Imagine growing up on the streets of Chicago. Your future seems bleak. Kids in your class have parents that just disappear. Your father is addicted to heroin and just can’t get things together. People you know, kids you know, are dying on a regular basis. Your mama works hard to hold her family together so you can at least have a stable home. But the lure of money, drugs, and a fast life is too much to resist and you find yourself sucked in anyway….
That was the life of Jason Sole. He recently came to Mount Mercy University to share his story with others. The kids in his school grew up with trauma after trauma. I think this is a key piece that Jason has identified as to why kids in poverty and violent situations just become numb to the world outside them.
As a teenager, Jason was a great basketball player. He was playing with some of the best coming out of Chicago. One day after he returned home from basketball camp, he returned home to a very disappointed mother—she had found the drugs and money he stashed away. Jason was sent to Waterloo, Iowa to live with his aunt and finish high-school. Life in Iowa was still rough for him. His aunt battled mental health issues and he still encountered racism. He did graduate high school without failing a single class and his team made it to the state tournament. But all he could think about was how he left his team back home in Chicago and they lost the city championship because he wasn’t there to help them.
The lure of gang life was too hard for Jason to resist. After high school he returned to the life in both Chicago and Minnesota. Multiple arrests followed, and once he was shot in the leg–almost losing his leg.
Jason soon figured out that education was the only way out of his current situation. He earned Bachelor and Masters degrees in Criminal Justice. He is finishing up his doctorate in Public Safety Leadership. He is now training criminal justice students and law enforcement officers around the country about gangs and how to handle the delicate situation most of these kids come from.
Jason’s current project is teach his criminal justice classes, and give his speeches, wearing a hoodie. His thought process is that if we can “Humanize” the person behind the hoodie, we can break the stereotype that a young black man in a hoodie is up to no good. In reality, he is a person just like all the rest of us.
Jason has written a book about his experiences called From Prison to Ph.D. It is a great story about giving people a second chance and what they can accomplish.