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Ex-cons, pastors and cops breaking bread and working together in the community

Posted at 8:33 AM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 08:33:27-04

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — Darryl Woods is a man on a mission to deliver dramatic and lasting change in Detroit.

At 18 years old, he says he went to buy marijuana inside a drug house where a murder took place, and he took the fall for it.

“I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole; a death while incarcerated sentence. I was sentenced to die in prison,” Woods said.

Like so many other African American men wrongly convicted, he says there was no justice for him.

“I did not commit the murder. I did not participate in the homicide,” Woods said. Yet he still spent 29 years behind bars before the courts would listen.

“I had to suffer being convicted of something I didn't do. My case was overturned in 2003 by Judge Crockett who said I was wrongfully convicted,” he said.

It would take 16 additional years before he was released in 2019. Darryl credits Greater Grace Temple, Pastor Bishop Charles Ellis and other local ministers including Detroit NAACP President Rev. Wendell Anthony for keeping him lifted in prayer.

“They put their arms around me, and they petitioned Gov. Snyder for my release,” said Woods.

While behind bars he worked for the NAACP and helped create a youth deterrent program known as "Scared Straight," which is now in six prisons.

“We did a lot of outreach for the community from prison,” Woods said.

He also never lost hope by remembering a message from his grandmother at his sentencing.

“I read my grandmother's words, she said don't give up son prayer changes things God is the only judge,” he said. “I made a decision to take that leap of faith and follow God.”

In 2020, a year after being released and Detroit was in chaos after the killing of George Floyd, he launched "Fighting the Good Fight” to help and mentor former inmates, drug addicts or troubled teens.

“It was part of my passion to give back to my community,” Woods said.

Soon after Mitch Albom and Mayor Duggan wanted his help to quell the violence brewing from Floyd's death. They began having barbecues with police officers, gang members, exonerees, and former drug addicts. All breaking bread together and not knowing each other's true identity. Just conversation and friendship over a meal.

“I see human beings connecting with each other grilling together talking about family talking about sports and they're going to sit down and break bread,” Woods said.

“This is the 22nd time that you've done this, what has come out of this?” Carolyn asked.

“Well, I have seen literally police officers work with gang members and mentor them,” Woods said. Here in the parking lot of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, we watched the reaction as one by one people revealed their true identities around this table. This young man who had been arrested was shocked he was not only making barbecue with a cop but also making a connection.

The end results is people helping people without labels without expectations and making Detroit a much more peaceful place to call home.

“Gang members get on the phone with officers and say I'm having a problem with this situation,” Woods said.

Unique, unconventional but truly delivering visible change in a city in need of more positivity.