• 45°

Prison or death: Project Safe Neighborhoods gives felons a choice

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Pamela Smith and her only son Dwon have the same aspirations: she wants better for him and he doesn’t want to disappoint her.

Both mother and son are optimistic about the future following a somber two-hour notification meeting through the Project Safe Neighborhoods program.

The meeting is not a typical “scared straight” program, but it offers those who have been “flagged” by law enforcement an alternative to continued criminal activity. If someone on the notification list is found engaging in criminal activity that involves violence, gang activity and weapons possession and is convicted, that individual would receive a federal prison sentence.

It’s a grim reminder of what a life of continued criminal activity could mean — prison or death.

“You have two options if you continue this game — potentially you could go to prison or your family could go to your funeral,” said Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes. “You can turn your life around.”

Depending upon the circumstances, if a felon is caught with a bullet, it could net them 15 years to life in prison.

About 20 people who attended the Wednesday meeting at the Salisbury Civic Center were flagged by area law enforcement and the local probation and parole system as someone who local, state and federal law enforcement, prosecutors and community partners are watching. The community partners include local workforce agencies, re-entry programs, ministries and concerned citizens.

Each of those who received notification sat in front of a panel of law enforcement partners. One-by-one, the partners shared how the felons’ activity impacts the community and their families, some of whom were in attendance. Pamela Smith was an example.

“Citizens are getting caught up in violence, and they are tired of it,” said Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten. “You’re not that great at being bad. You wouldn’t have the record you have it you were. You are putting yourselves at risk. It’s about you today. It’s your choice, your decision.”

There’s no pleasure in sending men and women to prison, said Special Agent Gerod King with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“This difference between where you are and where we are is decisions,” King said.

He said some decisions will land people in prison. It could be a prison in California, away from children and other family members.

“You can’t make a living robbing and selling dope. Who knows about the OG retirement plan? There is not one,” King said.

The end goal is that those targeted successfully complete probation, said Sylvia Warren, with the local community corrections department.

“There’s no such thing as a suspended sentence,” said U.S. federal probation officer Robert Wyrick said.

In fact, at the federal level, only about 3% of those convicted receive probation, he said.

Diane Jenkins, with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told the group about a man with a history of criminal activity who was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison after he was caught with 3 grams of methamphetamine.

China Grove Police Sgt. Jason Overcash made an appeal to the group, too, saying they need to invest in something other than a life of crime involving drugs and guns.

Rowan District Attorney Brandy Cook said she’s gotten pretty good at predicting who will wind up in the court. Cook noted that four in the group had been asleep and nodding off. She said getting caught selling or buying dope in Rowan County means chances of being shot and killed are astronomical.

Those who have been flagged as being part of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program and who come into the Rowan County court system will automatically have their case moved to the top of the pile.

“We’ll ask for higher bonds. We’re working smarter to get you more time,” she said. “Think about your kids and family.”

U.S. Attorney Matthew Martin said there’s been a big effort to reduce violent crime, and it has been focused on those who’ve been flagged.

“Your story can change. Today you can start a new chapter,” Martin said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lane, who is also the Project Safe Neighborhoods and Anti-Gang Coordinator for the Middle District of North Carolina, gave those in attendance the choice of having at least a minimum wage paying job versus the 15 cents a day they receive in federal prison.

“That $8 an hour at McDonald’s is looking real good right now,” he said.

Pastor Tim Bates said he could easily be sitting where the men and women were sitting.

He encouraged them to use their talents and gifts for businesses and improving their community. Bates said he didn’t understand why some of them would rather do three to five years in prison than three to five years at a college getting an education.

Pamela Smith said she was thankful for the program, which shows that she’s not the only one concerned about where her son will end up.

“I hope he is really taking this in,” Smith said.

She said her son is already on the right path.

For more information about the local Project Safe Rowan program contact Community Resource Specialist Candace Edwards at 704-638-5361 or candace.edwards@salisburync.gov for more details.

Comments

Business

Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City

Sports

Woodland, two others share lead; Mickelson plays much worse but will still be around for weekend at Quail Hollow

Business

Former NHL player to open mobster themed bar in Raleigh

Nation/World

California population declines for first time

News

GOP leaders differ on bottom line for state spending

News

Police: Man killed in shootout with officers in Winston-Salem

Crime

Man charged after thieves rob would-be gun buyers of wallets, shoes

Crime

Blotter: Four added to sheriff’s most wanted list

High School

High school football: Some anxious moments, but Hornets win state title

Local

Photos: Salisbury High Hornets win big in 2AA championship game

Local

County manager outlines projections for the upcoming fiscal year budget, suggests uses for stimulus money

Business

Miami-based Browns Athletic Apparel opens second screen printing location in Salisbury

News

At funeral, fallen Watauga deputies remembered as ‘heroes’

Coronavirus

COVID-19 cluster identified at Granite Quarry Elementary

Coronavirus

More than half of North Carolinians have now taken at least one vaccine shot

Local

City hopes to cover expenses in 2021-22 budget with surplus revenue generated this year

Local

Fallen tree proves to be a blessing for local nonprofit Happy Roots

Local

Quotes of the week

Coronavirus

Health department drops quarantine time from 14 to 10 days

Crime

Blotter: More than $100,000 in property reported stolen from Old Beatty Ford Road site

Local

City fights invasive beetles by injecting trees with insecticide

Local

City names downtown recipients for federal Parks Service grant

China Grove

China Grove Town Council weighs 2021-22 budget priorities, supports buying body cameras