CALUMET CITY, Ill. (CBS) -- Charles Alexander was on the streets at 15, and spent 17 years behind bars knowing he wanted to do something else.
Now, he is running his own business – and he told CBS 2's Tara Molina a reentry program based in Chicago made all the difference. He also said he wants to help make that same difference for others now.
When Alexander got out of prison in 2021, he knew what he wanted to do. But making it happen was another story.
So he chose to find a way. And a year and a half later, he's building a business and a future from the ground up at River Oaks Center Mall in south suburban Calumet City.
At the mall, an overstock store called Broadway has a dream of nearly two decades behind it.
"This my dream right here," said Alexander, a partner in the business. "So I'm living. I'm happy."
Alexander is living after years committing to choosing a new life - when there weren't many choices to make.
Alexander spent 17 years behind bars.
He grew up in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on the city's West Side. He said his parents kept him in line – but when he lost his dad at 15, he turned to the streets "for survival."
Five years later, it caught up with him. He didn't pull the trigger, but pleaded guilty to the whole crime.
"An individual decided he wanted to take a guy's car. It led to this guy being shot and killed. It was nothing that I planned. It was nothing I wanted to have happen to this guy," Alexander said, "and I really used that as the fuel to stop me from going back, because I didn't want that guy to pass like that - and then me to come home and still be trying to do the same thing I was doing."
When he got out - with a criminal record and a couple dollars to his name he says he knew what he wanted and what he didn't. But he had no clue how to move forward.
So Alexander turned to the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.
"I made them like family to me," he said.
Their Reentry 2.0 Program provided Alexander with mentorships, resources, and a case manager – and that is what made his success in business a reality.
"If was not for her and the institute, I would not be here right now," he said.
A partner in the overstock store at River Oaks Center, Alexander is still making plans.
"I'm going to help the kids. Once I set up a program, I'm targeting the little hustler like me that was, you know, 14, 15," Alexander said. "We don't want the A-student, the honor roll kid – and I know for a fact we can put enough pressure on him to straighten himself out."
Alexander says the next steps are growing his business and helping as many as he can in the process.
Meanwhile, the Reentry 2.0 Program at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago recently held a graduation for 20 participants who participated in the intensive 20-week program.
"Many of our graduates obtained employment, received trade certificates, enrolled in employment or education programs, or started their own business as a result of the mentorship and resources they received in the program," the institute said. "More importantly, they are choosing a life of nonviolence and are motivated to do what is right – for themselves, their families, and their communities."
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