Break The Cycle Foundation represents the culmination of a vision by Michael S. Dotson, an inmate at the Northwestern Correctional Complex (NWCC) in Tiptonville, Tennessee. The Lake County site is the primary educational prison for the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC), and provides over 100,000 hours of community service work each year to both state and local government, and a variety of non-profit agencies.
Driven by his own past, along with impactful experiences gained while working with NWCC’s PAIICE (Prisoners Actively Involved In Community Endeavors), Michael committed himself – with great passion – to helping children of the incarcerated “break the cycle” on second generation crime. PAIICE has twice been awarded the prestigious Presidential Volunteer Service Award, the highest honor an organization can win for its commitment to public service. This achievement was marked by a Letter from the President of the United States, personally thanking this inmate organization for their devotion to addressing the most pressing needs in our community and our country.
Michael dreamed of one day creating a public foundation that would continue his mission of helping children of the incarcerated, in the event that he were ever released. Little did Mr. Dotson know, when he had the opportunity to share his vision with Nashville businessman Imaan Ferdowsi, that his dream would become a reality. We are immensely proud of Michael, and pleased to serve as a beacon of hope for children of the incarcerated and their families. We appreciate your support!
“My dream is to confront and address some of our most troubling social problems. I know that the task will by no means be easy, but I also know that when God gives you the vision, He will provide the provision.”
– Michael S. Dotson
Below is Michael’s moving story, as originally shared with Imaan Ferdowsi, founder and Chairman of the Board for the Section 501(c)(3) Break The Cycle Foundation.
You inquired as to how I arrived at the idea to start this nonprofit. Before we arrive at that, you must first understand my past. I had a tumultuous childhood, and came from a very unhealthy family dynamic. My parents divorced when I was very young, and my father ultimately moved from East Tennessee to Nashville in order to find work. My brothers and I were bounced between our grandparents and our mother. While living with the latter, we suffered a lot of physical and emotional abuse, in addition to parental neglect. We bounced from project housing to project housing for many years. Between kindergarten and the 10th grade, I was enrolled in 13 different school districts – two of them twice, for a total of 15 school changes. I was also a product of parental alienation syndrome. Basically, my mother kept us on the move in order to prevent my father from finding us. She would tell us that he did not love us, and wanted nothing to do with us, both of which were lies.
Eventually, as we grew older, our grandmother and aunt tricked us into a meeting with our father, which ultimately led to the start of our new relationship. Before long, I moved to live with him in Nashville, but I had so much anger, bitterness, and distrust built up in me from the past, that every time he tried to be a father to me, I would push him away. This led me to hang out with the wrong crowd, and consistently exposed me to a negative environment. I also did not know what love really was, nor what it meant, and falsely equated it with physical relationships that I developed with several females. Because of my interest in football, I never took drugs or drank alcohol, but I was exposed to it constantly.
What ultimately led me to prison is certainly not irrelevant, but the complexity of the scenario would take this discussion down a completely different, and unnecessary path. What is important today, is the fact that my experiences have led me to develop a passion to make a profound difference by helping prevent other children from making the same mistakes.
When I came to prison, I joined the PAIICE Organization, and began working with at-risk youth in the local community. Witnessing from others, the pain and hopelessness that I experienced in my own childhood, energized my passion to facilitate change in our local communities. At that time, an enormous burden to break the cycle of hopelessness developed within me. I ran from the burden many times, because I felt the problem was too great, and insurmountable to overcome. But after having countless children run up and hug me, sobbing uncontrollably over the absence of their fathers and the pain caused by their situation, the burden became overwhelming. In addition to those experiences, I witnessed countless fathers at the alter, crying out in prayer, asking God to prevent their children from following them to prison. It was very disheartening. Witnessing multiple generations of families living together in prison at the same time is very discouraging, to say the least.
As I began to research the issues, the burden intensified even further. I discovered that, in the state of Tennessee, one in three African-American children will end up in jail, prison, or on probation or parole before the age of 25. That is three times higher than the national average of 1 in 11. For white males, the ratio is 1 in 5, which is nine times the national average of 1 in 45. Just imagine the thought of being a single African-American mother with three children. Statistically, one of them is headed to prison. Try carrying that burden as a parent!
Then, I discovered that 7 of 10 children of incarcerated felons will end up in prison, jail, or on probation or parole before the age of 25. Considering the stress caused by my own incarceration, I could only imagine carrying the additional burden of being an incarcerated parent. It would be overwhelming to me, but that is the reality of countless children in America today.
In the meantime, our government turns a blind eye to the hopelessness that is quickly overwhelming our nation. I am not looking to change a few lives; I want to create a nationwide paradigm shift, as to how we as a nation engage and fight the complex social problems of our generation. Instead of continuing to treat the symptoms of the problem through the use of the criminal justice system and the cemetery, l want to address the problem at its source. I believe that drug addiction, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, suicide, crime, and gangs, are all outward manifestations of a much deeper internal conflict that is derived from fatherlessness, poverty, and lack of opportunity. Continuing to treat the surface causes of these complex social ills will only perpetuate the the problems. They must be addressed at their source.
Imagine for a moment, having to live with this insurmountable burden on your heart while incarcerated, and being unable to take any course of action to facilitate the change you desire. That is where I currently stand. And that is why I decided to go ahead and try to start the scholarship foundation now, from behind bars. At least I can do something to help others, even though it is only the beginning of my total vision for the organization.
I know that this project will, by no means be easy, and it may take over a decade to realize the vision in our state. But I do know this: when God gives you the vision, He will provide the provision.