Inspirational story of a criminal whose self-reform has brought peace both to him and his city.
This is the tale of William Juneboy Outlaw III, who long ago began a life of crime on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut—located, Barber (Writer-in-Residence/Wesleyan Univ.) notes, “in the wealthiest state in the country” but whose declining population is marked by plenty of poverty and ethnic division. Had he been born under different circumstances, notes one of the state’s crime analysts, Outlaw might have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. “As it was,” that observer continues, “he took mediocre talent and created a first-class gang that ran half of the city of New Haven. What he accomplished was the equivalent of the Afghan warlords putting together scrubs and taking on the U.S. Army.” He was also something of a Robin Hood figure in the poorer sections of town, buying needed supplies and groceries for neighbors and even shoveling sidewalks in winter. Still, Outlaw lived up to his name, controlling the trade in drugs, weapons, and stolen goods. The police caught up with him after he murdered a member of a rival gang, and he was sentenced to an 85-year prison term. He might have turned into a behind-bars crime lord, pulling that long stretch in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, “where Whitey Bulger, Al Capone, and John Gotti had served time.” After a rocky start, though, Outlaw turned himself around and earned early release. Since returning to New Haven, as Barber closely documents, Outlaw has become a mentor to young people who might otherwise be on the path to prison. He tells one parolee group, in blunt language, that his goal is “to reduce recidivism and keep you guys out of the fucking penitentiary.” It seems to have worked: Violent crime has fallen by 70 percent, much of which local authorities attribute to Outlaw’s interventions among at-risk people.
Of interest to criminal-justice reformers, community workers, and policymakers.