Leadership and Ex Felons
Kevin Catlin interview with Pastor Joseph Hamilton;: Reclaiming the men of the inner city, one life at a time.
January 3, 2017
In my work as a leadership trainer and coach I am always on the lookout for persons that exemplify what it means to be a leader. It serves us to be constant students. Meet Pastor Joseph Hamilton.
I met the Pastor at his innovative, effective, and compassionate undertaking called the Martin Home. This is no ordinary home. In this "home" ex-felons are, through much support and education, transitioned into meaningful and productive members of our society. In this austere, (the business office was a small room off the kitchen with an ancient computer on a cot) men are vetted, given a strict regimen of expectations and behaviors delivered by the pastor and a tiny team of volunteers, with a large dose of love, commitment and a personal interest in their individual success.
When I first arrived at Martin Home it was to do a little "good work." In this case a group of like-minded people, led by the pastor of the River Church, Todd Wendorff, who is a personal friend of Pastor Hamilton. Our undertaking that day was to simply hang out with the guys, hand out some gifts as Christmas was right around the corner, and make some BBQ. In touring the home, meeting the guys and seeing first-hand how effective Martin Home is, I knew that I had to interview Joseph Hamilton and bring his thinking to you all.
These are not feel good stories, at least at the beginning. The middles, that is to say life after having spent 15, 20 even 30 years incarcerated, is a different story. The first two men I met were had been behind bars for a combined 50 years. The length of incarceration will attest to the severity of the crimes they had committed. And yet, I was profoundly and personally moved by these men, their desire to correct the trajectory of their lives, their commitment to doing so and their commitment to Pastor Hamilton himself.
The Martin Home
The guys / Pastor Joseph upper left
Kevin Catlin (KC): As a student of leadership, I wanted to interview you for my company and my blog. I would like you to know that I admire what you're doing in our community of Los Angeles. I will admit that I have I hope that some financial and job support comes for your work out of it.
I wanted to start with you explaining to the persons who are going to be reading the article what Martin Home is all about.
Pastor Hamilton (PH): The Martin home started based on me as a pastor, standing in front of my church and looking out into the congregation and being moved and concerned about the absence of men. So, I researched and the numbers were startling. So many of the men that would have normally been sitting there were instead in prison. It was about the same time that the Supreme Court ruled that overcrowding California Prisons was unconstitutional. With my research and the climate of the day I found that most of the men in the inner city were either incarcerated, in some kind of recovery program, or on the street. Generally, when we think about the inner city we don't recognize that there is an ongoing void of good role models because the people who grow up and go to college, when they have enough money they leave, so there is a void of leadership. My goal was to put back our men into the community. The men who are going through reentry into society aren't going to the suburbs, they'll go downtown. I firmly believe that if we can reverse this trend and create strong able men, that their stability will provide a significant impact to not only those men but to the men around them, to the youth and to those in the city.
KC: I personally grew up in inner city Detroit and I never wanted to go back. Too damn poor, mean and hopeless – so what's going to bring these guys back?
PH: Nowhere else to go. These guys are 30-40-50 years old so in terms of their earning potential they'll end up here anyway. (Note from Kevin: The Martin Home is in the Historic Adams district of Los Angeles. Nice name, but a typical, tough, inner city neighborhood.) A lot of the guys grew up here, not necessarily in the immediate area, but once they touch down and get rooted in the Martin Home they want to stay rooted in the community they've become familiar with. The guys that graduate from our program have gone back into South LA.
KC: Who comes to the Martin Home and why.
PH: Anybody can come to the Martin Home and we go through the screening and programs. The urban ministry institute and the fellowship lifeline. We have guys who have taken a 16 module curriculum, which is a master's level or degree equivalent in theology. It takes a few years for the guys to complete this, so they already have a spiritual base. We also partner with a couple of other organizations, one is a prep-prison reentry project and that's headed by Sister Mary Hodges so she has guys but she doesn't have housing. We partner with her as well as bring through some of those guys that have gone through some of the self-help that they have on the inside. They must have a commitment to being crime free and to be as positive as possible. Out of the 16 guys we have, we have about 280+ years of cumulative incarceration living in our house. (The average stay in Martin Home is 12 months. Some a little less, some a little more.)
KC: The first two men I met with the Martin House let me know they had both been in prison for murder…
KC: I'll admit that surprised me. They were quiet, enjoyable, seemingly regular guys and then to hear that they were in prison for murder, that gets your attention.
Bedroom with 4 bunks
KC: Let me ask you a question about your own life. Looking back, whether it be a coach or a parent or a family member, or a friend, who is someone in your life who greatly influenced you? Someone you would say has been a leader in your life?
PH: Two people come to mind, and they had different styles of leadership. One was a young guy, Marlon, who was probably ten years older than me, we lived in a townhouse style housing where there were 13 or 14 units, and it was public housing through HUD that was low income. It was a smaller housing unit of about 13 families and this man took most of the young men and played sports with us. At the time I didn't see it in this light, but he just kind of nurtured us, support us, talked about doing well in school. But he was also a "player", he was a good-looking guy and knew a lot of girls… so that maybe the focus was having a good time, go to school, and hang out with some beautiful women. That was one mentor that I had.
The second Mentor I had was Dr. Reverend Cecil Murray – who is a pastor of First AME Church in Los Angeles with about 18,000 members. Under him I was the minister of youth. So the way we met at the time was my mother was looking for mentorship for my brother and I, and she went to different churches and most of the churches said "if you bring them here we'll work with them." But because we didn't know them, we weren't going to just hang with some pastor or guy we didn't know. So what Murray said was "if they won't come to me, I'll come to them". I was so moved by his willingness to come to us that I went and I met with him. And that has now become my motto: if they won't come to me, I will go to them. You will see that spirit in me when I'm standing in our pulpit and saying "where are our men?" Well if they're not coming to me, I will get up and go to them.
KC: So let's go back to the first person who mentored you, what qualities did Marlon possess that stood out to you? What was his quality that impressed you or stood out? Other than the fact that he knew some beautiful women? (Laughing)
PH: Marlon was available and he was personal. He would take time to talk. He would take time to not only talk to us but listen to us. So, we would engage in, you know all kinds of conversations. And he would provide some insight and alternative perspective for us so it allowed us to have an authentic relationship, he allowed us to be ourselves and that was one thing I appreciated about him. Another thing was that just taking the time to sit with us and play basketball with us, and play competitively – and show us what we need to do to get better. That was phenomenal. Not only in basketball but football. He was most definitely a teacher.
KC: How did Marlon's lessons, whether he meant them to be lessons or not, continue to impact you today?
PH: One thing he did was just taking an interest in the young people. That still has an impact on me today. I realize as a teenager you're looking for someone to take interest in you. So, the fact that he wasn't trying to get anything out of us, he just wanted a relationship with us, that was exceptional. His example guides me to go beyond in my relationship with young people in my community and the community at my church, I'm just interested in developing relationships with people. Not necessarily because they have something to offer. That philosophy was nurtured by him, that shows the value of relationships.
KC: How did Marlon make you feel about yourself?
PH: Marlon made me feel valued. He also made me feel heard. So, I knew that when I was talking to him, he was listening to me. And I knew that I had some value because it wasn't that I would just take, or just hang out when he asked me… I would say "hey man you want to come play basketball with us?" and he would. But he would also come looking for me and say "hey we're going to play some basketball if you want to come" so it was feeling valued that he gave to me.
The office for the Men to create resume's and learn.
Insight Strategies has purchased two new computers, a printer, supplies and lessons. Maybe more importantly we are offering coaching and job mentoring at no fee of course. These men are hungry for work. I see a great partnership between the Martin Home and Transportation. I'd bet $100.00 you'll have the best coach cleaner in Southern California!
KC: Great. Let's shift to Reverend Murray… same question. What qualities or principals did the Reverend have that stood out to you?
PH: I think it's the same thing. For one you just must be available. Even at this stage of my life. It doesn't matter what characteristics I appreciate or admire in a person, if someone's not available they're not available. He had a saying, "you can't just take the time, and you have to make the time." So, he was available. Number two – he is a visionary type person. He could look at you and be able to identify your strengths, and he would always encourage you to pursue the areas of your strengths and the areas of your interest. So, in that regard, he's a motivator because he doesn't want to leave you the same way he meets you. He wants you to be bigger, better, stronger, doing more.
KC: How does/did reverend Murray make you feel about yourself?
PH: Murray can motivate people, so one of the differences between my first mentor and my second was that Murray had a way of allowing you to see the greatness in yourself and believing that you could do more and be more than you were. He made people dream around him. And if they're already dreaming he makes them begin to walk in the direction of their dream.
KC: He sounds like a great man.
KC: Readers, Pastor Joseph's experiences with Marlon and Cecil Murray highlight one of the absolute truths that we know about leaders. As part of our leadership development and coaching at Insight Strategies, we ask these questions whether one-on-one or in a class environment.
Select one person in your life who greatly influenced you. (i.e., coach, parent, friend, co-worker, grandparent, public figure, etc.)
- What qualities or principles did they possess that stood out to you?
- How did they specifically impact you?
- What made you want to follow them
- How did they make you feel about yourself?
- How do their lessons continue to impact you today?
We have asked these questions in 15 countries, to industry as diverse as Rocket Scientists and Bus Drivers… heck we asked these questions at the Central Intelligence Agency.
These four answers never fail to come up. This is regardless of country, ethnicity, race, culture, company or industry.
- Believed in me – encouraged me, told me I could do it.
- Cared about me personally.
- Pushed me – wouldn't let me give up.
- Was a great example to me.
If you go back to the words of Pastor Hamilton you will see these exact qualities and characteristics in the people he listed. Want to impact people? Want to lead? Believe in your people enough to hold a high bar for them. Research and history show that nearly all people live up to or down to what the persons they most admired expected of them. Leaders in people's lives believe in them. Motivate and inspire them to believe in themselves.
Which is it going to be? Care enough about your people that you tell them the truth. Withholding feedback and coaching to your charges is an abdication of your base job. If your people do not know that they are not living up to your expectations, tell them. Tell them in exact terms with an emphasis on how they might change their behaviors or results to align with those expectations. If they are meeting or exceeding expectations, tell them. The exactitude of the feedback will allow them to understand that you see their work, you appreciate it and yes you would like to see it continue. Finally, there is no surer way to damage enthusiasm and morale than to say one thing and be another. Not walking your talk will practically force others to under deliver on your expectations.
Let's move on.
KC: Pastor, I read in your bio that you like the book Endurance. (Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, book by Alfred Lansing about Ernest Shackleton's 1915 Polar expedition). What about that book moved you? What was important?
PH: Ernest Shackleton, he had this ability to be tenacious, in terms of the direction that he set his mind to go in. Regardless of the circumstances and his own despair, he continued to move in the direction that he knew he needed to go in – and it paid off. For me, that's tremendous. Because there are times in life where we feel like it's pointless. And he [Shackleton] had every reason to believe his situation was pointless, that no good would come of it. But he didn't take that mentality, he continued to persevere. So that's something that really stands out to me.
KC: What does The Martin Home need? What are the greatest needs they have today?
PH: One of the greatest needs is ongoing financial support. When the guys are released from prison they're given $200 – it's the same amount they received since 1970 – it's called "gate money". A lot of times I do fundraising for them because it allows us more flexibility in our programming because we're not state funded. As you saw the home is very simple, frugal that allows us to focus on the social components as well as the spiritual components of having integrity and building their character.
I'd also say I'd ask for people's prayers. We and they need it.
If people are interested in coming to volunteer in the area of their profession or volunteering according to their interest, that is powerful. I would like for the guys to know that there is a greater community who wants to help reconnect them, restore them, and reestablish them back into society.
KC: What about jobs?
PH: Oh, absolutely, we would love to partner with companies who are willing to provide our men with jobs with livable wages. These are men who truly want to reestablish their lives. The guys are to a great degree sponges, they are looking to learn. As you know I started a little construction company to get the guys working and give them a much-needed work-history. One of the guys recently said "Pastor Joseph I want you to know, this is the first time I have ever worked for anybody in my entire life." And there was a sense of pride in him telling me that. And I was humbled by it because it was his first experience, but it was an experience he appreciated. having people who are willing to partner with us, and we can work with them every step of the way to make sure they have the type of employee that is necessary for the position and efficient for the company, whatever they're looking for, we would appreciate that.
KC: You told me you're at a 96-98% success rate?
PH: Normally in reentry success is defined by someone completing the program, which is usually a 6-month program. What the research shows is that within the first year between 55-58% of ex-felons end up going back to prison. Within 2 years it's 66%, within 3 years it's at 72-74%. For us, that's too low.
We define success by 1) being employed, and; 2) being in school – or both. We don't say you're successful if you have been out of jail or out of prison for at least 2 years. Right now, we are at a 97-98% success rate for the work we are doing. Our guys are not going back to prison, they're working, or they're working and going back to school at the same time.
KC: That's excellent. Final question. You mention that there are services that people offer to The Martin Home, are there particular services that are needed more than others?
PH: There's always a need for technology classes because it changes so quickly. And this training does not need to be formal in nature, it could just be taking someone and showing them how to set up an email account, how to use their cell phone. Most phones are smart phones and using those and getting use out of the technology they have with them. Frankly, most of the life skills we take for granted are needed.
I would also say this, nurturing relationships and believing in the guys, letting them know that you care. That is big. That is big. You don't necessarily have to come with a whole lot of time, you just have to have a genuine interest in helping someone and wanting to help improve the quality of life.
KC: Last time I was there, there were 14 guys, how many are there right now?
PH: There are 15 right now – we've had to turn a few guys away so we're considering expanding our facility because we're full right now at 15 men but we'd like to expand so we can help more.
KC: I think what you're doing is important, and I thank you for your time. Say hello to the guys for me.
PH: And thank you for taking interest. Thank you doesn't express the sentiment. What you're doing, what you're willing to do – it means a lot.
KC: My pleasure.
Readers, friends, associates, employers, I have personally witnessed this home, this Pastor and these men. I am convinced that both paying for your crime/s and attempting to make amends and a life after prison are not are not mutually exclusive. One man I met, quite young, who had spent 20 years in prison for a crime committed when he was a minor, (drinking and driving and killing a passenger in his car,) told me; "I can't bring back the person I was responsible for. I can't erase the hurt I caused the family. I can never live that down. I can, be a better person. I can help others who might be tempted to do the things I had done. If I can stop that from happening my life will not have been meaningless."
I have started a GoFundMe site: https://www.gofundme.com/martinhomeLA
I am sure that anything at all would be put to great use:
On the kitchen wall