Success Story: The Life Of Jason Sole From A Convicted Felon To A Criminal Justice Professor

by Duke Magazine

Jason Sole is a criminal justice professor, an entrepreneur, an author, a former president of the Minneapolis NAACP, a family man, and a felon. At the moment, there are three nonviolent felonies on his record. Two for drug possession, and one for carrying a handgun around the age of 19.

Growing up in the south side of Chicago during the War on Drugs era, Sole turned to gang activity. Having an absent father who was a heroin addict coupled with extreme poverty and criminal activity in his community, Sole got involved in gangs. His mom feared for his life, so he sent him to live with relatives and complete high school in Waterloo, Iowa. It was there that Sole experienced racism for the first time thanks to his Chicago origin and the color of his skin, he recalled at an event.

After he had graduated, he moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota but that did not bring an end to his criminal activities. He got shot in the leg in his early 20s and was on crutches while taking welding classes at St. Paul College. But what ceased his criminal activity and turned his life around was when was imprisoned for his third felony.

While in prison, Sole started reading books or any material that was radical including the works of Elijah Muhammad. He said everything he learned empowered him, and by the age of 24 when he was released from prison, he rejoined society with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. He also earned his doctorate and was now determined to make a change in the community he had disturbed with his gang activities.

Now in his early 40s, Sole is an adjunct professor n the criminal justice department of Hamline University in St. Paul. He teaches criminal justice to his students, some of whom are preparing for careers in law or law enforcement. They are glad to have Sole as their teacher as they get the opportunity to learn about policing from a person who has been policed, according to a report by Star Tribune.

And due to his personal experience and knowledge of the system, Sole believes that the world will be a better place without police.

“The problem is policing. Policing, in and of itself, is bad for our health”, the college professor and civic leader once told his students, according to Star Tribune. “I can see a world without police and cages,” he added.

A former president of the Minneapolis NAACP in which he launched several public safety initiatives, Sole also helped launch Mayor Coleman’s Community Ambassadors Program, which led to a 63% reduction in juvenile crime in the first year. But Sole’s values were at variance with the decisions of the mayor, including the decision to spend $900,000 hiring police officers.

“I tried to reform,” Sole said, according to The Oracle. “As long as there are cages, they are going to find a way to put a Black, brown, or indigenous person in one,” said the husband and father who is suggesting the development of community-based public safety models as the next step, The Oracle reported.

As a community influencer, Sole was a 2013 Bush Fellow who focused on juvenile delinquency and recidivism throughout the state of Minnesota. The following year, he published his memoir, From Prison to Ph.D.: A Memoir of Hope, Resilience, and Second Chances.

As an entrepreneur, he is the co-founder of the Humanize My Hoodie Movement, which challenges threat perceptions about Black men through clothing, art exhibitions, documentary screenings, and ally workshops, according to its website. Sole teaches almost all his courses in a hoodie.

“As descendants of slaves, we recognize how hoodies have been used to amplify the myth of Black criminality. Our mission is to debunk that stereotype by designing revolutionary social justice campaigns for Black and Indigenous People of Color to be HUMANIZED, not criminalized,” his website says.

Today, Sole’s work has been recognized by popular people such as John Legend, Bruce Western, and others who are focused on reforming the criminal justice system. Having transformed his life, Sole wants to clear his record. He has applied to the Minnesota Board of Pardons, “a feudal system that requires former lawbreakers to plead their case before the governor, the attorney general, and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court,” the report by Star Tribune said.

The report explained that all three must agree to a pardon, adding that all three only agree about a third of the time. Sole hopes to succeed. In the meantime, he has been advising college students to be “extra resilient, patient and have a lot of discipline.”

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