JOLIET – A life sentence isn’t enough to repay his debt to society, the Stateville Correctional Center inmate professed.

Once a gang member from Carbondale, Labron Neal-Bey has sought to do more beyond his sentence to pay back that debt, and he’s asking for help.

“This is my obligation and my duty,” Neal-Bey said earlier this week in a phone interview. “Serving time in prison alone does not pay one’s debt to society. If I put guns and drugs in the community, then serving time in prison does not remove those guns and drugs from the community.

“As a young child, I promoted the Gangster Disciple lifestyle. … If I encouraged other kids to do drugs, then I owe it to the community to help eradicate that.”

In 2003, Neal-Bey started The Fall Back Movement, six years after being convicted of fatally shooting 15-year-old James Austin Campbell of rural Murphysboro and 16-year-old Terrance Mitchell of Carbondale the year before.

His goal is to steer young people away from a life of crime. He does not have an exact count on how many youth he has spoken to -- from a state prison phone -- but maintains more would-be criminals could be reached with greater community support and that part of the message needs to come from people such as himself “who truly understand what they face everyday.”

“A lot of young people want to be part of something. We want the Fall Back Movement to replace the gang culture. … We just want the public to back us up. We don’t have the support that we should have,” he said.

According to a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth violence remains a critical problem in the nation. In 2011, for instance, 4,708 youth aged 10 to 24 were victims of homicide.

“Homicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, responsible for more deaths … than the next seven leading causes of death combined,” the CDC reported.

Though the Movement has received some applause from authorities, including state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, who commended the effort in a letter late last year, there remains some resistance, both Neal-Bey and his mother, Luzzetta Gibbs who helps administer the program, said.

They point to a goal to allow youth to relinquish their guns to a volunteer community member who would then turn the weapon over to police but have been unable to secure local law enforcement support, they said.

One agency, they said, told them that they would be responsible for identifying anyone who turns in a gun that was used in a crime or face arrest.

“That’s a problem,” Neal-Bey said, “when a gang member is willing to turn over a gun but local police won’t assist us. That’s a major, major problem.”

Neal-Bey said he had reached out to the Illinois Attorney General’s office and was informed in a letter that he would need to take the issue up with state’s attorneys.

Jackson County State’s Attorney Michael Carr said the gun issue is a legislative matter to allow weapons to be collected without recording people’s identity as is now required.

A prosecutor for 36 years including at the federal level, Carr also noted that programs such as gun buybacks are ineffective, serving only as a public relations gimmick.

“People commit crimes, not the guns. And the people who are committing crimes because, generally, of poor education and poor family support,” he said.

Carr, who said the double homicide changed his life, influencing his decision to serve on the Carbondale Elementary School Board for 12 years and to become state’s attorney, also added that legislators need to do more to ensure youth are well educated and have opportunities to avoid committing crimes.

“Legislators have a responsibility to look at what kind of programs do we have in terms of supporting education and in terms of supporting families,” he said. “I do have some very strong feelings about legislative obligations.”

Nick Mariano is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Saline, Franklin and Jefferson counties.

(1) comment

cuja1

Good job Labron! It's great to hear that you have turned your life around. God bless your efforts to combat this problem of gang violence.

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