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Former felons rehabilitate in special program with police that put them in jail

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MUSKEGON, Mich. - Convicted felons are coming face-to-face with the police officers who arrested them at a special support group called CLEAR.

The CLEAR group is a voluntary program consisting of police, MDOC employees, and returning citizens to figure out what's next in life beyond bars. The meetings are held at 70x7 Life Recovery in Muskegon years after their time is served.

"With a lot of us returning home, part of the reason we went to prison is because we have authority problems," said Nate Johnson, Reentry director at 70x7 Muskegon.

Nate is also a local pastor and a former felon who's made amends with Jimmie Fox, the Muskegon officer who arrested him on his first drug charge. Today the duo helps returning citizens with employment, resumes, even child support.

However, Johnson says it's the relationships built within the group that make the program work.

"Everyone gets a hug when they come through those doors," said Johnson. "They get a cup of coffee and they're immediately part of a family. If we can’t give hope to people, there’s not going to be a real hope with trying to rehabilitate someone."

Johnson says self-proclaimed professional criminals are now focusing on becoming legitimate parents and spouses, aimed at becoming the men and women they were made to be.

"I have an obligation to them (CLEAR) to assure that the next guy who's coming, that he can do it too," said Alton Casey, a member of the CLEAR group.

Alton was in prison for 16 years for armed robbery and attempted murder charges. The group enabled him to get a job at a local bakery, his first driver's license, and a bank account.

"CLEAR has been a real instrument in changing my life," Alton said. "I look at everyone that comes together for the common goal of saving humanity if you will."

The CLEAR group has an open door policy for anyone who's been to prison. They meet every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1128 Roberts St. in Muskegon.

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