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Former gang member gets second chance with Boston Uncornered program

Boston Herald - 6/14/2018

June 14--Sitting behind bars for five years in a state correctional facility, Paul Burns of Roxbury knew he had to turn his life around once he was released.

At 17, Burns had been attending Jeremiah E. Burke High School -- until he was caught in possession of a firearm and sentenced to five years.

His past -- the fights, the arrests -- had caught up with him. He and his two older brothers were raised mainly by a single mother working on her own to put food on the table. His father was in and out of jail and struggled with drugs.

Burns says he was filled with anger and got caught up in the "wrong crowd." By the time he was 11 years old, he was arrested for stabbing a kid on the bus. He was in and out of the Department of Youth Services. At 14, he was arrested for his first firearm possession.

"I had a tough background," said Burns, now 27. "I was a regular hard-headed kid. I hung with the wrong crowd. I spent most of my teenage life in detention. I feel like I wasn't giving myself a chance on the streets."

"I wanted to finish school. I wanted to be better," Burns said. "You realize the time you waste and the opportunities you miss."

Out of prison, Burns learned of College Bound Dorchester, a nonprofit that works with former inmates, gang-involved youths and high school dropouts to get their education. He began slowly working toward his high school equivalency exam.

This year, he was in one of the first groups of students in College Bound Dorchester's unique and ambitious "Boston Uncornered" program as he began attending class at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology to get a college certificate in HVAC.

Boston Uncornered pays the students $400 per week -- or $20,000 a year -- for 33 to 35 hours of school, tutoring and work-based learning. The program, launched last summer, aims to enroll at least 250 former gang members into classrooms full-time to break the hold gangs have on inner-city neighborhoods.

The program is up to 55 fully stipend students right now. Twelve students have graduated already and are employed or going onto more education and training.

"We're excited about the progress that our students are making and the impact they are having on their peers in their community," said Mark Culliton, CEO of College Bound Dorchester. "The ultimate goal is to get these guys to change their community. Every dollar we spend on this program helps to save lives."

Burns will finish his certificate in September. He hopes to later study business management.

His inspiration is his 2-year-old daughter, Kyndell. He wants a better life for her and to set an example.

"I know when I tell her I'm in school, I'm really in school," he said. "Most inner-city people when they tell kids their in school, they actually mean jail. ... It's about the kid. It is about my child."

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(c)2018 the Boston Herald

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