Men of Rafiki: A Program Geared Towards Reducing Recidivism

Amicus Ex-offender Mentoring, recently merged with Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin, has been training volunteers to serve as mentors for individual inmates across Minnesota for nearly 50 years. Volunteers have helped thousands of ex-offenders successfully transition back into society. By extending a hand of friendship, volunteers help inmates feel cared about, develop trust, and try out new behaviors.

The word “Rafiki" is Swahili for "friend" and Men of Rafiki is a re-entry program celebrating the culture and strengths of African American men. The program serves up to 90 men in three Minnesota State Correctional Facilities each year and continues providing support to them as they leave incarceration and build a new life on the outside.

Video Transcript

Earl Miller: Through Volunteers of America Minnesota-Wisconsin, they run a program called Rafiki. It's a culturally specific program that the department of corrections wanted to gear towards African American males that are known as high risk offenders, and more likely to return. And so, they wanted to reduce the rate of recidivism by teaching them different life skills.

So, I was geared, ready to go to the next level to play college football, and that was my ticket out of the hood. That was my ticket away from the gangs, it was my ticket out of the violence, just my ticket out of everything that I saw in the urban community, and unfortunately for me, I made a bad choice because I was a student athlete by day, but then when I was off the field, and out of the classroom setting, I was a gang member in the street.

I know what it's like to sell drugs, I know what it's like to be in multiple relationships. I know what it's like to not live a lifestyle that reflects the upbringing of my grandmother that is stilled within me. And so, it was during those years that led me into incarceration myself at the age of 20 until 26.

I made the decision to say, "Hey, everything that I want to do, I have to start right now and here." So, I went to school, I finished school, and I hung out with those that were like minded. Because the gangs are in there, the alcohol is in there, the drugs are in there, sexual activity is in there, danger definitely is in there, but I made the decision to do what others believed that I was capable of doing.

Michael Titus: While I was in prison in Lino Lakes, they came and asked me if I wanted to participate in the Men of Rafiki. I signed up, I didn't know what to expect out of the program. It was a 13 week program. And I had knew Earl Miller, so I said well Earl's joining it, I want to be a part of it. And we used to sit down and read the bible together. I still call him Brother Earl, today.

I don't want to go back to prison, and I think the way for me to stay out is to be connected to people that have really overcame that type of lifestyle, and that are doing better in their life today, and that's the people I want to be around.

Earl Miller: It truly is a faith journey from this perspective. How is it that I'm going to, with a criminal record, being in prison not once, not twice, but three times, going to get out of prison, and secure employment? Who's going to want to hire me? Not only that, but depending on the crime, I'm going to have challenges with securing housing. Which landlord is going to lease to me?

Not only that, but I'm struggling with child support back pay. How am I going to become this father that, Earl, you're coming, telling me restoration is possible. You're coming in, and teaching about topics like fatherhood, where now you're starting to pull on strings that I forgot were there, and you're giving me hope, but I don't want false hope.

So, these are things that, they have to put a level of trust first of all in themselves, and put a level of trust that I'm not coming in here teaching them something that I have not yet lived or walked myself. So, I like to call that blind faith. I don't yet see my apartment, but I know that if I go through this transition at Halfway House, work hard at it, eventually I'll secure the apartment.

I don't quite yet have the job, but I'm going to now work on building my resume. During the prerelease classes, I'm going to work on securing my valid identification, getting social security card so that when I go out, I'm going to knock on their doors just as Earl probably had to do, and eventually if it's not door number one, maybe when it's door number ten, it's going to be my time to seize the moment.

Michael Titus: When you come into the prison, you meet everybody where they're at, because some people lack that role model, that man, that identification. Actually, I got emotional when he left the very first time. When I was walking back to my cell hall, in Lino, some tears rolled down my face to say, man, I'm proud of him, but I want to be able to be with him.

Earl Miller: Yeah.

Michael Titus: I want to be able to come in here and help, and I think that what you did, you did. You jump started to say, okay, yeah. And I thank you for that.