Photos courtesy of M.A.D.E. Institute
Some may argue against helping ex-cons return to their communities, but The M.A.D.E. Institute was founded to change that thinking. M.A.D.E. is an acronym for Money, Attitude, Direction and Education. The M.A.D.E. Institute was founded in 2014 by its current CEO, Leon El-Amin. According to its website, madeinstitute.org, their mission is “to provide comprehensive programming for at-risk youth and returning citizens in the areas of workforce development, social advocacy, training, and research and violence prevention.” Their main focus is to help recently paroled prisoners and veterans gain equal access to employment, education and a full participation in the economic, political and cultural life of their community. The M.A.D.E. Institute is a registered 501c3.
Recently I interviewed Leon El-Amin, 38, CEO and founder of The M.A.D.E. Institute and Tim Abdul-Matin, 36, Community Outreach Director for M.A.D.E. They have their own story to tell and hope that their work will improve life for returning prisoners, veterans and at-risk youth, especially in Flint.
Leon El-Amin, formerly known as Leon Dewayne Wilson, is a 1999 graduate of Flint Northwestern High School. He became involved in “the street life known as the Pierson Hood,” selling narcotics and being prosecuted as a felon in possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison and “blessed” to serve the minimum time and to be paroled after having served time in several Michigan prisons. In 2004 at Macomb Correctional he converted to Orthodox Islam.
“I was looking for discipline,” he says. “The streets became my religion: fast money, women, cars, and leading a fast life. Joining Noor Temple has humbled me. I was praying five times a day. Even though Islam is my faith, it has allowed me to be closer to my Christian family. I kept the name Leon to be connected to my family and I strive to be a servant of God and a leader of people.”
Tim Abdul-Matin, formerly known as Timothy Miller, graduated from Flint Northern High School in 2001. Tim was sentenced to nine years at the St. Louis Correctional Facility for narcotics sales, robbery and felony firearms possession. He met Leon there. Tim hopes to help rehabilitate prisoners who return to the Flint area. According to Tim, 500 ex-prisoners return to Genesee County every year. M.A.D.E. has helped over 100 returning prisoners in Genesee County with a high 90% success rate.
Many prisoners return home with nothing, literally the clothing on their backs. M.A.D.E. Institute will provide a care package with clothing, grooming supplies, bus passes and even a wallet. M.A.D.E. will help individuals get proper identification, a task complicated by having no stable address. Returnees may even be housed in their own private bedroom at one of the two M.A.D.E. houses in Flint. In 2018 the home hosted 12 returning felons, with six completing the 90-day M.A.D.E. program and gaining full employment. Of the 12 who came through the house, none have re-offended.
Additional programs offered include vocational training, mentorship, health assessment services and even urban farming in which participants learn to grow produce in vacant-lot community gardens to share with local residents. Along the way M.A.D.E. has collaborated with many agencies, some even granting funds to M.A.D.E.: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Detroit Training Center, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Genesee Health Plan, Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Catholic Charities and the Michigan Indigent Defense Fund. The Washington-based Advancement Project is an outreach agency that empowers returning Flint citizens through voter registration. Grants to M.A.D.E. have been provided by the city of Flint, the state of Michigan, the Gary Haggart Club, Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and a $77,000.00 grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation, which they hope to get renewed in 2019.
M.A.D.E. hopes to add a second home for returning female prisoners, who make up 10% of all parolees. In fact, also in attendance at the interview was new board member, attorney Tiffany Hughes.
“I add another aspect to help deal with former felons.” she says. “I am excited and ready to dig in.”
In closing, Leon adds, “We first made history for two felons to earn a grant. There is so much work to be done, especially on the North End of Flint.” M.A.D.E. could use your help: volunteer, donate, mentor or all of the above. M.A.D.E. can be contacted at 810-294-0222. You can make a tax deductible donation to M.A.D.E. Institute at P.O. Box 310246, Flint, Michigan 48531. E-mail them at [email protected] and check out their website at madeinstitute.org.