Peacemakers In Hospitals Aim At Breaking The Cycle Of Violence

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This month the city of Cleveland announced the dedication of more funds to help curb youth violence in the community--spurred by a voter-approved municipal tax increase.

Part of the effort to curb violence is putting another 'violence interrupter' in local hospitals. 

The Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance will have someone in University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center to try to calm family members, friends, and victims of violence, and convince them not to seek revenge. 

Another such interrupter is working at MetroHealth Medical Center.

This idea has been seen in other cities, like Baltimore and Philadelphia.

ideastream's Tony Ganzer learned more about the program from violence interrupter Jeff Crosby, and the Director of the Peacemakers Alliance Sharyna Cloud:

CLOUD: “It’s not unique, but it is unique, because you’re using the individuals who once lived this type of lifestyle—maybe a violent lifestyle, or maybe just hanging out with or had an associate or two who were violent, or perpetrated a violent activity—but who better to talk to them about that, because they’ve already walked that road, they know what it’s like to try to do something right, make connections, and not be able to get the education and can’t do it.  Who better to do that than someone who’s walked that line?”

GANZER: “How did you get involved in this, Jeff, to become a violence interrupter?”

CROSBY: “I wanted to make a difference in the community.  I used to do bad things in the community. You could say it was a guilt-complex in a way, and also I just wanted to help people. I didn’t want people to make the same mistakes that I did.  I didn’t want kids to be wasted talent, they have so much potential.  I just wanted them to rise and let it come out.  And you had to do that by helping the community.  I decided to give back to the community I took away from.”

GANZER: “Hospitals are kind of frenetic places at times, there’s a lot of motion going on, a lot of emotion going on.  How do you cope with that going in and try to calm people down in very exciting situations?”

CROSBY: “Well I use trench knowledge.  These aren’t things you can’t really learn in a book, or anything of that sort. And I also have good people skills, so that’s why they sent me there.  So I go there, get them to calm down.  I listen to what they have to say, then I acknowledge that I’m listening to what they have to say.  And I tell them a solution, or alternative to the situation, and get them to relax and get them the information they need to hear.”

GANZER: “So let’s say somebody comes in with a gunshot wound.  What’s the first thing that you do?  Obviously you wait for the doctors to do their job, but when you’re first coming in and talking to somebody, how do you make a connection to have them even listen to you, or know who you are?”

CROSBY: “Well part of the reason we’re violence interrupters is we have street credibility.  So a lot of people know me already.  Then I talk to them in a language they can understand.  I tell them the pros and cons of the situation.  And if they’re surviving a gunshot wound I tell them that they have a second chance, and they can do something else. And I talk to them in a language they can understand, and I refer them to resources through our Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance that can help them.  That’s what I do: I talk to them, I try to stop the retaliation on the street, and I refer them to the case managers with the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance and they find a program for them.”

CLOUD: “And Tony if I can just add, too, the hospital has a protocol also.  So they have a trauma team, that’s made up of social workers, other nurses, doctors, and others of the sort, so they have process by which of course the patient is stabilized—they may not be ready to be approached until the next day, possibly—so Jeff and James, who’s the other violence interrupter over there, they can do work in the waiting room with the family, also, because that’s where emotions are high. So they can, once they get permission, to talk with the family, not so much to find out what’s going on but what we don’t want to happen. There’s a situation, we first want to make sure someone’s stabilized, and of course these are always good people, and we know they’re always good people but they may have missed a connection.  So that’s where Jeff and James can use their resources they have, not just with CPA, but across Cleveland with partner organizations that provide resources.”

GANZER: “I think there have been more than 130 murders this year already in Cleveland.  When there’s so much violence, do you find it hard to break the cycle and actually communicate to somebody who has been shot, who is in a vulnerable position to say there is a better way even though your environment is surrounded by this.  Jeff, you want to…”

CROSBY: “Yes, it’s very hard.  Me being a victim of violence, I know what I wanted to do in those situations when I was younger.  So that’s a very hard thing to do.  But as violence interrupters that’s where life experience comes in to let them know the end result.  And the end result of that you’re going to end up dead, or in jail, or paralyzed.  Those are the only three options essentially, or you can change. So that’s what you need to do, and I let them know the pros and cons of the situation, I stress that, that’s what I do.  Every situation is different, so I find an angle that they’ll listen to, and that’s what I do.”

CLOUD: “That’s important, but what’s also important, and what’s unique, is the beginning of a relationship, because you will listen to someone who you’re in a good relationship with.  And also again that you know that someone who may have lived the type of lifestyle that you did, was able to live a better lifestyle, especially if you’re already saying I don’t want to do this, but I don’t know how, to connect these dots.  So the beginning of the relationship possibly at the hospital. Jeff or James may have known someone who was in the community who was injured, they wind up in the hospital, that’s a very good opportunity for them to talk with them about the resources and these are the steps I took, and even when I took these, we didn’t have all of this, but I can connect you directly to this, and I will help you walk this line to get there.  And that starts a lot with physical rehabilitation. Because MetroHealth Express told us that many of these patients don’t come back, these particular patients, to follow up on their physical rehabilitation, which then leads to depression, thoughts of retaliation because they now find themselves incapacitated to a certain extent.  So they can help them through that process at least making sure, encouraging them to go to the rehab appointments, go back to see the doctor, the mental health counseling if that’s the case, the drug counseling, the parenting, all of those things we can encourage and try to make those connections so they can really get the social-emotional well-rounded healing that they need.”

GANZER: “And that really is a point here, it’s not just convincing someone not to go out right away and look for vengeance, but it’s also trying to let them know there are supports available from the city. 

The Peacemakers Alliance of course is now under the auspices of the Boys and Girls Club, it’s been almost a year in your new form.  How have things gone, do you think, in reshaping your mission and how you’re doing business in the city?”

CLOUD: “It’s never a dull moment, that I can say.  Things have been going well.  Boys and Girls Club is an awesome organization to be under.  They already work with the kids who are at most risk of, and what that ‘of’ is everything under the sun. We work with those who are most risk of, and most vulnerable, too, because we’re working with individuals whose education level may not be up to speed, also their social networks are not positive, but just keeping the mission before them that we’re here to help, this was you, this could still be you if certain people didn’t enter into your lives, you want to give back so this is restorative justice so to speak also, and really just structuring it and providing what the outreach workers need to be able to provide for their participants, and that’s what we call the individually engage.  Because they have to participate in their own success.  We don’t try to sell them the dream, it’s going to be some work, because we can do everything over here to dress you up and make you look good and give you hope, but you still have to go back to that environment eventually.  We don’t remove you physically, we just strengthen you mentally, and that’s just through some connections with our service providers because we’re not the specialists, we’re not psychologists, and drug counselors, we don’t claim to be that.  We just want to be able to identify and detect those things, so we can make the right connections.  So that’s what we’ve been working on this first year.”

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