For the more than 600,000 friends and neighbors returning home from incarceration each year in the U.S., a fresh start is hard to come by. Aside from discrimination in securing stable housing and employment, individuals with a criminal record unfortunately carry a heavy stigma that’s difficult to overcome.
“I think the biggest misconception is that they are bad people who continue to do bad things,” says Peter Brown, owner of Six Shooter Coffee in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood. “Even though people reentering have served specific punishments for specific crimes, their punishment seems to extend past their sentence.”
When Brown isn’t running his coffee shop, nestled in the Waterloo Arts District on Cleveland’s east side, he serves as a passionate crew member for the People Objective. Earlier this spring, the organization’s founder, Columbus-native Cam Williams, laced up and kicked off The Run for People campaign, a 3,000+ mile run across the United States to address the stigma attached to people with criminal records. With stops in the seven states with the highest reentry populations – California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York – the People Objective team is capturing the stories of citizens coming home from incarceration, alongside the organizations and employers that assist them.
“I was inspired by this mission because we both have worked for nonprofits that empower people reentering,” Brown says of himself and Williams. “It’s something that we both feel will bring massive change to the areas where we live and will have a positive effect on families for generations.”
The ambitious route requires Williams to run an average of 35 miles each day, including ten stationary days to interact with residents of the major cities through which he passes. Even though Brown is currently handling route logistics, nutritional planning, and occasionally running alongside Williams for moral support on their cross-country journey, his priority continues to be the impact at home.
“My goal with Six Shooter Coffee has always been to create a community cornerstone. We’ve always wanted to be a positive force in the neighborhood,” says Brown. “As an extension of that, we contribute a portion of our sales to organizations empowering people reentering society from incarceration.”
The ultimate goal of The Run for People is to create a documentary featuring footage from Williams’ run across the country. With interviews from people reentering who open up about the challenges they face in their communities, the film will educate, enlighten, and help Americans begin to see each other as people first.
Brown, Williams and the rest of The Run for People crew are in the homestretch and plan to reach their finish line ahead of schedule in New York City’s Battery Park by July 21. Those interested in the cause can follow their progress on the People Objective Instagram feed. In addition to sharing the organization’s content on social media or making a financial donation, Brown requests a more empathetic, understanding approach to how we treat one another.
“The biggest thing people can do to empower people reentering is to treat them as people with no stigma attached,” Brown says. “Breaking down barriers and connecting with people on a human level is a major theme of the run.”