Michael Williams Sr. in his Brooklyn North clothing line Credit: Contributed photo

Brooklyn native Michael Williams Sr., 53, is a formerly incarcerated mental health activist who created his nonprofit Create Unlimited Power Purpose (C.U.P.P.) to aid other formerly incarcerated individuals and families struggling with their reentry into society.

“What happens is that so many guys come home angry. Most of them come home on psych medications. There’s a lot of rage and hate and as soon as they come out here in society they encounter an issue, they don’t have the proper tools and know how to address the issue so it just blows up,” said Williams. “It’s like tick, tick, boom.”

Williams was previously serving the last two years of a 14-year prison sentence for robbery at Green Haven Correctional Facility, reported CBS. While there Williams penned a 3-page letter in 2016, whistleblowing on the atrocities and alleged fatal treatment inmates received at the hands of correctional officers there.

He was released on parole in 2019 and stayed in the Hudson, N.Y. area getting his organization off the ground. He also worked at the local Department of Social Services (DSS) in Hudson, he said. Through a small grant CUPP helped formerly incarcerated people with reentry documents and certification while identifying and improving the underlying mental health issues. Williams said the organization is mainly geared towards assisting the children of the incarcerated with trauma from essentially losing a parent to the criminal justice system.

“Prior to COVID, I had a relationship I had built with DSS here in Hudson. COVID hit and everything got wiped off the table. So many of my clients that I was furnishing with food and placement and residency out of my own pocket got washed away,” said Williams about the impact of the pandemic. “Nothing seemed to be moving.”

He is off parole currently and is looking to transfer CUPP to his hometown of New York City where there is greater need for social and mental health services for people who have been through the prison system. He’s also working to rehabilitate his relationships with his five children who are now adults in their own right.

Williams is from the Crown Heights and Brownsville areas of Brooklyn. He said as a child his family’s low-income background was a part of everyday life in the 1970s, until his family’s building fell victim to an alleged insurance scheme and was burned down.

Williams and his siblings briefly relocated to a seedy welfare hotel until they were placed in Van Dyke Houses in Brownsville. “We were getting robbed everyday, everyday,” said Williams about the abrupt and scarring change to his sense of community. “The little my mother could afford to give us was getting taken.” He said the harsh environment caused him to start fighting and he was first arrested at the age of 13 years old. He said he watched his life fade away.

Williams said his dream is to establish his clothing line, Brooklyn North, to build up his nonprofit and continue addressing the devastating effects incarceration has on people’s mental health in the city.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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