Shawnie Williams, 26, of Avondale rakes mulch at the work site. Peterson Mingo picks up many of the men before 6 a.m. and retrieves them from the site a little after 3 p.m.
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE/THOMAS E. SMITH
Second of two parts
CINCINNATI -- Stepping over boxes, the Rev. Peterson Mingo points to a poster with dozens of faces, all of victims from Cincinnati's unsolved homicides.
His wife's only brother is among them.
Mingo is getting ready to pick up a group of men from a suburban apartment complex where they've been landscaping for about eight hours. Most of the men, like himself, have served time in the state's prison system.
Mingo tries to help men who remind him a little too much of his younger self through Cincinnati's Initiative to Reduce Violence.
Toledo officials are looking to the work that Mingo and the Cincinnati Police Department are doing as a guide for a new program kicked off by Toledo Mayor Mike Bell last month to reduce gang violence and the city's growing homicide rate -- especially among young black men.
Mingo said he knew in his heart the initiative would work in Cincinnati from the first time he heard of it.
The strategy can work in Toledo too, he said, "if you have the right people in place. That's the key to the whole program. Having the right people in place."
Mingo drives many of the men to work in the morning, picking them up at the Evanston Baptist Church before 6 a.m. and retrieving them from the job site a little after 3 p.m.
He knows all of the men personally and the baggage they come with. It's easy for him to connect. His story isn't much different.
In 1958, he lost a brother, Morris Fluellen, to street violence. And in 1974, another brother, Charles Ball, died at the hands of Cincinnati police.
His brother, Joea Harris, was shot and paralyzed, losing both legs, before he died as a result in 1985.
Two other brothers -- Robert and William Ball -- are dead. AIDS claimed Robert, but Mingo is not sure how William died.
He has another brother, Eddie Ball, who has been in a state prison since 1979 for voluntary manslaughter.
His brother-in-law William Clendening was killed in 2003. Two of Mingo's nephews, including one he raised, Kenny Mingo, a talented athlete, died in 2005.
The other, whose lifeless body was found behind a trash bin, he doesn't like to talk about.
Mingo's childhood wasn't easy. His parents split and remarried. His father lived in a different part of town; his stepfather was in jail.
One day, Mingo said, after coming home from school, he found his mother standing in a window ready to jump. He pulled her back inside.
At only 47 years old, his mother, "an outstanding cook" and "one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen," died.
In 1967, Mingo joined the Marines as a way to get out of the certain hell he found himself in, he said as he drove through the Evanston neighborhood honking and waving, calling out by name to nearly everyone he passes.
"You ready to work?" he yelled at one young man walking out of a convenience store.
Mingo left the Marines in 1971, coming home to Cincinnati. Before long, he was up to no good.
In 1974, he was in court, facing charges for 27 robberies -- all from a seven-month period.
"I was completely off the hook, totally," Mingo said.
He took plea bargains to get the charges down to seven, and after serving about four years in a state prison, he was released after an assistant warden asked for him to be paroled, Mingo said. "It's not everyday someone gives you your life back," he said.
In 1984, he joined the Rose Chapel Baptist Church.
He is celebrating his 21st year as a minister since he started in 1991 at the Christ Temple Baptist Church.
Since then it's been his calling to help young men who are caught up in dangerous business.
For awhile he visited families in his neighborhood at dinner time, always asking for a bite to eat, certain to compliment the cook no matter how awful the food might taste.
"It was building relationships," he said.
"I found if you can eat with somebody and not complain about the roaches on the floor, and you can eat with them and not complain about the smell, you build relationships with people. Getting to feel what they feel, experience what they experience, see out of their eyes.
"A lot of times, if the house was in really, really, really bad shape, I made sure that I came back. They always got another visit from me," Mingo said.
These days, Mingo coaches a football team, the Evanston Bulldogs, for -- mostly -- at-risk youths, leading church, and spending time with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
There are also the men he mentors as he drives them to and from work: men like his nephew Marvin Gates.
Gates, 25, from the Evanston neighborhood, said it's hard to find work making any serious money because of his criminal past.
He's done his time -- a few years between prison, house arrest, and probation -- for attempted possession of a firearm, he said.
The landscaping work is better than nothing.
"You ain't got to go through stress and worry about police," he said.
But the money just isn't the same.
"Hustlin', you know, what we make in a week you can make in one phone call," he said of selling drugs.
But now he, like many others he works with, has responsibilities bigger than himself. He' has a 2-year-old daughter, Ma'riyah.
Tired of trouble
Reggie Lewis, 35, breaks his own record every day. He's been out of prison for three years and is loving every minute of it. He served time for drug trafficking and, 17 years ago, he was found guilty of robbing a bank.
Lewis, a big man with a contagious smile, wants to move to the East Coast for a fresh start.
He said he's tired of the trouble. He's seen plenty of friends die and has himself shot at people.
"You can't progress being in jail," he said.
'Off the chain'
Demarkus Brown, 21, started carrying a gun when he was 14 years old. Kicked out of his family's home, he started sleeping in cars -- any he could get into.
"I was off the chain so I wasn't really worried about nobody breaking in," Brown said. "I always had something to protect me so they had to protect themself if they broke in."
For money he would rob people, he said. As a juvenile he was arrested twice, once for drugs and another time for a shooting, of which he was acquitted.
Brown said he finished one year of college at a University of Cincinnati branch campus, studying business management, before being arrested.
"I saw everybody was good, fresh to the T, and the money just got in my way," Brown said. "It got in my eyes. I wanted money now."
Brown has known Mingo since he was a boy and, now that he's on parole, he's using that time and connection to try to do better.
It's hard though, not to think about going back to the quick, easy money. Church, the job, and his 1-year-old daughter An'bri keep him motivated.
If it weren't for Cincinnati's Initiative to Reduce Violence, he said, he would probably try to do some of the same things.
He's hoping that with the work he has this summer, school will be paid off and he can return to finish his degree.
"I'd still be dedicated to trying to find a job and doing what I got to do to change," he said.
"Because facing 20 years at 18, it's a big mountain on you and once I got out and got away from it, I told myself I'd never go back to that predicament."
If he could, he'd tell the guys running around with guns to settle down and think about what they're doing.
In jail or dead
"You either going to end up dead or you're going to jail if you keep living the same lifestyle," Brown said.
And that is exactly what happens. Young men end up in jail or dead.
Joe Person, 27, somehow managed to survive a gunshot wound to the back of his head and ended up being sent to prison.
Person, also from Evanston, was released from prison in 2010, leaving with a promise from Mingo that there would be work waiting for him.
He needs the job, he said. He has a 9-year-old daughter, Tyiasia.
In 2003, Person, who said he was trying to stop another man from robbing a tavern in Cincinnati's Northside neighborhood, was shot in the back of the head by a man in a Citizens on Patrol program.
The man was not indicted for the shooting.
"I didn't feel nothing or see nothing," Person said, adding that he spent several weeks in University Hospital before going to jail and, ultimately, prison.
Now that he's a free man again, he's ready for change.
He'd like to go to school to study business.
He applied to a community college but was told that he wouldn't be accepted because of his felony record.
"It's more motivation to strive harder and not give up," Person said.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.