Anthony Cooper, Sr. says he lives by those simple words after going to a “boot camp” program upon his release from prison. Cooper, now the director of re-entry services at the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, now helps people go through that same transition. He says he is motivated to do his job because it enables him “to change the view of people who have been incarcerated”. He remembers his “record was a big boundary” when he had been in the same situation as all of the people he helps to adjust to and make a plan for their lives.
Recalling family visits in prison, he says he doesn’t want his children and family to see him “in that light again”.
“I wanted to show my sons something different,” he says. “There was a time when my sons’ mother had brought my sons to come see me. Of course they were a lot younger at the time. They wanted to stay (in prison) and that hurt. That was the only time I was ever away from my kids.” This motivation is what led him to work up to the career he has now.
The challenges he went through to adjust to life after prison started with trying to find work. With a drug offense on his record, finding a business to hire him became a difficult task. One man he talked to about a job even went as far as to ask, in the job interview, how he could be sure that Cooper wouldn’t go back to selling drugs if hired.
At one point after leaving the correctional system, he was working four jobs in order to maintain his family life and pay the bills. “The first job that I had, I worked at Papa John’s Pizza. I was determined to be the best pizza flipper that I could be,” he says. “I literally did just about everything… I really feel God put me in the place I am now.”
One person that has influenced him the most was his uncle. “My uncle was more like my father,” he says. Now he is able to be an influential person himself for his kids and in the community.
Cooper’s daily schedule now includes “court, county jail visits, press conferences, meeting with counselors, meeting with individuals, going to check-ins at housing facilities, I’m on the phone a lot, check-ins with the people I’m working with, connecting with employers, lunches, interviews, and that’s it pretty much.” Cooper also participates in community meetings and events, making it a very busy life, but he finds his career to be very rewarding. Through his job, he is responsible for helping the ex-convicts he works with find work themselves, by contacting employers. There is no particular field the work is in, he says “In the marketing world they’ll call them ravens. Who pretty much have to know a little about everything. That’s pretty much who I am, and if I don’t know something I’ll research it and I’ll learn it and go from there,” in order to help people find a job in an area they would like to work in. He also sets up people with mentors for support of all kinds.
The most important piece of advice he has for the people he works with is “One of the main things, to kind of make it short and brief, never give up and always ask for help,” and Cooper is there to give that help to anyone who asks.