GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP — Victor Michael Vincent Jr. took his first steps on the path to incarceration when he was 18 after a domestic situation with his girlfriend led to an interaction with police.
“When the police came, I tried to explain it, but they put me in a chokehold. Feeling like I was going out, I fought back. Ended up with a 10-year sentence because I ended up with assault charges on police,” he explained.
Vincent ended up serving about seven years of the sentence.
“They turned me into a monster in prison,” he said. “Fighting was a normal thing. Trying to stay alive. I came home a monster.”
When he was released, he faced an obstacle convicts have been up against for generations: finding gainful employment.
“I ended up finding a home in the drug trade,” Vincent added. “Ended up becoming a heroin addict and using and selling at the same time.”
Vincent says he then had to go to trial for new charges but ended up having them dismissed. Finally, someone in power extended an olive branch.
“Kurt Schmoke was the mayor of Baltimore at the time and said, ‘I’ll give you the help you need to get your life together.’ And I never looked back,” he said.
From there, he picked up and moved to North Carolina. He then got his GED, went to college and got a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“And I made myself a promise: if I ever got on and I got successful down here in Greensboro, I would work to help men and women who face the same obstacles and barriers I faced to become successful,” Vincent recalled.
That promise evolved into a nonprofit called The Reentry Expert, Inc. Vincent takes on clients struggling with everything from obtaining their GED, to enrollment in higher education, to finding employment. So far, he says he’s helped more than 40 people.
“Usually, I connect with people right out the gate. As soon as we start talking, they realize my story is real,” he explained. “Sometimes when I have a trouble client who might not believe what I’m doing, I’ve got somebody in Greensboro [who]…I could call to tell you a little bit about me. And usually, they’ll verify like ‘yeah, he that dude. Yeah, he from there. Listen to the man. Work with him.’”
Vincent noticed some of his clients struggling after COVID, so he’s creating events to bring more awareness to the challenges they face.
Last weekend, Second Chance – The Creative Impulse of the Judicially Challenged was launched. It’s a pop-up art exhibit, vendor fair and car show. The event runs from April 1 to April 9 at Elsewhere on South Elm Street in Greensboro.
“The paintings and the drawings are from artists who have faced incarceration or artists who have helped people who have faced incarceration,” Vincent explained.
There are exhibition open hours on Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“And the whole concept is this talent is here in our communities. We just have to pull it out and utilize it and put it in a place where it can better our community,” Vincent said.
Next, Vincent plans to have an event where they’ll pass out blankets, sleeping bags and toiletries for the homeless. But ultimately, he hopes to work to change legislation and to help those with a record re-write the record.
“Just the look on somebody’s face when you see them walking downtown with their family,” he said. “I got clients that I worked with ten years ago. I got clients that I worked with from Baltimore 20 years ago…to see them doing well, it’s like, ‘wow, you’re doing it.’”