By Troy Williams
With all the news in mainstream media about the dangers of so many men returning home from prison, you would think that it would not be hard to find success stories.
But that is not the case.
One person, in whose footsteps I’d like to follow, is Andre Mouton, a resident of Oakland, father and primary care taker of his five daughters, a student in a masters degree program, and the founder of S.A.F.E., Student Advocates For Education.
After spending two years in Folson State prison Mouton was released in 1992. In 2005, he applied for a pardon but would have to wait another six years before Governor Jerry Brown recognized his efforts to keep young men out of the prison pipeline.
The pardon from Governor Brown, which reads in part that Mouton was granted a full pardon because “since his release from prison, he has lived an honest and upright life, exhibiting good moral character, and conducted himself as a law abiding citizen.”
As someone who is formerly incarcerated and desires to change perceptions about the men who return home from prison, I was most interested in Mouton’s work with youth in the community.
From what I’ve been told by youth who participate in S.A.F.E., Mouton has been someone who shows up when they’re in need, provides resources, time and money out of his own pocket to assist them in their personal and educational development.
One participant named Maurice Patterson dropped out of high school. When he decided to re-enroll, the district told him that he had aged out.
That’s when Mouton and his organization went into action. Because of his knowledge of school district rules and regulations, and more importantly his willingness to sit with youth and understand their unique circumstances, he made sure that Patterson had the educational opportunity.
He eventually graduated from high school with honors and is currently making plans to attend college.
S.A.F.E. operated from 2000 until Mouton was injured in 2012. “That’s when I turned my efforts toward furthering my own education,” he said. “Now I am restarting the organization because youth continue to lack advocacy, and we need leadership that will advocate for our them.”
Mouton has earned an AA degree in political science and liberal arts a Bachelors of Arts in political science with a pre-law option. He is currently enrolled in a masters program in public administration at Cal State East Bay.
The S.A.F.E. program offers participants a one-on-one mentorship, rewards for academic performance, and a cross-country road trip to educational and historical sites, including Black colleges in Atlanta, GA.
Mouton says S.A.F.E has a 95 percent graduation rate, making it an excellent model for the City of Oakland, Oakland Public Schools, and community-based organizations to create a more holistic approach to the challenges facing African Americans and Latino in Oakland.
“The approach,” Mouton said, “should be of single mind and direction without bureaucracy, red tape and politics.”