Monica Evans is no stranger to violence. A Detroit police officer assigned to the division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, she moved to Detroit as a young teen. Growing up, she was a victim of child molestation. Her sister was murdered. And her brother served time for murder.
Evans says she believes people with a background like hers go one of two ways. “Hurt people either hurt people, or they go completely the other way, like me.”
She’s not kidding. Evans is on the coordinating team that operates the Safe Routes to School, a part of the Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. Along with Skillman Foundation Program Officer Henry McClendon, Evans has taken a movement called Restorative Practices (RP) and helped make it a presence throughout Detroit schools and law enforcement.
Instead of punishing kids who break rules—or even people who break the law—RP focuses on making relationships right through restorative circles. In April 2011, when Safe Passages began doing truancy sweeps, instead of ticketing youth, they found them wraparound services and conducted circles to try and solve the needs of the child and his or her family.
“If they needed tutoring or clothes or help with bullying, whatever the case may be, operation Safe Passages is a holistic approach to keeping them in school,” Evans said. In her personal life, Evans mothers eight children, only three of which are biological. “My mom used to say I bring home stray animals. Now she says I bring home stray kids. I don’t want to see anyone else go through some of the things that I went through.”
How has The Skillman Foundation helped you advance this work?
Monica: It’s their enthusiasm. They’re passionate about this. You can tell that they have a true heart for the community, and it really shows.
Do you see a brighter future coming for Detroit’s children? Are you an optimist or pessimist?
Monica: Oh, the cup is always half full. Almost to a fault, I’m always optimistic. It’s even sometimes offensive to people. I’m like, ‘Don’t tell me that this can’t be done. It can be done!’ That’s where I’m at. I think of it like, I’m planting a seed that needs to be watered, needs to be nurtured. I might never see the end result, but it will grow.”
Tell me about a hopeful moment in your work.
Monica: One young man, 17, was arrested for a gun. I had to interview him, and I used Restorative Practice questions to conduct the interview. I told him, ‘The only difference between you and I is you made one different choice. … And the reason you did that, is because someone didn’t tell you that you’re created for great things.’ He said, ‘Nobody’s ever told me that I had the ability to do anything.’ Two years later, I was at a school doing a circle with gang groups. He walked into the room and said, ‘You don’t remember me, do you? Well, you arrested me, and I ended up doing a year and a half in prison. But now I come here and mentor these kids, and I’m in college for nursing.’ He said, ‘What you said to me changed my whole entire life.’ … I went home and was like, that is so awesome, that words could affect his life. That was the seed that was planted.
By Krista Jahnke/Photos by Paul Engstrom/Skillman Foundation