Detroit's Board-up Brigade marks 1 year changing lives, communities

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They went from being locked up to becoming the key to boarding up crime in Detroit. The Board up Brigade is hitting a huge milestone as it turns lives and neighborhoods around in a matter of a year.

Returning citizens with criminal pasts are boarding up abandoned houses in Detroit.  

"They have been incarcerated for number of years and they're just looking for a second chance and looking for a chance to board up their past and start fresh," Crystal Perkins said.

Perkins, with the City of Detroit, is helping lead this brigade of people with tattered pasts but promising futures. 
The Board Up Brigade started last August and to date, they have boarded and sealed up 10,000 homes.  

 Deon Powell has had two stays in prison -- 20 years.

"My father and mother passed while I was incarcerated unfortunately. And I'm sure there is smiling still becoming a man. So when I get up and go to work every morning they get tired of me saying I got a job, but I constantly remind people I got a job," said Deon Powell.

The job Powell has, comes after two stays in prison - 20 years, then back again until he went to a halfway house and a tipping point in life - shape up or continue to fall deeper into a life of drugs and violence. 

Now he's helping Detroiters go to bed feeling safer. It's a 360-degree change from his former life.

"They are scared and spooked at night because squatters or people who are living in abandon houses are there. So when they come out and say thank you or give you a bottle of water it's kind of rewarding," Powell said.

They get even more than that. The gig pays $10-15/hour and the notion they're changing their own narrative.  
"I was once a part that helped destroy the neighborhood so now that I'm helping give back it's a sense of accomplishment," Lorenzo Colbert said.

It's a tide that's not easy to turn but once on the other side, things started flowing the right way for Deon and Lorenzo and the dozens of other returning citizens.  Neighbors are feeling safer because of the brigade. 

"We've had a lady come to us and say 'My daughter comes home at night and the house across the street is open and vacant' and so yes so we try to make those a priority. It makes us feel good to help remediate the blight in the city and to make the neighborhood look better and feel safer," Perkins said.

"There's always a second chance for everybody, look at me," Colbert said. "If I can do it, anyone can do it. Just stay positive."