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Brooks: Once a criminal, Jason Sole is now a professor of criminal justice in Minnesota


Criminal justice majors come to Jason Sole’s classroom not to learn how the system works, but to determine if it really works.

Sole teaches criminal justice at Hamline University in St. Paul. He’s a professor, former Minneapolis NAACP president, entrepreneur, family man, criminal.

Only one of these things counts at a traffic stop.

“The problem,” he told his students, as images of Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis and Mariame Kaba scrolled across the screen at the front of the lecture hall, “it’s is the police. The police, in and of themselves, are bad for our health. “

Sole grew up in Chicago during the War on Drugs. Half-life ago, he got involved in gangs, got shot, got arrested, was sent to jail, got out, got a doctorate, reflected.

“I can see a world without police and cages,” Sole told his students. Some of these students are preparing for careers in law or law enforcement. Some hope to apply to the FBI Academy.

This is their chance to learn more about policing from someone who’s been a police officer.

Imagine what it feels like, Sole tells them, to have a gun shot at you in the street and then get caught by the police when you start carrying a gun in defense. Imagine being a 19-year-old criminal, standing in front of the courthouse, watching your entire world shrink to a tiny cell and prison yard at Faribault Penitentiary overlooking the cemetery and the graves of all the inmates still serving their sentence.

Imagine being a 43-year-old college professor and civic leader who still lives in the shadow of a nearly two-decade-old criminal record.

“I try to dream beyond that,” said Sole, who invites his students to imagine something different. A way to protect each other while holding people to account when they harm others.

He served his sentence, rebuilt his life, earned his doctorate, and set about making amends in the community he had harmed by his drug trafficking and gang activity.

“I am walking around now with a level of peace,” he said

He co-founded Humanize My Hoodie, pushing back against the stereotype of the creepy black man in a hoodie. He wears hoodies in class. A living reminder that the human under this hood is your college professor.

He hopes to found the Institute of Aspiring Abolitionists to take these conversations beyond the classroom. The project’s Kickstarter raised over $ 47,000.

For years he worked within the system. He worked with Hennepin County on Mandate Pardon Day. He was the first director of community-based public safety initiatives in the town of St. Paul. He walked, lobbied, planned and protested.

These days he also volunteers for REP – Relationships Evolving Possibilities – one of the many groups around the Twin Cities that offer alternatives to dialing 911. A recent call took him north to Minneapolis, where someone had spotted recently evicted neighbors sneaking into their old home. .

The caller had also called the police, but only REP volunteers showed up, Sole said. They checked the house but saw nothing. So they settled into the caller’s living room and spent some time visiting, listening, and reassuring them that the community cared enough to answer a call for help.

“Abolition is a matter of presence,” he said, “no absence”.

Sole’s serious problems with the law are long gone. But Minnesota doesn’t make it easy to get past your past infractions.

There are three non-violent crimes on Sole’s file. Two for drug possession, one for that handgun when he was 19. To clear his record, he will have to beg forgiveness from Minnesota.

Sole filed a claim with the Minnesota Board of Pardons, a feudal system that requires former offenders to present their cases to the governor, attorney general, and chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Sidelined for most of the year by a legal dispute over the number of votes needed to grant a pardon, the council will meet on Nov. 22, Dec. 13 and Dec. 14.

All three must agree to a pardon.

The three only agree about a third of the time.

[email protected] 612-673-4008 • Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks