MUSKEGON, MI — All he asks for is 40 days, a short time frame designed to change prisons, schools, nonprofit groups and churches.
Kit Cummings is an international author, speaker and activist who five years ago created the Power of Peace as a way of bringing people together. Cummings launched his program among 12 convicts at a maximum security prison in Georgia, and the program has found success in encouraging unity, especially in groups and individuals who have a history of violent disharmony.
Cummings launched his program last week at a Muskegon County initiative known as EXIT. EXIT is a program for non-violent offenders, who receive life- and job-skills training with the promise of temporary employment. The initiative exclusively enrolls felons with children, hoping to instill family as a backstop against re-offending.
In Muskegon County last week, he also launched the program at juvenile transition center and then at a local high school. His goal was to target youth in a preventative manner at the high school and also those who had made a few bad decisions and were entered into the facility for youth offenders. This marked the first time the 40 Days of Peace program was launched in three different locations in the same town.
Cummings’ activism at the EXIT program was just one day out of many devoted to the parents through Muskegon County’s Mediation and Restorative Services.
“EXIT Program is a multi-agency collaborative and we are trying to work with felony convicted fathers,” said EXIT Program Directer Kellie Oom. “Our goal is to help them transition from jail back into the community.”
The main goal is to keep these men from returning to jail.
“We provide programming that helps address and reduce the risk of recidivism,” she said. “Our goal is that they, one, get a job, and the secondary goal is that they don’t go back to jail and/or prison.”
A unique aspect of the program is working with felons with children, in effect attempting to use the bonds of family to encourage positive behavior.
“The reason we deal inmates who have children is because we know that if we strengthen the bond in the community with the family, they are more likely not to go back to jail,” she said. “We also want to target inter-generational incarceration.
“Unfortunately for our guys, their children are more likely to go to jail just because they have been in jail or prison. They are more likely to do that than graduate from high school. They hate that statistic but we make sure to mention it because they have the power to stop it then and there.”
The overall goal of the Power of Peace Project is to reduce the overall incidence of youth crime. By reaching out to those with felonies or in prison, Cummings is trying to help them strive to be a better example for their children and younger siblings, according to the project’s website.
“The Mediation and Restorative Services has really been involved with the work of reentry since it started happening in Muskegon County,” Oom said. “The fundamentals of restorative justice are accountability for behavior, repair of harm and competency development. …
“Power of Peace was a way for us that arched over all of that. For the kids in school, the emphasis is prevention. For the kids at the Juvenile Transition Center, they have made a bad choice but it’s fixable. And for the guys at EXIT, they’ve made a bad choice and they are in jail but we want to prevent further prison. Power of Peace has been able to touch all three of those populations.”
The program is best describes by its own members.
“The EXIT program to me is misrepresented,” said Jacob Lee Puisis, who began a year-long sentence for third degree home invasion in November of 2015. “It’s not a program, this is a family. The love we are showered with… is more than can ask for being locked-up. They’ve given us the tools we need to succeed when we get out.
“From everything from how to sign a lease agreement to applying for a credit card. Not only that, they are such great people, that power and the energy that is coming out of them is leaking into us. We’re feeling like we need to get out and change our community. Because it all starts with us.”
Puisis said his dream is to start his own painting business.
“Get a commercial going, advertise. Get out, and spread the word,” he said of his plans. “In the future I would like to go back to college and get a degree in social work and just be successful, be something better than getting locked up all the time.”