YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — William Miller said he took something from the city and he spent 25 years in prison for it.
Now, he says, he wants to pay back what he took.
Miller, 47, is one of several people attending Violence Interrupters training this week sponsored by the city’s Community Initiative To Reduce Violence, more commonly known as CIRV.
The training is being given by Tio Hardiman, of Chicago, who started the program there in 2004 because of the gun violence that has plagued large swathes of the Windy City and continues to do so today.
The mission of the program is to train people on how to deal with disputes that may result in violence and how to stop that violence before it starts.
If such a program had been in place when Miller was a young man, he most certainly would have been a focus of it.
A native South Sider who still goes by the street name “Shimmy,” Miller was dealing drugs at 12 years of age and was headed down a path that saw him turn 19 in prison, where he served a 26-year sentence for murder and attempted murder.
Now, he says, he wants to stop others from making the same mistakes he did, which is why he signed up for the training, as well as a request from CIRV head Guy Burney, who is a hard person to say no to.
“As a youth, I was part of the violence,” Miller said. “Since I’ve been released, I’m making it my goal to help fix what I broke.”
There has been a lot that has been broken in the last two years in Youngstown when it comes to violence. In 2019, the city saw 19 homicides and 58 people shot, both decreases from the year before.
But in 2020, thanks, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic problems associated with it, Youngstown recorded 28 homicides and 98 people shot for the entire year. For 2021, the city has seen 25 homicides so far and 112 people shot.
Miller said he wants to try to impress upon people, especially the younger people in the city who are driving most of the violence, that there is a tomorrow, and that spending a large part of that tomorrow in prison if they’re not killed in the first place is not worth it.
“As a youngster, you think this is the end-all to be all,” he said of life on the streets.
He said a lot of the things he would take offense to when he was young and would possibly use violence to straighten out are things he wouldn’t even think twice about today.
Once after he was released from prison, he said, he saw some people he used to feud sitting down having some drinks with some of the people Miller used to run with.
“A lot of stuff I used to get mad about before, I ain’t gonna get mad about now,” he said. “It’s a maturing.”
Burney said people like Miller are important for such a program because someone with his background brings instant credibility in a situation when two groups of people are feuding and are looking to resort to violence.
Hardiman said a violence interrupter needs three things; credibility, access and influence.
To have influence means the person trained to stop the violence needs to have a strong, personal relationship with the people they are seeking to counsel, Hardiman said.
“It’s all about personal relationships,” Hardiman said.
Jobs and economic opportunity are also a good way to prevent violence, Hardiman said. He said his program, much like CIRV, can help people they are counseling with employment or other social services so that they are more secure and less apt to choose violence when they are in a bad situation.
Burney said he hopes when the training this week is done, the people who were trained can pass that training onto others so they can have an impact in the city’s neighborhoods.