MID-MICHIGAN — Adam Grant spent more than half of his life behind bars. But now the Lansing native works as the executive director of a nonprofit aimed at helping people like himself successfully reenter society.
Grant moved around growing up, living in Charlotte, Potterville and Vermontville before ending up in Lansing as a teenager and attending Lansing Eastern High School.
But adolescence was difficult on Grant, who said he began drinking alcohol at the age of eight. After moving to Lansing, Grant said he got caught up with a new peer group and found himself in trouble.
“I got in trouble for, you know, breaking and entering," Grant said. I was doing drugs... therefore you're selling a little bit of drugs and traveling and those kinds of circles... and just reckless teenage behavior that also has a criminal component.”
At 17, Grant and some friends broke into a Charlotte home.
“I broke into the house because I knew there was liquor," Grant said. "And it just so happened that there also ended up being guns. And I was having a little bit of a problem because I was kind of living on the streets at that point in time and I was having some problems with some of the gangs in the Lansing area.”
Grant said he had thought that possessing a gun could keep him safe.
However, he was caught by the police that morning on the corner of Michigan and Pennsylvania avenues with the stolen weapon.
“I thought it was the worst thing in the world that happened to me," Grant said. "Looking back it's probably the best thing that ever happened to me because of the state of mind that I was in, and the fear that I felt in this situation. I probably could have taken somebody's life at that point in time.”
That incident landed him in the county jail for a little over a year. But Grant said he still didn't fully understand the ramifications of his actions.
“When you don't think your life is going to amount to much anyway, you don't put proper value on it," Grant said.
In 1993, when Grant was 23 years old, he robbed a bank in Vermontville.
“I used to tell people nobody was hurt," Grant said. "It took 51 seconds in the front door and out the front door."
But, while Grant was filing for an appeal in the case, he learned that the woman who had sounded the alarm on him hid in a bathroom for 21 minutes, terrified of coming out.
“She thought that her coworkers were being held at gunpoint… So I really started to understand the damage that I'd done and that this wasn't 51 seconds. And now this had lasting ramifications for everybody in the building.”
The robbery resulted in a 29 year jail sentence, of which Grant served 27 years.
“I had just turned 23. Twenty-nine years to a 23-year-old is unimaginable," Grant said. "It was not something that seemed real. Yet I had a moment where I realized that I had some choices to make.”
During his time in jail, Grant began to reflect.
"It was kind of interesting because once I started to realize the degree to which I could have a negative impact on people's lives, it was a natural logical leap to understand that I could possibly have positive impacts on people's lives too," he said.
While incarcerated, Grant began to get involved with organizations like the NAACP as a public relations coordinator and worked as a peer recovery coach with the Michigan Department of Corrections.
He was released on Jan. 8, 2020, with one mission in mind: to help other former inmates reenter society.
“Once a person has got into prison and come back out, there are hundreds of collateral consequences for that," Grant said. "I personally have been denied housing. I personally have been denied employment. And these things are happening to me as a white man returning from prison. So we know these things are all compounded when you're talking about a black male or female in these situations."
In March 2020, he began to work remotely with Parkside Family Counseling in Adrian. And in September, got a job with the Jackson Area Recovery Community.
“You have several people in Jackson running around with my clothes on right now," Grant said. "And that feels good. It feels bad in the sense that they're still running around on the streets of Jackson; but I'm hoping that at least when they, you know, have that coat, or, you know, look at it, they realize that somebody gave it to them and genuinely cared."
Last month, he was hired as executive director of A Brighter Way, a nonprofit which works to rehabilitate formerly incarcerated Michiganders through mentorship.
"We feel it's really important to have a returning citizen as our director because they know firsthand what we need to provide for people," said Jeanne Ross, deputy director of A Brighter Way.
Ross previously worked with the Michigan Department of Corrections and said she knows how difficult the transition out of prison can be.
“Adam... he's lucky because he has family support and he is the kind of person he is," Ross said. "So he's like, kind of a shining example of how well someone can do in such a short time.”
Katy Kelly, a friend of Grant's and the founder of Power and Passion, an organization also dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated men and women, said Grant's story is inspiring.
“I’m super proud of him, and I think he’s the perfect person for the job," Kelly said. "I think it’s incredible how much he’s accomplished in such a short time.”
Kelly said the issue of former inmates reentering society after incarceration affects everyone in a community.
“Not giving them chances isn’t keeping us safer," Kelly said. "Not giving someone a job, or not giving them a house isn’t making them less likely to commit a crime. It’s making them more likely.”
Grant said he hopes A Brighter Way—and his own story— can help destigmatize incarceration and motivate people to help former inmates.
“Public safety is hinged to good reentry," Grant said. "If we're sending people out with the assumption that they're going to go back to prison. That is not a public safety. If we do everything we can to empower them. That's how you're going to bring down not only recidivism rates, but criminal activity as a whole.”
He said he hopes his work can change the outcome for other formerly incarcerated Michiganders.
"We're just people for people that have made mistakes," Grant said. "Some of us are habitual. They make those mistakes over and over again. But society can't just act like this is all about personal responsibility. Personal Responsibility is certainly a part of it. But society has a responsibility in this too.”
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