Chris Patterson said a troubled childhood led him to a 10 year stint in prison. Determined never to go back, he has dedicated his life’s work to keeping Chicago’s youth on the straight and narrow.
For the past decade, Patterson has been reaching out to inner city youth in an effort to combat violence.
“So when I’m talking to someone it’s really about, ‘I want you to live vicariously through me. You don’t have to go to prison in order to turn your life around,’” he said.
Patterson grew up in Cabrini Green and said he had a troubled homelife. In 2000, at 24-years-old, he was convicted of bank robbery and served 10 years in a federal prison in Colorado. In 2010, after his release, he vowed never to return and immediately began to focus on helping others.
“It wasn’t because I was afraid of prison,” he said. “It was because I understood my worth. I understood I had more to contribute.”
Patterson is doing more than his share of contributing. He is the senior director of programs and policy with the Institute for Nonviolence. It is an organization serving the Austin, West Garfield Park and Back of the Yards neighborhoods. Their mission is to break the cycle of violence with outreach and other tools of nonviolence. The hope is get to the root of the problem.
“A lot of the work that we are doing feels like putting a band aid on a bullet wound,” Patterson said. “And without addressing the root cause as to why they have a gun in the first place, why they are standing on a street corner selling drugs … if we don’t address those concerns we’re chasing our tails.”
The past several weeks have been challenging for Patterson and his team. After a string of deadly shootings that included children, the Institute for Nonviolence set up a pop-up community event to show their support and distributing care kits and food.
Patterson said 2020 has been an exceptionally deadly year, but in years prior he said Austin had experienced a 50 percent reduction in violence.
“Over the last four years, we’ve touched 400 people just in the community, and were talking about males and females 16 to 24 and those who are at risk of either shooting or being shot,” he said.
And the proof of his success can be seen in his staff. Patteson said about 90 percent of his staff were formerly incarcerated or a former gang member
Patterson said the obstacles are plenty, with poverty and high unemployment rates.
“Unfortunately there are so many young black men in cities like Chicago, going to prison is like a right of passage,” he said. “And it’s almost like a stop that you have to make you anticipate that.”
But he also said his prison experience can often help bring a level of understanding to these young men and that most people are redeemable.
“If you give a person a passion help them find and navigate their course of life, people will rise to the occasion,” he said.
Chris Patterson he is one of Chicago’s Very Own.