COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Thell Robinson III’s life depends on his integrity. He talks with people who are involved with violence and selling drugs on the streets, working to mediate disputes.
Tattoos tell a story — and one of Robinson’s tattoos is the most expensive kind, paid with time behind bars. As a young man, he lived a gangsta life. That was before Robinson found his faith, learned about the courage of his history, and learned the skills of non-violence and how to heal trauma.
Now his organization, Halt Violence, not only offers a way to heal out of the drug-dealer life, but it mediates disputes so that the trigger never gets pulled.
“For me, this is God’s work,” Robinson said at the Halt Violence offices on East Broad Street. “This is my ministry outside the four walls. If I was doing this in my own strength, I would have been tapped out.”
Halt Violence works with a staff of three. Its mission is unusual: to get to violence before it occurs. This means it never involves the police. At the moment, they are working on analyzing the numbers of people they’ve helped and saved since March 2014.
“Beef” is a disagreement people have with each other in the drug-dealer community. “Squashing the beef” means mediating the dispute toward a nonviolent outcome.
“Some of the individuals that we serve are challenging, but because of the Spirit that’s inside of me, He gives me the strength to combat anything that I come across,” Robinson said.
The drug dealer’s life
Robinson got into the life of a drug dealer when he was 18. He graduated high school and had a baby, but his check didn’t stretch far enough to help with his child.
“It started out as [for] my baby, but then, as I started making money, this was no longer about my baby,” he said. “Now it was a decision that I fully made because I was conscious of what I was getting into.
“After a while, it wasn’t no longer financial. Now came the power. It sucks you in like a vacuum. Prior, in my younger days, I used to see drug dealers with fancy cars. They could get whatever they wanted, and I had to wait from check to check.
“When you’re a drug dealer, you have to become violent to protect your territory, the streets and neighborhoods that you are supplying.”
Getting sucked in
There’s a glamor to the culture of drug dealing. “The money, the materialistic things — cars, clothes, vehicles, jewelry, females, power,” Robinson said. “You can get whatever you want when you want.”
But that power comes with a price. PTSD, anger, and trauma arise from a constant need to maintain dominance.
“Mental exhaustion, emotional … it’ll break you,” Robinson said about dominance. “You’re not the same as a normal person. When a normal person wakes up, it’s a regular, normal routine that we experience in regular society.
No peace, no sleep
“But an individual that’s living that lifestyle, as a [normal] person wakes up and brushes their teeth — first thing [a dealer’s] reaching for is that gun,” Robinson said. “He has no peace.
“Even if he’s got six figures, he has no peace. When that noise makes him jump and hear, he’s reaching for that gun.
“The distrust for individuals that come within his circle,” Robinson said. “You know, the questioning. Because he wants to know who’s around him. He don’t want anybody getting near him to rock him to sleep to get shot, or killed, or robbed.
“Because when you typically get robbed or shot or killed, you have to have an inside to be able to do it.”
Walking away takes time
Halt Violence has resources to help people when they decide to learn about a different life. Those can be kids under 18, or people who’ve been dealing drugs for a while.
“Sometimes, a person be at their wits’ [end] and be like, ‘You know what? I tap out. Can you help me?’ Robinson said. “Then you have layers where some people want to have one foot in, one foot out so they want to maintain their image. Because they might have stuff lingering, and people might think they’re getting soft and they might try them. So it’s layers.
“But when that individual wants the help, we just have to be ready to get them through the process. So there might be plenty of things that need to be done: Anger management, substance abuse needs to be taken care of, some healing that needs to be taken care of — baby mom issues, kid’s issues, father issues, mother issues.
“There’s layers that has to be done for that transformation.”
Transformation can happen
It takes six to 18 months for the person to begin to emerge from that life, once they decide to make the change and have enough trust in the process to do it.
“It’s not no pep talk, and then — ” Robinson snapped his fingers, “they’re back to their normal way. That’s a lie. When we say ‘saving lives and changing minds,’ we might have to do three or four, maybe five, mediations throughout the year for this individual before God actually changes his mind to be receptive to the tools that has been given to him to utilize them.
“When he sees this person that has this issue with him, or he engages with his kid’s mom, or dealing with somebody in his neighborhood. It’s not a quick step. We’re talking 18 months to two years for a change.”
Tools for transformation include work on trauma, work on anger, and understanding Black history. The Halt Violence offices not only contains a gym and a place to play video games, but also pictures of Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Booker T. Washington. Teaching the courage, strength, and intelligence of these men is a key part of Robinson’s work.
Halt Violence will hold an event with DJ IQ on June 30, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 1043 E. Hudson. Enroll in Violent Free Summer and receive free food and a gift card.