F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, There are no second acts in American lives.
Roddrick Marshall would like to prove Fitzgerald wrong, however.
Since his release from prison, the 31-year-old former inmate has made it his mission to help other ex-offenders in the Savannah area re-enter society and become productive citizens.
But with his positive attitude, boundless energy and ready smile on his face, Marshall has a lot to teach us all about the power of redemption.
He was the first convicted felon to complete the Savannah Police Departments Citizens Police Academy. He volunteers with a wide array of local nonprofits, from Court Appointed Special Advocates to the Rape Crisis Center. Hes on the board of directors of the Wesley Community Center.
And a new college textbook -- the seventh edition of Joel Samahas Criminal Justice -- features Marshall as a case study of successful inmate re-entry.
While Marshall is critical of Georgias restrictive policies regarding convicted offenders, he maintains that if he can successfully make the transition from prison to everyday life, anyone can.
He is especially focused on making sure ex-offenders dont make the disastrous plunge into recidivism -- going back into a life of crime, and back into prison.
We spoke to Marshall at his Southside apartment, where he lives with his wife Tamika and four of his five children.
Connect Savannah: First off, everyones going to want to know what you were in prison for. So lets get that over with.
Roddrick Marshall: There were three juvenile convictions -- entering an auto and burglary, and two auto thefts. And two adult convictions, both for auto theft.
Connect Savannah: Where does your story begin?
Roddrick Marshall: Bellwood Heights in Columbus, Ga. Primarily African American, low-income, poverty and drug-infested. A lot of drug activity. It was a real breeding ground. The main problem was no one would report crime to the police because someone involved was usually a friend or associate. As a young kid in that neighborhood, it led me into that life. No one ever talked about the effects of being a convicted felon. Everybody just said, Dont get caught.
Im 31 now, but a lot of guys I grew up with are still in prison. Society has it set up so that there are so many barriers to re-entry. I went to jail, was punished, went through parole and probation. And still there are a lot of barriers.
Connect Savannah: Like what?
Roddrick Marshall: You lose your right to vote, even after youve completed your sentence. Housing? If you have any kind of drug conviction -- Im so thankful I never had one of those -- you cant apply for public housing or get food stamps. Look at these projects all around here. There may be lots of crime in those areas, but if youve got a drug conviction they wont even let you get a place there.
You cant get a Pell Grant so you can go to school. I want to start taking classes at Savannah State or maybe Armstrong Atlantic this fall. I want to go back to school to improve my life and become productive, but how can I pay the full tuition? It puts you in a corner.
Connect Savannah: Youve referred to a pardon that you were recently granted by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles that has helped you re-enter society.
Roddrick Marshall: I didnt find out about pardons until a few years after I got out of prison. And I didnt find out about it from any probation or parole officer. They never told me. I had to find out from the Georgia Fatherhood Program.
You have to wait five years before you can apply for a pardon. I was like, Wait a minute, Im past five years already. So I made an appointment to get the process going. You have to go through all kinds of background checks. You have to bring in three letters of reference from respected people in the community.
Connect Savannah: Exactly what civil rights are returned to you?
Roddrick Marshall: You get full firearm rights, to keep and bear arms. You get to serve on a jury. And you get to run for public office. And I plan to do all three of those things.
Ive already had my encounter with the jury system. Ive been summoned twice. The first time my number wasnt called. The second time we were about to go to trial but it was called off at the last minute. That happens a lot, when guys find out that a jury could give them a lot bigger sentence than a plea bargain with the DA. I was like, Oh, man, I really wanted this to go to trial. I was excited. I was ready.
Six states have what they call a certificate of rehabilitation. It shows some proof to the community of your rehabilitation and your desire to be productive.
Connect Savannah: Georgia doesnt offer that.
Roddrick Marshall: No. Its going to take a lot more people in the struggle to get out and vote. Thats the roadblock to changing policy. A whole lot of people in my situation would rather just stay below the radar.
Connect Savannah: What convinced you to come up into the radar?
Roddrick Marshall: The last time I was incarcerated, I was serving a four-year sentence. At that time the governor of Georgia was Zell Miller, and he started a boot camp program for any person convicted of a non-violent crime with a sentence under ten years. I fit that description (laughs).
So I had a choice -- spend my time lifting weights and sitting around talking negatively, or go get some discipline. I chose the boot camp for four months. I figured if I could make it through that, I could make it through what I would face on the outside.
Wed get up at 5 a.m. every morning and exercise and do push-ups -- drop and give me twenty. It didnt matter what the conditions were outside, how cold it was. We went out every day and did that. Ive taken those same principles and mentality back into my life as a citizen.
Connect Savannah: What is your main focus with your outreach now?
Roddrick Marshall: I want to reach out to the public to help motivate other convicted felons to take the necessary steps to become productive citizens. At one point Id like to take my first ten years out of prison, write it down and get other people to go through that program. But if we all chill out and dont do anything, there wont be many policies affected.
A lot of people think they can handle the street life. Theyre not thinking about re-entry at all. But real survival is when you can really re-integrate into society. Just because you dont re-commit a crime doesnt mean youve made a successful re-entry. I want them to know that if you keep trying at something, you can make it regardless of the barriers. You have to have that inner determination to be the best you can be. Thats what I learned from that boot camp.
Connect Savannah: Probably not too many convicted felons are reading this paper right now. What do you gain by reaching out to the media in this way?
Roddrick Marshall: Well, for example, a lot of wardens and law enforcement people have their own personal views of ex-offenders. Thats an uphill battle in itself.
I mostly want to spread the word. There was this guy in Savannah the police pulled over on Abercorn. He was driving on a suspended license, and he got out of the car and ran. His fatal decision was to jump the fence at Hunter Army Airfield. That meant a federal charge. It was just that simple. He picked the wrong fence to jump. And now hes got to go through everything that I went through, all the challenges when he gets out.
Connect Savannah: Do you go into prisons to speak to current inmates?
Roddrick Marshall: Ive been trying to get an opportunity to speak at Coastal State Prison up here for about a year. Ive gone to two transitional centers -- the Coastal Transitional Center and the Savannah Mens Transitional Center.
I joined the mayors Public Safety Task Force. I was the chairman of the Re-entry Aftercare Committee. We just made our recommendations as part of that task force, which has concluded now.
Connect Savannah: What do you think of Mayor Johnsons efforts to fight crime?
Roddrick Marshall: I think hes making a definite impact. But Ive only been in Savannah four years now, so I dont have too many mayors to compare him to (laughs). At the townhall meeting he held, I stood up and let everyone know that when youre let out of prison, you get $25 in cash and a bus ticket. Thats it. Thats your ticket back to society, and then you start back at square one.
Connect Savannah: What brought you to Savannah?
Roddrick Marshall: I didnt really see any change coming about in Columbus. It was a real struggle to break through there. So I decided to make a fresh start, in a place that wasnt as big as Atlanta, where youre just one of four million.
Connect Savannah: Do you have a job?
Roddrick Marshall: I work as a temp for hire through Snelling. Right now Im actually working for a parts supply company for JCB.
Connect Savannah: Youre the first ex-offender to participate in the Citizens Police Academy. Did they seek you out?
Roddrick Marshall: No, I came to them. I saw commercials for it on TV. So I went through all the proper channels to see if they would let me do it.
Connect Savannah: What did you learn?
Roddrick Marshall: I learned that its tough being an officer. You have to make a lot of decisions instantly. Even if someone dies from your decision, you have to be able to explain it and then move on.
Being a police officer is something I might like to do later on in life. Id like to be an officer walking the beat, getting to know the community, letting them know that officers are your friends.
Connect Savannah: Tell us about the other volunteering you do.
Roddrick Marshall: I work with CASA -- Court Appointed Special Advocates. I work with the Rape Crisis Center, which was hard to break into, because Im a male. Ive worked with them on a mens pledge, to reinforce the fact that when a woman says no she means no.
I was on the Public Safety Task Force, which just concluded. Im now on the mayors Crime Prevention Solution Task Force, which was basically when he called out the local black leaders. Im on the Youth Development Subcommittee of that.
Im with the Interfaith Hospitality Network, that helps homeless people find a place to live. Im on the board of the Wesley Community Center. Two of my sons were students at their daycare.
Lets see, what else... at my apartment complex we have a neighborhood watch program -- Im a block captain in that. The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum -- I volunteer as a guide.
I also work with the Chatham Juvenile Court. They have a mentor volunteer probation program that Judge Stone initiated a year ago. They got the idea from the Big Brother/Big Sister program, which we no longer have here.
Connect Savannah: It seems like youd make a great mentor for young people to keep them out of jail altogether. How do you go about being a role model for young people who have not yet come in contact with the justice system?
Roddrick Marshall: Show them the consequences. Show them that re-entry is a lifelong process. Show them that all it takes is that one mistake, and from then on youre faced with an uphill battle.
I take a hands-on approach -- like taking them to an apartment complex to fill out an application, so they can actually hear what the property manager says when they see youve checked the box that says youve been convicted of a felony. To get them to see that 85 out of 100 times youll be told, Sorry, we cant take you here -- youre a convicted felon.
That stigma is like a life sentence. You cant shake it. Even when Im 65 Ill still be a convicted felon. A lot of people just dont ever discuss it. But thats the only way to bring about change -- to have a frank, open discussion.
You can reach Roddrick B. Marshall at 341-2460. To comment on this article in a letter to the editor, e-mail us at
Bio: A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series...A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series.more
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