AKRON, Ohio — A product of a single-parent home, Jeffrey Samuels struggled with his emotions from an early age.
“I just took things that I didn’t understand and went the wrong way with them,” said Samuels.
Shortly after graduating high school, at the age of 18, Samuels was arrested for aggravated robbery.
“I was just thinking I got to get some money. Six months out of high school and I’m going to prison,” said Samuels.
It's where he spent the next three years of his life.
“After you make a mistake, what do you do about that mistake,” asked Samuels.
The answer for Jeffrey was found through an organization called Bondage Breakers.
“I never felt judged. I learned how to forgive myself,” said Samuels.
Starting over at square one—with a stigma.
The Akron woman who founded Bondage Breakers has committed most of her life to helping people move on from their mistakes.
“That stigma stays with you. Shame in and of itself is stifling. Shame will do more harm than it will good,” said Dr. Alicia Malone.”
Malone started her outreach in 1982.
It gives recently released prisoners the tools they need to re-acclimate to the world around them.
“You can’t come right back out and think you can just right back in the saddle because everything has changed,” said Malone.
Those regaining their freedom also need to transform to prevent history from repeating itself.
“Jeff was an angry man,” said Malone.
Malone developed different strategies to help Samuels embrace his emotions.
Her mission was born out of heartbreak.
“My oldest brother stole his first car at seven,” said Malone.
From there, his cycle of crime continued.
“Got in trouble, out, in trouble, out, in trouble, out, in trouble, out,” said Malone.
At age 70, Malone's brother is still behind bars.
“That’s painful. And I think in actuality the pain even drives me to continue to help the Jeff’s in this world,” said Malone.
Over the last 40 years, Bondage Breakers has helped nearly 800 ex-offenders.
“Whether it’s physical, whether it’s emotional, you do not have to be in bondage,” said Malone.
Twenty years have passed since his release, and Malone credits Bondage Breakers, as well as his children, for helping him turn things around.
“You’ve got to work every day on change. Once I realized that I had somebody that had a depend on me, the decisions I made no longer just affected me, that affected them, I looked at it different,” said Samuels.
Whenever Samuels can, he shares his story of overcoming adversity to try and prevent young men from making the same mistakes he did.
“I can understand the anger, I can understand the frustration. I ain’t gonna lie to you, it’s gonna be rough. But, it’s worth it,” said Samuels.