Former felon changes life, mentors troubled youth

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INDIANAPOLIS - An Indianapolis man is reaching out to troubled young people from his old neighborhood in an effort to save them from the life he used to live.

If you ever meet 28-year-old James Wilson, chances are he will be wearing a suit and tie. His appearance sharply contrasts with the story he will tell you about his past life, a life when he used to run the streets of the Brightwood neighborhood on the city's northeast side.

“Life was drugs, partying, women and shooting guns and trying to be cool,” said Wilson as he stood near his old home that's now empty and boarded up. There are countless abandoned homes in the streets surrounding his.

Just a few blocks away, Wilson told FOX59, is where he shot a man in the back when he was a teenager. He eventually was shot himself.

"He tried to rob me. I felt like he was trying to rob me over drugs. So I shot him."

Fortunately, his victim survived, but did he think about the possibility that he might not have?

"No. Not at all," he replied.

His mentality was completely different back then. He explained how he was only focused on himself and the pressures of the streets.

It's a story the city has seen over and over again in the last several months--senseless crimes that often involve teenagers dying or teenagers killing. Just this week, Indianapolis Metropolitan police arrested 16-year-old Simeon Adams for the murder of Nathan Trapuzzano, who was just taking a leisurely walk down the street.

“Once upon a time, I was that young boy,” said Wilson. "That could’ve easily been me pulling the trigger, 'cause I was always wanted to be the one to hold the gun.”

However, Wilson turned his life around. The moment came while he was serving a seven-year sentence in state prison for burglary. A few older inmates saw a better future for Wilson and urged him to make something of himself when he got out.

Last August, Wilson followed through and enrolled in Ivy Tech. Now he's a success story at the school and mentors other troubled youth.

"We need ground level soldiers that are willing to get out here and say, ‘Hey, look’, taking kids underneath their wings, showing them opportunity, taking them on trips," explained Wilson. "We shouldn’t have to wait till they come to your program, we need to go get them, bring them to the programs.”

He said his key to success was his three mentors who believe in him every day: Geri Cunningham, Michael Jenkins and Lamarcus Hall.

“Words can’t express how proud we are of him," said Hall, assistant director of student life & development at Ivy Tech. "He can call me two in the day, he can call me two in the morning. We support James Wilson.”

Then Cunningham added, “For the other people that don’t have faith for our young men from the hood, he’s a definite example that it can happen. And a little faith goes a long way."

Wilson urges any youth who needs support to contact him via the Student Life & Development office at Ivy Tech or through the 100 Black Men of Indianapolis organization.

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