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Let Me Tell You About Sam 
By Bonnie Boswell  Contributing Writer 
Published May 26, 2022

 

Bonnie Boswell (Courtesy photo)

 

In December 2021, I interviewed Sam Lewis, the executive director of ARC, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in DTLA, for a story I was doing for “Bonnie Boswell Reports” on preventing recidivism among women.  

 As I high school student, I’d become aware of the disparity in the treatment of women, minorities, youth, and the poor within the criminal justice system. I wanted to know how Sam became involved in ARC. 

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  “By the time I was 18, I’d been shot twice, stabbed and my mother’s house had been shot up,” said Sam.  “It was the 1980s, and L.A. was considered the gang capital of the country. I was a teenager, a high school drop-out and had been sentenced to a life sentence in prison.”  

 Sam continued,  “I could barely read and write when I got to prison, and when I got there, I accepted my fate.”  But then something happened.  One day, Sam’s seven-year old daughter came to visit him. This particular time, she saw him behind the plexiglass in shackles.  

 “I saw the fear in her eyes,” he said.  “My daughter had one request,” he said, “Please don’t get in trouble anymore so I can hug you. That shook me to my core,” said Sam.  “I vowed to become a changed man.”  And he did.   

 Sam gained an education while he was incarcerated, even though college programs weren’t offered at the time. Then, after 24 years in prison and nine trips made to the parole board, he was finally released in 2012.   

He determined to find a way to change the justice system from one that, “punishes and traumatizes” to one that “helps and heals.”  He eventually met Scott Budnick, the founder of ARC.  Sam then began to work for ARC as a life coach and eventually became the executive director. The result has been tremendous. 

ARC has programs that work within prisons and jails preparing people for re-entry.  They offer housing, opportunities to learn building trades, get substance abuse counseling, a ride home from jail, retreats and, importantly, ARC has been involved in policy changes – changes like supporting passage of a law that prohibits 14 and 5-year-olds from being tried in adult court. ARC has supported over 23 pieces of legislation leading to reforms affecting over 56,000 people.   

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“Take me for example,” says Sam. “For 24 years, I was costing taxpayer money. Now, for 10 years, I’ve been a taxpayer.” Directing people away from the criminal justice system also enhances public safety. “I’m a coach, I’m a mentor,” says Sam.  “I’m no different than others. I was invested in and given an opportunity.”   

Watch Sam’s story on Bonnie Boswell Reports on KCET, Fridays at 2:58p or kcet.org/bonnie. 

Categories: News | Opinion
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