The holidays are often thought of as a time to be with loved ones. For some, those loved ones are separated from them by steel bars and a lifetime of mistakes.
B.D. Alexander of Battle Creek wants them remembered, though, and wants to help families who have relatives incarcerated navigate that time spent apart. The writer and speaker operates a company called OVG that seeks to connect with families of those incarcerated, as well as provide help in directing young people away from committing crimes.
Alexander spoke at the 35th Annual Community Prayer Breakfast, and has participated as an entrepreneur in the BC Vision Steering Committee.
Through his brand, Alexander has self-published books that tell the story of his life, and workbooks that can be used by groups or families. He also spends his time communicating with inmates, many of them people he knew growing up, and bringing their stories to the outside world.
"That list quickly racked up to about 30 individuals that I write on a monthly basis that I know personally who are incarcerated," Alexander said in November while he was setting up an informational meeting at the Urban League, 172 W. Van Buren St.
It's Alexander's own past that compels him to reach out this way. When he was a baby, his father, Byron Qualls, was murdered by Marlon Holland of Chicago in 1986. Holland was convicted of that crime in 1987 in a Calhoun County courtroom.
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In 1998, Alexander's brother, Gregory Alexander, was convicted of murdering Tremaine Watson in Battle Creek in 1996. Alexander said his brother is innocent of that crime, and hopes he'll see freedom some day.
"I actually got into some trouble in 2009, where I was facing three felonies," Alexander said. "It was like a word from God; he told me to start writing a book. So I began to write a book. I self-published in 2012. At that same time, I started writing individuals who were or are incarcerated, to use my experiences to kind of help them reform as well as to give them some encouragement and support."
Alexander said he's even written a letter to Holland forgiving him for killing Qualls.
Despite early obstacles, Alexander said, his childhood was a happy one. He said staying active in church and sports helped a lot. When he was 18, though, pressures started to build, including having two uncles who were repeat offenders.
"You’re under the pressures growing up in urban society," Alexander said. "The role models that we do have are those who have nice cars, nice clothes, doing the things that you want to do. It’s easy to take that quick route when it’s not always the reality of it."
Alexander's wife, Courtni Alexander, said what her husband is doing is a great thing.
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"He’s been through so much and God has brought him through so much that it’s only right to help others," Courtni Alexander said, adding that she's known people in her life who are imprisoned. "Nobody really pays attention or listens to people that are inside."
Alexander said he wants to be a voice for those people.
"The bad thing about the street life is a lot of times, time in jail is glorified as a badge of honor," Alexander said. "One guy that I write, he said that on one hand, he’s looked at as a street legend, a celebrity. On the other hand, he’s seen as a murderer who doesn’t deserve to live. Neither one of those is something that he wants to be."
Community activist Sam Gray of Battle Creek was at the November meeting. He said he was there because incarceration is a big issue in a lot of communities, including Battle Creek. He recalled his own potential mistakes that he was able to learn from.
"I had all the indicators, they say," Gray said. "When you look at: single mom, low income, all that kind of stuff. All the indicators were against me. It was because of people, I call it the village, that schooled me up, made me go in an opposite direction than what the indicators said was going to happen. So it’s important to be in a kid's life at an early age to go in the right direction."
Even accounting for anyone who might wrongly be in prison or a county jail, there are still many people who made a choice that took them there. They're not all murderers serving life sentences, which means they're coming back into the communities they left at some point. That's where work also has to be done, Alexander said.
"Getting the people that are in prison to talk to some of the people that are out here by reading a couple of these letters, it’s phenomenal the things that they say," Courtni Alexander said. "Even just how they feel about their own lives and how much they want to help people outside, it’s great. And I feel like he’s doing a lot to bridge the gap and he’s doing a great job."
Alexander said he plans to host a group session for mothers of incarcerated people at Washington Heights United Methodist Church, 153 N. Wood St., sometime in January.
Contact Andy Fitzpatrick at 269-966-0697 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @am_fitzpatrick. Hear him on "The Jump Page" and "The Best Podcast in the World" at soundcloud.com/enquirerpodcasting. 636178405176651791-1129-BDALEXANDER-05.jpg (Photo: Stephanie Parshall/For The Enquirer)