IOU FUTURE MENTOR PROGRAM
What is IOU?
Inside prison walls across the
nation there are a lot of men and women who were placed on their path to incarceration during their childhood, men and women whose childhood included hanging out with the wrong crowd, joining a gang, acquiring bad habits, dropping out of school, running away from home, doing drugs for the first time etc…. Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents has assembled a group of incarcerated men and women who have thoroughly analysed their childhood mistakes, have extracted insight and wisdom from them, and who are dedicated to preventing children making the same mistakes they made yesterday.
Out – side of prison walls are many children who are currently navigating through the minefield of adolescence. Children who are traveling the same troubled paths that were traveled by those who came before them, children walking in the footprints that were left 5… 10…15 years prior by another confused and frustrated child. Children forming gangs for the same reason that those before them joined, children dropping out of school for the same reason those before them dropped out. Yet, children who would be more inclined to not make those same mistakes if they had access to those same troubled children who came before them.
Unlimited access to the lessons, information, wisdom and insight of the Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents I.O.U mentors is certain to have a substantial impact on your child. Our mentors are articulate, dedicated, passionate about sharing what they have learned and insuring that they find ways to get children to heed their priceless messages, for our mentors understand they owe our youth unlimited truth and guidance.
Dante Cottingham: Principal IOU Future Project Mentor
Like walking through a forest in the middle of a moonless night, unable to see properly I tripped and fell, made bad decisions, and took wrong turns throughout my childhood. I began running away from home at age 12. I joined a street gang, began skipping school and selling hard drugs when I was 13. I dropped out of high school in my freshman year at 14. At 15 I’d been in Juvenile detention homes on several occasions and was eventually sent to Lincoln Hills, a prison for juveniles. After being released 6 months later, at 16, I re- adapted many of my old ways, at 17 I learned my girlfriend was pregnant, just 2 months later I was arrested, charged as an adult and convicted of party to the crime of 1st degree homicide. I was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility in the year 2020 when I’ll be 42 years old. I was then sent to an adult maximum security prison, Green Bay Correctional Institute. Though the early years of my imprisonment were plagued with conduct reports and time in the hole I eventually began to grow up. While serving years in the hole, in administrative confinement, I began to honestly and thoroughly evaluate my history, present and future. An evaluation that persisted over the years and that has led me to this place where I completely understand: 1. How I ended up in prison at such a young age 2. The ingredients of the combination of efforts that would of taken me off the path to prison.
Because I undoubtedly know that my childhood path could of been averted the same must be true for other children as well. So I’ve created a program based on what would of been effective with me. The program is called the IOU FUTURE PROJECT. It connects the youth of today with the wisdom and insight of the youth of yesterday whom have traveled a similar path, made similar mistakes and experienced similar pressures. The IOU Future facilitators and mentors give presentations at youth organisations and facilities. As the IOU Future mentor I participate via speakerphone. I tell them my story, I present myself as an example of what not to do and I explain why I have made many of my mistakes. We present topics that are connected to my story and then break them up into 2 groups to make pro’s and con’s lists. For example: We’d ask one group to make a pro list and the other to make a con list about joining a street gang. Then I’d address the list utilizing my intimate understanding of the issue. There are several topics we address. At the end of the presentation I share with the teams that I am certain that if I had dreams as a teenager I would not be in prison today, for dreams are that powerful. We then present them with a dream pledge, upon signing the pledge we give them a light blue bracelet with the word ‘Dream’ upon it, a reminder to dream. I know that as a teen I would of listened to the right message, the right mentor. I know that if that mentor had led me to think deeply about the pros and cons of joining a gang I would not of joined. I know that if I had been inspired to dream, to see myself as something bigger than a gang member, a school drop out, a drug dealer etc I would not be in prison today!
Tips for Teens!
When I look at my history and analyse the mistakes I made as an adolescent it’s apparent to me that many of my mistakes could of very easily been avoided. With the right information, the right influence and guidance my path to prison could of been diverted to college. There are so many things that I wish I’d known, of which are the things that I intend to share with you, through telling you my story, answering questions and sharing with you my solutions to the various situations. The following are other questions that I answered –
1.Why did you smoke Marijuana and sell drugs?
2.Why did you skip school and eventually drop out of high school?
3.How did you adapt to being in an adult maximum security prison as a child?
4. What is the most important advice do you think I need to know?
The IOU 'Dream Big' Future Mentor Program
Step 1 - Who We Are & What We Do
A detailed introduction of the creation of the IOU Future Mentor Program, it’s staff and Mentors.
Step 2 and 3 - Introduce mentor via speaker phone/video link
Followed by: Mentor shares his story of which includes:
My name is Dant’e Cottingham. I am 35 years old and I was born and raised in Racine Wisconsin. I am the eldest of 3 children, I have a large family that includes 7 aunts, 1 uncle and a host of cousins. I grew up in a low income household, lived in several really bad neighborhoods, and I made a lot of mistakes while growing up. I began running away from home when I was 12 years old. I joined a street gang, began skipping school, selling hard drugs and was sent to an alternative middle school when I was 13. I dropped out of high school in my freshman year aged 14. By age 15 I had been in Juvenile detention several times, one for auto theft. After being convicted of battery I was sentenced to a year in Lincoln Hills, a prison for Juveniles. After serving 6 months I was released, at age 16, then immediately readopted many of my old ways; smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, skipping school, being a gang member, selling drugs and continuing to make various other bad decisions. When I was 17 years old I learned that my girlfriend was pregnant. 2 months later I was arrested by the police and charged with party to the crime of intentional homicide. I was waived into the adult criminal justice system and was found guilty. I was sentenced to life imprisonment with parole eligibility in the year 2019 when I will be 41 years old. Then I was sent to an adult maximum security prison to serve my time.
Step 4 - Mentor invites Questions from Teens.
Step 5 - PRO/CONS -Discussion Time
Team work session (mentor and facilitator break up kids to 2 groups, they both are given a question of which each side writes pros or cons for said question followed by debate
Step 6 - Promoting the Power of Free thinking
Teens encouraged to ask their own questions and create pro and con lists
Step 7 - Mentor gives Dreams Speech
Step 8 - Conclusion
Facilitator hands out pledges to dream and exchanges signed pledges for Dream bracelets .
IOU Dream Bracelets
Each participant to the program receives an exclusive IOU ‘I Care’ Bracelet.Dream Bracelets may vary in design.
As one of thousands of kids that received the excessively long life sentence in the 1990’s I know how torturous this sentence is. I know the fear that consumes the child that’s forced into a prison full of violent and angry adults. I know the feelings of despair, depression and confusion.But I also know that at some point the child disappears and is replaced by a man. I know that after 20+ years in prison that kid/now a man deserves a second chance.