Life after prison: The Alma Center offers hope

James Cross was in prison for more than a dozen years. He found struggles with addiction and was in a relationship that led to abusive arguments.

But he now has hope thanks to the Alma Center of Milwaukee.

"I came to the Alma center and I found a place where people wanted me," said Cross.

The Alma Center works to break the cycle of violence that often ends in domestic abuse, The agency works to transform men like Cross who spent most of his formative years incarcerated.

"Yeah, I'm a violent criminal if you look me up online, but if you sit down and talk to me, you don't feel threatened, you don't feel like you're talking to a criminal," Cross said.

Dr. Terri Strodthoff is the founder and Executive Director of the Alma Center.

She knows emotional scars can be as damaging as physical ones.

"When people are walking around with emotional wounds to their soul, it's like we don't have the same compassion and understanding. Somehow we think punishing them, shaming them, or isolating them will change those things," Strodthoff said. 

The Alma Center works to get to the root of trauma. It's treated more than 5,000 men in the last 13 years.  

"We've known for a long time that it's hurt people who hurt people--people who have grown up witnessing violence or people who experience it themselves. Neglect or abuse impacts the way they develop as a human being," said Strodthoff. 

This month the Alma Center received a huge gift. Bader Philanthropies donated $100,000 to support Alma Center programs.

"The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for the people we serve. This is a huge quality of life issue, that the Alma Center addresses," said Jerry Roberts, Program Officer for Bader Philanthropies.

In awarding the grant, Bader Philanthropies cites that men in the "Men Ending Violence Program" experience close to a 90 percent drop in the repeat of violent offenses.

"A lot of time it's about supporting specific programs, but it's also important to support the ideas, innovations and the capacity of organizations. That's what this grant does for the Alma Center, said Roberts.

A victory for the community and men like Cross, who is one semester away from a degree in biology.  Cross also hopes to work at the Alma Center and guide other men toward a path of healing.

"I feel like If I had not been going to the Alma Center I probably would have been selling dope," Cross said. 

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