmond. One afternoon he got into a confrontation with an 18-year-old man. According to Childs, both teens had guns. He shot first.
The other man survived. Childs was convicted of assault with intent to cause great bodily injury. He served 10 years in some of California’s toughest prisons. San Quentin. Solano State. Corcoran. Folsom.
At first blush, Childs’ story seems tragically typical. America’s prisons are bursting at the seams with young African-American men — most of them high school dropouts.
Many of them are incarcerated for the same reason as Childs. They were carrying guns to protect themselves from all the other young men in their neighborhoods carrying guns.
After their release, two-thirds wind up right back in prison within three years.
The news is full of stories about parolees who commit terrible crimes. Yet we rarely hear about those men and women who are trying — in the midst of huge obstacles — to become productive members of society.
Childs works as a paralegal assistant in the law offices of civil rights attorney John Burris. Burris was the only person who would give him a job when he got out of prison in 2008.
Burris has mentored a number of ex-felons over the years, hiring them and trying to help them navigate life on the outside.
Childs wrote to him while he was in prison.
He works full time and goes to college at San Francisco State under a program called Project Rebound.
He is studying economics and aspires to be a lawyer and businessman.
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