Na’im Al-Amin designed an organization with services he wished he had access to during the 30 years he was impacted by the criminal justice system. He’s the founder of SWAGG Inc. a program dedicated to decreasing prison recidivism by developing returning citizens through education, employment and entrepreneurship.
After years of juvenile hall and then prison sentences, Al-Amin, a Los Angeles native, decided to turn his life around. He graduated from Kansas State University, was active on campus and dreamed of becoming a lawyer. However, because of his record, he couldn’t find a job.
“I eventually reverted back to a scarcity mindset in terms of selling drugs, something that I didn’t want to do,” he said. “I had pursued education, but I needed to sustain myself.”
As a result, he ended up back in prison; this time in a Kansas prison on a five-year conspiracy-to-distribute sentence.
In 2018, he “left a prison with bars only to enter a prison barring him from success.” Similar to the approximately 4,000 people who are released from prison in Kansas each year (13,000 each year in Missouri), he had nothing. The prison’s re-entry process had failed him and he left prison homeless, which often motivates people to re-offend to sustain themselves, he said.
RECIDIVISM AND HOMELESSNESS
A 2018 study by the Prison Policy Initiative found formerly incarcerated people are about 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than the general population, with the rate being much higher for African Americans. Missouri’s recidivism rate is up to 43% and Kansas’ is 36%.
Thurman Fuller, who has been involved with SWAGG Inc. for the last two years said when he was released from prison, he was given just $12 and expected to start his life again. But fortunately for him, he had family who picked him up and provided him a place to stay.
“When they turn you loose with nothing, no parents, or any place to stay, that adds to recidivism,” Fuller said. “It increases homelessness and poverty and recidivism is right around the corner.”
Al-Amin found a job working with UPS as a package handler and in just a few months was promoted into human relations where he started reaching out to parole and probation officers to hire reentering citizens like himself. During that time, he began working on developing SWAGG Inc., a program he’d envisioned while in prison.
THE SWAGG INC. VISION
While serving his five-year prison sentence, Al-Amin reflected on a conversation he had with late rapper Nipsey Hussle, back in the Crenshaw District of L.A.
Al-Amin had asked Nipsey what record label he would sign with and he’d responded, no matter what label he chose, it was all about elevating the status of people around him.
While in prison, thinking about that conversation inspired Al-Amin to write the eight letters of his nonprofit organization SWAGG Inc: Serve, Witness, Give, Guidance, Inspiration Never Ceases.
His vision for SWAGG Inc. is to provide pre-entry and re-entry services to those impacted by mass incarceration. He says creating a plan for those still in prison for when they are released will reduce their chances of recidivism.
Through letters and phone calls, Al-Amin works to make sure individuals leaving prison are in a place to be successful and not re-offend when they’re released.
Employment is a major focus because Al-Amin said it’s one of the most direct ways to help end mass incarceration.
SWAGG Inc helps develop those future employees through employment etiquette, mentoring and education. The organization helps individuals acquire whatever they need in order to keep a job once released, whether it’s transportation, housing or clothing.
The organization also works with employers to understand how to hire formerly incarcerated people and the organization helps match employees with them.
“These individuals have something to offer. They can be an entrepreneur, an employee, but we’re not giving them an opportunity,” Al-Amin said. “I believe in them and I believe they have something to offer and through the tool of social entrepreneurship, we can create change and generate revenue for purpose and profitability.”
SWAGG Inc. offers a weekly support group for those impacted by mass incarceration, including their families. The support group follows the curriculum in the book “Hustle 2.0,” which helps teach people everything they need to know about reentering society after imprisonment including leadership and entrepreneurial skills, building healthy relationships, networking, victim awareness, anger management and persevering.
The group meets on Sundays from 10 to 11 a.m. at Equal Minded Café, 4327 Troost Ave., Kansas City, MO.
To learn more about SWAGG Inc., visit www.SWAGGInc.org.
Locked Up In Missouri
•51,000 of Missouri’s residents are locked up in various kinds of facilities, with 32,000 in state prisons
•Black people constituted 12% of state residents, but 39% of people in jail and 34% of people in prison.
•Missouri has the eighth highest incarceration rate in the nation.
•Missouri spends more than $7 million each year on corrections.
Locked Up In Kansas
• 21,000 people from Kansas are behind bars with 10,000 in state prisons.
• Black people are 6% of the state population but 31% of the people in prison.
• Kansas is 24th-highest incarceration rate in the nation.
• Kansas spends $377 million each year on corrections.