Former Prison Lifer Becomes Prison Reform Advocate
ST. CLOUD -- Sent to live out his life behind bars at 15-years-old, former prisoner Elizer Darris is now a professional public speaker.
Darris was convicted in July 1999 for killing a co-worker. State of Minnesota court documents say Darris beat Cornelius Rodgers to death with a tire iron. From ages 15-32, Darris was incarcerated in prisons and jails in Minnesota including the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
Since Darris' release in October 2016, he's made it his mission to speak about prison reform and how to make a difference in your community.
Darris was a guest speaker at St. Cloud State University Wednesday to tell his story and share his ideas on prison reform.
Darris says during his time in prison he took advantage of educational opportunities. He studied law, learned Latin and got his associate's degree from Inver Hill Community College while he was still incarcerated. Darris says this helped him to free his mind and body and eventually helped him become a free man.
After being released Darris created a three-part strategy to help fight for prison reform, he calls it the 3D strategy.
"It's just utilizing a more specific, intentional approach to affecting change. It's a lens through which you're viewing your work. A 3D lens so to speak, those three Ds are disrupt, dismantle and destroy mass incarceration."
The 3D strategy also includes three separate sections on reform. The first section is sentencing reform. Some of the key points Darris has been fighting for are banning sentencing juveniles to life in prison and also eliminating mandatory minimum sentences.
The second section is prison reform, Darris says adding more therapists of color in prisons, increasing access to educational programs in prison and continuing to increase the quality of healthcare, including mental health care for inmates, are all necessary to the health and success of inmates.
The final section is on re-entry services. Darris says one of the major places reform needs to take place is in prisons' re-entry programs. He says re-entry programs are often only one-week long and don't cover enough material to help an inmate get on their feet once they are released.
Darris says the three sections along with the 3Ds need to be viewed through the correct lens.
"If you are viewing your work through that specific lens then all of your actions should be formed by the way that you are doing your work. Otherwise, it would kind of be a little insane. It's just a way of helping to order your feet and helping you know through your worldview how you're going to go about affecting change."
Darris has some advice on how you can "disrupt, dismantle and destroy" the current system. He says you can volunteer as an educator, pick a career choice you know you can make a difference in, demand legislature change, hold community organizations accountable for what they say they are doing for prison reform and lastly invest in the next generation.
Darris speaks at colleges, universities, high schools, law enforcement agencies and other community organizations throughout Minnesota.