On a quest to stop gang violence
The Capital

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More than a year has passed since 14-year-old Christopher Jones was killed near his Crofton home in a gang-connected confrontation with other teenagers.

Now his parents are meeting with prisoners incarcerated for life to learn how to stop gang violence and prevent a similar tragedy from happening to other families.

On Wednesday, Jones' mother, Jennifer S. Adkins, and his father, Prince George's County Deputy Sheriff David L. Jones, will travel to the Jessup Correctional Institution in west county, a sprawling brick building surrounding by fences and razor wire.

They will meet with three members of the Extra Legalese Group, or ELG, a think tank working on a gang peace initiative. Two other members are serving in Western Maryland prisons.

"We are willing to meet the lifers to see how their gang initiative can help to stop gang violence," said Adkins. "It is a national epidemic."

The ELG - the first incorporated inside a prison in Maryland - grew out of a prisoner newsletter that offered legal tips, stories and information on rulings. This led to legal awareness seminars and a crime symposium in three facilities.

The men have negotiated truce agreements with prisoner gangs and religious leaders before, during and after the four-day seminars, which involved as many as 800 men.

"As we have done successfully in the past," said Robert T. Morgan, the spokesman for ELG, "we are consulting with a wide segment of prisoner leaders and groups who have been very supportive of the peace initiative. These men are anxious to see it develop into a statewide concept."

The lifers said they hope to "forge agreements with gangs to renounce initiation rites targeting innocent civilians," Morgan said. They want to harness the "street cred" of prisoners to persuade youth to embrace nonviolent conflict resolution.

The men plan to work with gang leaders inside prisons and to reach those outside through neighborhood organizations and churches. They have discussed the having redirected gang members go to schools to help deal with bullying or to provide security at community meetings.

State Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Crofton, said he will attend the meeting at the prison. Also expected are representatives of Safe Streets, the NAACP and neighborhood groups, among others concerned about gang violence.

Christopher Jones was riding his bike near his Crofton home on May 30, 2009, when he was confronted and struck by two youths, ages 14 and 16, who had connections to a gang. He died from his injuries.

Christopher's family continues to help raise funds and gather support for the Crofton Regional Community Center and Skatepark, which would give teens a place to safely congregate.

"It is going slow right now," Adkins said, "but we are steadily moving forward and have high hopes that it will be a great success." She and Jones donated $7,000 toward the center.

"Our youth today are very troubled," she said. "We want to spread the message of peace in our son's memory, so that no mother or father has to endure what we have."

To donate to the community center, www.croftonregionalcommunitycenter.net