By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Thanks to humanitarian and self-made multi-millionaire Dr. Willie Wilson, six Cook County Jail detainees are now free men after Wilson paid $15,000 of his personal funds to bail them out of jail. He gave each of them $200 for food and made sure they were provided with “wrap-around” services so they won’t return.
It is a pilot “Good Samaritan” program of Wilson, who owns the $60 million-a-year Omar Medical Supplies, Inc., named after his son who was killed over drugs. Wilson is also the host of the “Singsation” weekly gospel show on WGN-TV, a recording artist and has other business ventures.
“Some of these kids had a little ounce of marijuana and was locked in jail for two or three weeks, or months. That doesn’t make sense.”
Wilson added, “I had a 20-year-old kid in prison, doing drugs. He was shot and he was killed. That is a commitment I have to make…if I can save one….”
With the support of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Wilson held a press conference outside of a Cook County Jail division where the six men, two whites and four Blacks, patiently waited to be officially released.
Explaining why he has launched this pilot program, Wilson said when he ran for mayor in 2015 and for president in the primaries, he learned a lot and saw how people were suffering. “I thought that you can talk about it but if you don’t do nothing about it, just shut up.”
Wilson said, “This is not a Black thing. It’s a human thing. Some of them (detainees) had jobs. Some can go back to work and take care of their families. The majority of them have anywhere between three to four kids.”
Wilson said he is sensitive to helping people because of his southern upbringing. “When my mother did not have food in her house to eat, she would call the neighbor next door and they would give us a piece of bread. The very next week we did not have anything, they didn’t have nothing and we would give some bread to them.
“This has nothing to do with politics. It goes far beyond politics. Today we committed to $15,000 to bail out the different people, but today I am committing $50,000 to this cause beginning in 2017.” He is also planning on a major fundraiser to help raise up to $300,000 for this project. “The bible says to help the least of these and that is what we are trying to do.”
Wilson, hopes churches give detainees the support they need.
One of the detainees, Vincent Smart, said, “I hope this continues to happen. It’s not good in there. I would not wish this on my worse enemy,” he said referring to the jail.
Unable to pay bail for a month, Dontelle Mohead, 28, said, “It really touched my soul that people that I don’t know came out to help me. They made it where my family did not know where I was. This is definitely a good cause for everyone white, black no matter what. We all matter.”
Mohead, jailed for a month having been charged with identity theft—a charge he said is untrue, said, “In Chicago we don’t get too many opportunities or chances like this. I hope to be an example to give it back to somebody else.”
A father of one, Russell Miller, 36, said, arrested for criminal trespassing, said, “I’m going to run with this second chance and do good in the community.”
A father of five, Kevin Nesbit, 54, charged with a misdemeanor and charged for a suspended license. Said, “I want to be a part of this. I want to help out with this.”
Vincent Smart, 51, was incarcerated for 14-days on retail theft charges. He expressed gratitude to Dr. Wilson for paying his bond.
Marcellus Blackwell, 27, incarcerated two weeks for a misdemeanor and father of three also thanked Wilson for bailing him out.
Rev. Gregg Livingston, who called Wilson’s pilot program a “good Samaritan project,” described Wilson, who in 1970 began working at McDonald’s for $2 an hour and after asking McDonald owner Ray Kroc for a store of his own, owned several restaurants, as an “out-of-the-box thinker.”
Livingston said, “As he would say no one would give him a chance to become who he became, but it took a man who didn’t have a high school education name Ray Kroc one of the richest men the world has ever known to see in Willie Wilson the Black version of himself, a man who thinks outside of the box.”
Joining Wilson were Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, Cook County Comm. Richard Boykin, Rep. LaShawn K. Ford (D-8th), Pastor John Gray, president of the Chicago Baptist Institute, Pastor Willie Cotton, Jr., president of the Baptist Ministers Union, Pastor Marshall Hatch, New Pilgrim MBC, Bishop Mahalia S. Jones, Sacred Heart of Jesus, F. Scott Winslow, former CEO, Michael Reese Hospital, and others.
Ford said Wilson “has picked up where government has let the people down. It’s already been proven constitutionally that it is unconstitutional to keep a person incarcerated for something they have not done or bail they cannot afford.”
Ford referred to a Georgia ruling that said holding people who cannot afford a bail in jail is against their liberty.
“He should not have to put his money up to let people out of jail who should not be in jail,” said Ford.
Ford vowed to reform the bail bond system.
Boykin urged Wilson to “continue the spirit of generosity.”
Brown said she was “amazed” after hearing about Wilson’s pilot bailout program of indigent detainees. “He signed all of the bonds and paid cash” for the six detainees.
Rose Daniels, co-chair of Omar Medical Supplies, and Dale Wilson-Holcomb, co-CEO of Omar Medical Supplies, gave the men $200 each.
They were given their discharge papers and placed in a van where they were also given a bag of food and taken home.
Jane Gubser, chief of Programs at the jail, said the former detainees will be taken to court and to group sessions to help them stay of out trouble.
“ We don’t want no level of offenders sitting in our jails when they can be out in the community receiving access to resources,” he said.
According to Gubser, there are 8,300 detainees in custody and 2,500 on electronic monitoring. She said Wilson’s pilot program mirrors Sheriff Dart’s mission.