With the helping hand of a faith-based partnership called the Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington (SMGW), Charles Hopkins has been able to reenter society as a returning citizen and be rehabilitated.
“The biggest challenge for me was being able to accept my limitations. While being institutionalized, you have this mindset that you don’t need anything or anybody. You fend for yourself. I had to be vulnerable and get some help,” Hopkins recalled after being released from prison in 2019 and serving nearly 50 years at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, supermax or control unit, now known as the Chesapeake Detention Facility, in Baltimore and other state incarcerated institutions.
Hopkins, now 72, was released from his life sentence before the apex of the pandemic.
Next Step … Samaritan Ministry Greater Washington
During his prison release, Hopkins heard rumors circulating about an opportunity to earn $250 for merely entering a program. He needed the cash and leapt at the chance to make legitimate money. The program was called Strive and it became Hopkins’ overture into SMGW which recently opened its second office in Ward 8 in Congress Heights.
Strive is an employment readiness training program with intensive attitudinal training for individuals that also includes long-term support. The proven program began in East Harlem in 1984 and has helped 80,000 people nationally gain and sustain employment while transforming their lives.
According to Antoinette Green, a young mother from Anacostia who gives her testimony on the community partnership’s website (https://samaritanministry.org/strive), Strive helped her change her life from despair to one of hope and accomplishment.
The 36-year-old program promises those people with the determination and perseverance to finish the approximate three-to-six-week curriculum that they will master interview skills, create an appealing resume, learn Microsoft Teams, and devise a “dummy company.” Additionally, the program will help participants obtain appropriate attire for interviews and loan them a laptop. The stipend is awarded upon graduation.
“Strive gave me the ability to self-navigate. I was accustomed to living in an environment where everything is structured,” said Hopkins who currently resides in Ward 6 but grew up East of the River in the Garfield Projects, now known as Garfield Hills, which is near Ward 8’s Barry Farms.
Extended Contacts and Partnerships
Besides participating in Strive, Hopkins also took advantage of another SMGW opportunity entitled the Next Step Program. This program works with the individual, for as long as they like, to deliver a housing plan, obtain valid identification, navigate employment searches, submit applications, learn finances, and create budgets to name a few of the skills taught by professional counselors.
He also met Rev. David B. Wolf, an adjunct Priest Associate at the Transfiguration Episcopal Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. Wolf has also been SMGW’s Executive Director since 2012 and expanded the signature Next Step Program to incorporate Strive DC in 2016 and merged with the Southeast Ministry (SEM) last year in 2022.
The integration of the Strive training allowed SMGW to become an official affiliate of Strive National, an umbrella organization for workforce development agencies. The merger with SEM made SMGW a social ministry partner organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. It currently partners with over 60 congregations and schools throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
“Charles is one of our most dynamic speakers. His story is so authentic, and he is simply sincere about doing outreach and encouraging others,” said Wolf, a one-time attorney-advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice turned Episcopal minister, who may ultimately tap Hopkins to become a member of SMGW’s Speaker’s Bureau and join Green, Larry Gooch, Yolanda Jeter, Tyrone King, Benjamin Morgan, and John Yahner.
Humble Beginnings Led to Nefarious Dealings
Wolf admires Hopkins’ ability to articulate his story passionately and share the difficult details of his past. The native Washingtonian was one of eight children—six girls and two boys who lived with both of his parents. The family left the Southeast community and moved to the nearby Suitland suburb when Hopkins was about 13.
“The village raising a child was a real concept back then,” said Hopkins emphasizing that he was the only one in the family to have a record and did not come from a “broken home,” but got into trouble because “I always had an attitude of not having. I wanted things. That led me to petty criminal behavior [and stints of juvenile delinquency].”
According to the man convicted of a felony, Hopkins’ moral compass was permanently destroyed and shattered with the influx of drugs here in the nation’s capital like in so many other urban cities across the nation.
“Ultimately I started using drugs in 1969 and I became a product of heroin.”
Hopkins notes a few similarities between himself and the character Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, in the classic movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” Both were Black men who spent most of their lives incarcerated and had to learn—not so easily—how to adjust to living outside institutional confines upon their release.
“Don’t sell yourself short or let others define you. I never allowed the environment to define me or consume me. I knew that I could get a job and accomplish certain things regardless of my circumstances. What I really needed was mental help [to succeed and become rehabilitated],” Hopkins proclaimed.
Since acquiring and sustaining counseling, Hopkins has started working about 20 hours a week as a Peer Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator, maintaining his sobriety, and speaking to groups about his experiences.
“I don’t even drink a beer because I know if I do that it will lead to me wanting to shoot heroin,” said Hopkins who was scheduled to speak to the congregation at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna, Virginia on the first Sunday in September.
From the Present to the Future
Rev. Wolf expects the faith-based partnership, with board members consultant Rasheen Carbin, non-profit leader and communications strategist Emily Sollie, and Monsignor Raymond G. East, the venerable pastor of Saint Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, to further expand its locations.
“Right now, we have a total of seven sites with three opened [in Arlington, Anacostia, and Congress Heights] and the others reopening soon after closing during the pandemic. We want to go where potential participants are. We’ve identified a site in Prince George’s County and hope to open there too,” the Reverend said.
Hopkins, meanwhile, wants to counsel youth not to make the same terrible choices he made but to advise them in a manner that does not sound like he is preaching to them.
“You have a lot of opportunities that are available to you. Use them. When people talk about how bad these kids are, they’re talking about you! You have opportunities to go to school, get trades, etc. I had the same opportunities but didn’t use them, and look where I ended up.”
For more information on Strive and associated programs go to samaritanministry.org.