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Maximum-Security Cook County Jail Inmates Pledge To Change Ways And Help Fight Violence In Chicago: Inside Victor Woods’ Unorthodox Approach

Victor Woods

By Jermont Terry, CBS 2 Chicago

In an unorthodox approach to fighting violence in Chicago, a motivational speaker is taking a message directly to the maximum-security inmates at the Cook County Jail.

As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported, the approach involves people accused of committing crimes being motivated to try to stop them.

Chicago is a world-class city. But as we all know well, it’s a city in crisis.

“The entire world is looking at this catastrophe in Chicago,” said Victor Woods.

The violence afflicting the city keeps grabbing negative attention. From a surge in carjackings to record mass shootings and more than 100 children shot in the streets so far this year, everyone is asking what can be done to decrease the violent acts.

“You’ve tried to interrupt it. You’ve tried to cease it You’ve tried to bring more police. You’ve talked about the National Guard,” Woods said.

Yet Woods believes the solution starts in jail.

“No one has gone in and included the very people that are doing these things or have the propensity to do these kinds of things, in the conversation in how we clean up the violence in Chicago,” Woods said.

No one has done that, until now.

Inside the Cook County Jail Maximum Security Division 10, we find inmate number 2015-092-83-04. Beyond the tattoos, and the Department of Corrections jumper, he is simply David Brown.

Brown, 25, has been held at the Cook County Jail for five years now – awaiting trial without bond on charges from a 2015 murder. He spent one recent day, he listened as Woods spoke to him and nearly 100 violent inmates.

Woods told them, “You’re all right now living a nightmare.”

And Woods knows that nightmare firsthand.

“I started my first armed robbery ring I was 16 years old – with walkie talkies, police scanners, and binoculars,” he said.

After serving time in state prison for armed robbery, Woods only elevated his criminal skills when released.

“I came out with a degree in counterfeiting, a degree in credit card fraud,” he said.

In 1988, Woods started one of the nation’s largest credit card scams. He ripped off more than $40 million before getting locked up.

He spent 14 years in federal prison.

“I know the ultimate pain of looking in the mirror and wishing that you had made a different decision,” Woods told the Cook County Jail inmates.

That is why Woods and his friends – many of whom are also ex-offenders turned businessmen – went back on the inside. All tried to convince the 6,000 Cook County Jail inmates – many of whom are repeat offenders – to address what is happening outside the jail walls.

Last week, Kenneth Williams was sentenced to 42 years in prison for driving the getaway car in the 2013 murder of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton.

A jury convicted another man, Micheail Ward, of pulling the trigger and killing Hadiya, who was an honors student and a drum majorette at King College Prep High School. Ward was sentenced to 84 years.

Addressing the inmates, Woods showed a slide of a Chicago Sun-Times cover displaying Williams’ face.

“This is young man who killed Hadiya Pendleton,” Woods told the inmates. “He didn’t mean to do it. He was shooting at someone else.”

He also mentioned the shooting that killed 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams at a McDonald’s drive-through in Lawndale back in April – in which three men have now been charged.

“Whoever shot that 7-year-old girl at McDonald’s didn’t go out that morning to do it,” he said.

The point of Woods’ lecture was to show the accused murderers the impact of their crimes on real people, their families, and their friends.

“I didn’t know all these shootings were going on – all these kids getting shot,” said Brown.

Dr. Jane Gubser, the executive director for Cook County Jail, said in her opinion, Woods’ approach is unique, but necessary.

“It really is,” she said. “I mean, I will say that I have genuine concern. I live in the city of Chicago.”

That is why Gubser jumped at the chance to let Woods and his group speak their heartfelt message to Cook County’s most violent offenders.

Gubser: “Ultimately, I hope someone leaves here and gets on the phone, maybe talk to their friends; a little brother; a sister – someone, and says: ‘You know what? It’s not worth it. Think twice about what we’re doing out there.’”

Terry: “When you look at the faces of these individuals; these inmates, do you think it’s hitting home?”

Gubser: “I think so. I think that there’s a lot of people here who wish they could’ve gone back in time.”

Those were the exact sentiments of the youngest inmate CBS 2’s Terry met at the jail. Keriakos Basourakos, or “Kay Kay,” is now 20, and has been locked up since he was 18.

Moments before sitting to listen to Woods, Basourakos found out he would not be getting out. The court denied him bond, and he will be staying behind bars until his 2019 attempted murder case goes to trial.

“I kind of lost hope. I hung up the phone call with my mom. I was mad, mad at everything, and this happened today,” he said. “It motivates me to know it’s not over with and keep pushing forward.”

Two years confined to the Cook County Jail have made him see the outside differently.

“Ever since I got locked up, it woke me up,” he said. “It sucks that it’s still people out there doing the same thing I was just doing.”

Kay Kay said he too is troubled by Chicago’s violence – acts to which he is accused of contributing.

“Why do people in Chicago – people like myself – we always got to do something illegal?” he said. “We’ve got to move passed that.”

As he prepares to celebrate his 21st birthday behind bars, he reflects on what he is missing out on.

“I miss my mom, man,” he said. “It sucks being locked up, man.”

Kay Kay told Terry that when he was out, he took his mom for granted. He also said those “homies” that he and others considered family all deserted them.

“When you get locked up, you realize they’re not sending you money, they’re not picking the phone for you – they don’t really care for you,” he said.

Woods told the inmates, “The only people who can change the culture of what’s going on in this city is all of you!”

And that message offers more than hope.

“He was in the same shoes as me, and you know, if he can do it, then I can do it,” Brown said.

Woods asks for a commitment from the men int the room to make a pledge, called, “Spare the Children.”

They are asked to promise that once they are released from jail, they “will not engage in any behavior or activity that endangers the innocent lives (babies, children, women or men) for the greater good of humanity.”

He asked for a show of hands for everyone who was willing to sign the pledge.

“Raise them high,” Woods told the inmates. “Let everybody in Chicago see it. Face the camera – let them see it.”

And they did. And then those same hands, one by one, signed to commit – including inmate David Brown.

Terry: “David, was there any hesitation after listening to this presentation to sign the pledge?”

Brown: “Not at all. No, not at all. No hesitation whatsoever. He motivated me. I promise you I’m going to send it to somebody, somebody that I know who has a big influence on other people.”

To Woods, Terry noted that people don’t normally go and talk to the people who have committed the crimes and say, “Stop the violence,” to them.

Woods’ replied, “To me, this is common sense.”

Woods and the Cook County Jail consider this an essential step to stopping the revolving cycle of violence.

“What do they got to lose?” Woods said.

Woods was not paid to come and talk to the inmates. He plans to go back to the Cook County Jail later this year to finish, and get additional inmates on board.

This article originally appeared on CBS 2 Chicago.

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