Ex-felon hopes Berston Field House vandals make the most of second chance

Published: Feb. 26, 2020 at 5:04 PM EST
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(2/26/2020) - "We're going to actively pursue whomever is responsible and we're going to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law," Bryant Nolden said Sunday.

The Genesee County Commissioner and Friends of Berston Executive Director has repeated that statement in several ways over the last several days.

But, after five young people came forward and owned up to causing the damage to the Berston Field House's specialty basketball court, he had a change of heart.

The five were accused of driving two vehicles over the center's court Saturday night, leaving behind a ripped up court and several tire marks.

They destroyed the $45,000 donation Berston Field House received from the National Basketball Players Association in the fall of 2019.

Nolden has been extremely emotional about the senseless act; but, he said, after the five apologized, he will not press charges.

Instead, he's made a deal with them.

It's a privilege not many people get.

Former convicted felon, Leon El-Alamin said this is the opportunity the five needed and he hopes they take advantage of it.

"For them to intervene and have empathy on these young folks; and for those folks to have the courage to step forward, I want to commend them as well," he said. "We need to see more of this, you know. So, I think that's awesome."

Leon El-Alamin is the founder and executive director of the M.A.D.E. Institute in Flint.

The nonprofit helps reintegrate men and women returning to the community from prison.

He explained, "We provide those services around transitional housing, workforce development, peer-to-peer mentoring, life skills, and advocacy and research."

Since it was created in 2015, El-Alamin said the M.A.D.E. Institute has helped more than a hundred people; and, 80-percent of them committed the crime that landed them in prison in their late teens.

That's the same age as the five who admitted to destroying Berston's specialty basketball court over the weekend. If the 17 to 23 year-old men and women were criminally charged, they'd be facing at least a 5-year felony of malicious destruction of property.

"That would've been detrimental for their development as they move forward," El-Alamin explained. "You know, having a felon on your record, the many barriers you face to housing, employment, getting into certain schools and trades and things like that. Really that stain on their back could've really put them - set them back so many years."

And, that's not what Berston has ever been about for the Flint community.

"I think this is the type of mentality and empathy we need to begin to have in our community, especially up on our young folks who - if developed correctly, should be our greatest assets," El-Alamin added.

He's hopeful all parents use this act of forgiveness to teach their kids a lesson.

The five aren't getting off scot-free.

The deal is they will pay to fix the courts and also be serving community service in Flint. It's not clear how many hours or exactly what those service hours will entail.

They will also take a tour of the Flint City Lockup.

As long as they pay to have to courts fixed and do their community service hours, Nolden and Flint's Mayor said they won't be charged.