Formerly incarcerated men harness technology to help others find right path

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Formerly incarcerated men harness technology to help others find right path
From left to right: Lejon Faheem Reese, Dante Gaines and Patrick Scott. (All photos contributed)

By Mike Kinney

Three East Bay men who served a combined 100 years in prison have been keeping it 100 since reacclimating into society. Lejon Fahim Reese, Patrick Scott and Dante Gaines are leaders of a Richmond-based nonprofit called the 1Hundred Years Enterprise that serves to help formerly incarcerated individuals as well as those at risk for incarceration lead constructive lives.

They’re using modern forms of outreach, including a relatively new podcast show, to make their knowledge and experiences available community-wide.

“I went in as an uneducated boy and came out as an educated man after serving 29.5 years,” said Gaines, a Richmond native who was released in 2016. “While in prison I found myself and told myself that if I ever got out that it was a must that I give back to my community that I helped destroy. And that’s why I do the work with my brothers Fahim and Patrick.”

1Hundred Years Enterprise operates in the heart of downtown at CoBiz Richmond, the 9,000 square foot, high-tech coworking space and business incubator and project of eQuip Richmond, the economic revitalization initiative funded by Chevron Richmond. As a CoBiz member, the enterprise has access to state-of-the-art facilities downtown along with expert incubator services to help guide it to success.

1Hundred Years offers 1-on-1 coaching along with consultations to families preparing to help reacclimate a loved one back to society. The nonprofit also speaks to groups, and its growing archive of podcasts serves as an always-accessible guide to people who can relate to its founders’ struggles.

“CoBiz has allowed us to use our creative thinking through its incubator program,” said Reese, adding, “That was extremely important to 1Hundred Years Enterprise to form successful programs to service the community and make a difference.”

CoBiz CEO Wesley Alexander said he was humbled that 1Hundred Years Enterprise chose CoBiz to help actualize its vision and business. Services that help youth avoid early-death decisions and that help formerly incarcerated citizens and their families effectively navigate the probation process, probation period and challenges of transitioning back into their relationships, families, communities and society are a sorely needed resource in Contra Costa County, Alexander said.

“Their service helps people re-discover their humanity, their value, their voice,” he added.

‘Let’s be clear, these gentlemen are the experts’

Alexander doesn’t mince words about the potential impact of 1Hundred Years Enterprise, particularly given the people behind the venture.  

Reese, Scott and Gaines “have earned a Ph.D. in this arena and are best prepared to propose and implement solutions to reduce recidivism and incarceration, especially in black and brown communities,” Alexander said. “It was an honor for me via Strategize1st – the business incubator I lead at CoBiz – to assist them with business planning, business formation, go-to-market strategy, podcast incubation, funding acquisition, and most importantly, acquiring a CEO-mindset.”

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CoBiz is a nonprofit and project of eQuip Richmond, an economic revitalization initiative funded by Chevron Richmond. Members of CoBiz can access modern work space, business insights, networking opportunities, a supportive community and more through its multifaceted offerings.

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Alexander lauded the trio of emerging entrepreneurs “for their fortitude, diligence, purpose, business savvy, and follow-through.”

“Since they were willing to learn, willing to ask questions, willing to let their ego down, and more importantly, willing to do the work, they were able to quickly apply what I shared with them,” the CoBiz CEO said.

More importantly, Alexander added, “I love that they will not allow anyone to deny their humanity or the humanity of their community.  They committed destructive acts and are now builders and healers of people and communities – one consultation at a time, and one episode at a time.”

The right path

For all three of the nonprofit’s founders, finding the right life path was a long road. But they say their combined experience has provided an instructive rehabilitative pathway for individuals leaving, or at risk of entering, the penal system.

All three men have suffered from poor decisions and deep regret, but have found hope in re-focusing on constructive outcomes.

Born and raised in Richmond, Gaines described his childhood as wonderful. He grew up with a passion and talent for moto-cross racing.

“I could have been the first black moto-cross racer at age 13,” he said.

Instead, he gravitated toward street life and crime. In 1987, he was imprisoned for murder.

Scott, who was born and raised in Oakland, grew up loving school, with math being his favorite subject. He also enjoyed athletics, participating in football and boxing and he had a particular talent for swimming. Scott would revert to street life and crime as a youth, however, a pathway he says was paved by a lack of support from alcoholic parents. By the age of 15 Scott was in and out of juvenile hall, and from ages 19 to 50 he was in prison for murder and attempted murder convictions.

“Upon my release, I vowed to give back to the community and help to make a positive change,” Scott said.

For Reese, a Richmond native, a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome served as a catalyst for destructive behavior. After the condition stunted his talent in athletics as a youth, he became withdrawn and reckless and his grades at school were impacted. He became addicted to the criminal lifestyle and eventually served over 30 years in prison for murder.

While incarcerated, Reese benefited from self-help programs and became Muslim, and when he was finally released back into society, he became an apprentice with Rising Sun Energy Center in Oakland while attending a six-month transitional program. From there, he would get his first job in the buildings trades in San Francisco, working on the Chase Center construction project. But in the summer of 2020 Reese had another setback – his vehicle was rear-ended while on the drive home from work and he suffered back and neck injuries that placed him on disability and eventually unemployment.

This time, rather than turning to the withdrawn, reckless outlook of his youth, Reese doubled-down on his spirituality and his determination to excel in life. He continued to run his nonprofit Motivated 2 Help Others, which he founded at Folsom State Prison in 2012 during a Relay for Life Walk held there. The nonprofit has additionally held mind-body-soul fitness sessions for community members in the park and bowled with youth and has also served.

Motivated 2 Help Others teamed with 1Hundred Years Enterprise and the Ronnie RR Robinson Foundation to distribute 100 sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves socks and hand-warmers to unsheltered residents in various parts of Richmond.

Making a difference

On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17, Motivated 2 Help Others teamed with 1Hundred Years Enterprise and the Ronnie RR Robinson Foundation to distribute 100 sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves socks and hand-warmers to unsheltered residents in various parts of Richmond.

“We believe it is important to do community service and to help others who are going through tough times,” Reese said. “It helps make a difference for them.”

And making a difference is what the 1Hundred Years Enterprise aims to do, one conversation at a time.

“Whether you are from Richmond, Beverly Hills, China, or Columbia, whether you are a CEO or an at-risk youth, they are relatable and authentic,” Alexander said. “Subscribe to the podcast, direct at-risk parents to them, tell a loved one who is incarcerated about them – help them to help us.”

To learn more about the nonprofit, visit its website here. And click here to catch up on the organization’s latest podcasts.