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READI Chicago was launched a year after a historic surge of gun violence that profoundly affected the city’s most vulnerable communities. The Crime Lab and the Heartland Alliance knew they had to do something when they saw that 90% of the victims were people of color.
In the fall of 2017, the large-scale initiative to connect individuals most at risk of gun violence involvement with employment in paid transitional jobs, counseling, and supportive services to help them gain skills and create a path to a better future was set into motion.
“The READI program is a violence prevention program that works with individuals that are at the highest risk. It partners with or collaborates with existing organizations that do a street intervention or outreach,” stated Dr. Chico Tillmon, executive director of READI.
They help provide cognitive behavior intervention, transitional jobs, and wrap-around services to allow individuals the opportunity to truly change and have sustainable outcomes and impacts in the community. Currently, they serve the Englewood, West Englewood, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, and the Austin communities.
“Those are some of the vulnerable communities with the highest rates of violence. That’s how we chose those particular communities,” added Dr. Tillmon.
Of the men that the READI program serves, 35% have been shot with 98% having been incarcerated. On average, these men have been arrested around 17 times.
So we serve individuals at the very highest risk of violence.
Some of the challenges the program faces are gaining the trust of those they help and helping them navigate through systems to get into programs.
It began as an RCT with the random selection of some who may have been interested and+ allowed to be in the program; others had to wait until a later date. Even though READI had one of the largest RCTs they “serve a small, small population.” In order for them to truly have an impact, they would probably want to scale in order to serve more people.
The program has also faced challenges in capacity and few participants. “Unfortunately, because most of the participants are at the highest risk and many of them are still involved in violent behavior,” said Dr. Tillmon. Some of these individuals have been killed because of their violent lifestyles. The program wants to ensure its participant’s safety as they struggle to immerse themselves into a lifestyle they can really embrace.
“One of the unique things about READI and our wrap-around services is even though we have transitional jobs we want to find out what the participant wants. It’s so equally important to send them on a pathway where they could be successful by finding out and identifying what skill set they might already have and how can we cultivate it so that they can become successful,” added Dr. Tillmon.
He continued by saying, “One of our key ingredients or our secret sauce would be CBI or CAT. We call it control, alt, delete. It’s Cognitive Behavior Intervention and really it’s about getting them to change the way they think about things that could potentially be conflicts. Cause we know conflicts are just two individuals having different perspectives on things. I’m not talking about the big scene where it would be something that’s physically engaging. I’m talking about just two people disagreeing.”
“I believe it is immensely important we help them begin to see that over smaller issues they can resolve them through no aggression. And that’s what we really try to focus on; them being able to pause and think through situations so it doesn’t result in them being a perpetrator or a victim to violence.”
CBT or CBI is extremely important because even though a job is available, READI doesn’t want participants to carry negative traits into a workplace setting. So they prepare “them not only with the skillset — whether it be welding, carpentry, or any particular trade,” but also how to conduct themselves in society.
“It’s one thing to have the skillset but if you still take that demeanor into the job place it can influence the job place in a negative way,” he stated. “So we really want to change the way they look at life and prepare them. For many guys, this is their first real job. Many guys have survived or lived their entire lives working in a subculture black market under some criminal activity. When you’re working in that field the rules are very different. You don’t have to be on time. You can do what you want [and] say what you want.”
READI prepares them for a prosocial lifestyle and mainstream society. They teach their participants the different norms that most people take for granted.
While they are in the READI program, participants are given stipends and gift cards. Staff members help them connect to the resources they need, like help to get their IDs and healthcare benefits. Instead of directing them to websites, READI takes its participants to these places to help them break through any barriers that are inhibiting them.
The READI program aims to help as many individuals who are re-entering society and trying to end the life of violence as they have been accustomed to living. They are looking forward to expanding their program into more Chicago communities to help as many people as possible. People can find out more information about the program on:
- The UChicago website at https://urbanlabs.uchicago.edu/programs/readi.
- Heartland Alliance’s website at https://www.heartlandalliance.org/readi/.
- By stopping by UCAN or calling them at (773)558-0180
Written by Sheena Robertson
Interview: Dr. Chicao Tillmon, Executive Director on May 2, 2022
UChicago ULabs: READI