Darryl Cousins Jay Paul photo
Editor's note: This article accompanies a profile of caterer Darryl Cousins in the July issue of Richmond magazine.
Jerome Bell has a lot in common with Darryl Cousins, a college athlete who dropped out of school and eventually wound up in jail. Cousins credits Bell, among others, with helping him to get back on his feet and run a successful catering business with his wife, Frances.
Bell was in a good position to do that because he had walked the same path. He played basketball at Virginia State University and says he even tried out with the New York Knicks. But while he was in college, he tried cocaine. He became addicted and was later convicted on drug charges.
About six years ago, while incarcerated at Richmond City Jail, Bell says, he was given a mission: He heard God telling him that he needed to help other inmates. He was released from jail on July 25, 2008. That October, he started a program called MOVE, for Men of Valor Empowered, to help drug addicts inside the Richmond City Jail change their lifestyle.
Cousins became involved with MOVE as an inmate in 2009, and he has continued to participate in the program since his release from jail almost a year ago. He says he'll officially graduate in September, right about the time he and Frances hope to open their new restaurant, Family Blessings, in the Scottish Inn on Robin Hood Road.
Although Bell headed the program during our initial interviews with him and Cousins last summer, he has since left the organization. Maj. Jerry Baldwin, a Richmond Sheriff's Office spokesman, says that a new program called Men in Recovery is continuing its work. Bell, meanwhile, continues to work with ex-offenders through an organization called Pilgrims Passage.
Bell's inspiration for MOVE came from the biblical story of King David. According to the tale, before David became king, he was a fugitive from King Saul. David received aid from men who were down-and-out because of debt or failure. These men became David's men of valor who had the ability to understand and relate to the injustice King Saul was placing upon him.
Bell says that participants related to the story. He used the word "empowered" because he says nobody made the inmates attend MOVE. They did it because they wanted to. "You cannot force people into recovery if they don't want to be there," he says.
When Cousins became involved with MOVE in July 2009, a month after his incarceration, his initial reason for wanting to be in the program was to get out of jail sooner, he says. He didn't expect it to change his life.
Bell and another former inmate, Mark Hamlin, shared their life experiences with the MOVE participants. "They told us and showed us that we don't have to live like that anymore," Cousins says, adding that the program not only taught him skills to navigate everyday life, but also showed him how to appreciate himself.
"I've never given a program a chance," he says. "I'd never given anything a chance but my own thinking, and my own thinking got me that stack of papers that shows my record over the last so many years of being so negative."
Cousins acknowledges that his drug addiction affected the lives of his wife and children, as well as those of his friends and family. When a person has an addiction to narcotics, he says, all he can think about is how to get more drugs. If there's no money to buy them, an addict often winds up selling possessions or stealing goods, or even selling drugs.
"Because you're basically chasing it, and you [do] almost anything to get it," Cousins says. He adds that most people with a heavy drug addiction know what they are doing is wrong, but they allow themselves to believe they can't change their situation.
Through MOVE, Cousins says he learned not to accept his situation. "[Change] can happen if you want it to happen," he says. "It's going to take time, but you've got to want to change."
Frances Cousins says she prayed for her husband to overcome his addiction. "I just wanted to change him, and I knew I needed help — I couldn't do it by myself," she says. "Now he's a totally different person."
In partnership with Men in Recovery, another former inmate who participated in MOVE, Tony Boatwright, is now leading a faith-based initiative called Kingdom Life Ministries, as executive director. Under Boatwright's leadership, the program has continued to evolve. While still working with inmates at Richmond City Jail, he says, Kingdom Life offers participants who are newly released a structured 12-month residential program, involving one-on-one peer support as well as professional counseling. There is an advisory board in place, community outreach has increased and records are kept to document recidivism and productivity rates. Boatwright says Kingdom Life also contracts with employers who agree to hire participants.
In addition, Boatwright, a certified mechanic, opened an automotive shop where he offers apprenticeships, and he has combined that with a lawn service that also provides employment opportunities. Currently, the yearlong post-release program has 16 participants; of those, 14 are working, and two are attending school, he says.
As Darryl and Frances Cousins resumed the catering business, Parties Made to Perfection , that they had started before Darryl's incarceration, MOVE helped get the word out about it, and the couple catered a reception for Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody.
And even after Darryl graduates from the Kingdom Life program, he plans to stay involved by counseling, serving as a role model and offering work to men who are trying to rebuild their lives like he was.
"The main thing is, we're men who made a lot of bad decisions," he says. "You take away the bad decisions, and you have good people behind that." Helping them "gives me the confidence that I'm doing the right thing," he says. "I just need to know I'm giving people hope. If I can give one man hope to save his life and save his family's life, that would be a great thing for me."