Larry Lawton: The Reality Check Program is my legacy
“I am an ex-con with 11 years in the federal pen. At risk young people generally like and respect me. I am a big dude with a bald head, goatee, tattoos and a no-bullshit demeanor. I tell them honestly what is going to happen to them if they don’t turn their lives around.
I really don’t give a fuck about the bad things they did. I am not here to judge them. I tell them about how I made millions as a high-rolling interstate jewelry thief. I had stretch limousines, wads of $100 bills and threw elaborate parties for a 1,000 people. That eventually led me to become 52224-004 in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary where no one cared about me.
Prison has a way of bringing you down to your lowest level. I went from wearing Italian Barone suits and Bally of Switzerland shoes to carrying a concealed metal shank up my ass for protection. I had to hide the shank in a toothbrush holder and shove it far up to avoid metal detectors. Prison life make necessities like that seem normal.
American prisons are disgraceful. They are as bad as Abu Ghraib. Some political candidates have taken an interest in having jails that rehabilitate criminals. After all, the US has 2.3 million prisoners and all of them have people who care about them.
People say they don’t care about prisoners. What they forget is that 95% of all prisoners will be released. At some point an ex-felon will move into your neighborhood. Think about this: Would you prefer a compassionate neighbor who learned from his mistakes or a maniac who was beaten every day?
When I was in prison, I wrote to various senators and congress members about prison conditions. A study showed that every prisoner is worth four votes. I am a convicted felon so I can’t vote. However, though my program, I reach millions of people. I hope our next president makes criminal justice reform a big issue.
I lost a lot in my life from being locked up for 11 years. I lost family, loved ones, dignity, money, everything that is important. I missed every one of my sons’ basketball games, my daughter’s dance recitals. I didn’t get to be with my dad before Alzheimer’s took over. I caused emotional harm on people and I regret that every day.
I am at peace now. Besides being in confined spaces, not much bothers me. I smoke a cigar and I don’t give a shit about traffic or bad weather or the other stuff that irritates people. The movies Shawshank Redemption and ConAir are somewhat realistic, but prison television shows are stupid and I don’t watch them. They make prison look like a place to bond, hang with new friends and get lots of chill time. They don’t show how filthy they are or how irrational people become. They don’t show how common it is to see people die in front you. They don’t show the true horrors of prison.
I had a lot of time to think about all my bad choices and how to help people avoid what I went through. When I was released from prison in 2007, I developed the Reality Check Program.
The Reality Check Program is used for some misdemeanor cases in Seminole and Brevard counties. My goal is to see it in every county in Florida and every state in the country.
When someone gets sentenced to the Reality Check Program, they download the four part video. Then they take a test and after they pass it and print out their certificate of completion, it is turned in to the clerk of courts. Most of the time after seeing my video and hearing my story, they never get in trouble again.
An independent quantitative analysis was done by a college and we have the highest success rate with helping people in the country. I’ve got the analytics to prove that.
Maybe you have seen me as the expert talking about the June 2015 New York prison break on CNN. Or on the Mike Huckabee show on FOX talking about my Reality Check Program, or doing a skit on Comedy Central The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or on MSNBC being sworn in as the first ever ex-con to become an honorary police officer, or CSPAN Floor of Congress being recognized by Congress. I like to talk. I have been on TV a lot.
I make a living now by working with law enforcement agencies to help them break down the “Us Against Them” mentality some people have with the police. We use the Reality Check Video Gift Card program and it is a great success. I specialize with youth crime prevention and community policing. They see me and say, “If he can change, so can I.”
I was a real bad guy and I’m not proud of that, but change is possible. I speak about my life. Sometimes I talk with at-risk youth. Sometimes I teach parents how to recognize their role in what happened to their son or daughter. The biggest mistake parents make is talking down to their kids and getting angry too fast. Sometimes I teach businesses how to avoid criminals like the one I used to be. Who would know better than than me how to make a jewelry store safe? I also speak to insurance companies and work with businesses to help their employees and customers. Google my name, go on YouTube, there’s a ton of stuff there too.
I look at my past life as survival graduate school. I didn’t waste my time. I studied the law, fought prison abuse and helped inmates with their cases. Doing 11 straight years wasn’t easy, but I survived, even after being abused by guards. I don’t blame anyone but myself; I made the bad choices that put me in prison. Some guards saved my life.
It took me two years to write my book Gangster Redemption with nine time NY Times bestselling author Peter Golenbock. Mine is not a happy story to relive, you know. It’s not about the cool guy who gets laid all the time. The book is a hit and I’m working with Leo Rossi from Analyze That, The Accused, etc., on a major motion picture about my life.
My story is my legacy.
I make an honest living doing something very important and seeing it work: It is very rewarding.
I don’t need to be a millionaire any more.
I’m pretty happy.”