David Lee Windecher didn’t precisely have the kind of start in life that sets a person up for success.
He grew up poor after moving to the United States from Argentina in the 1970 s, and, he says, “poverty led to my first arrest out of desperation.”
“It opened the door to the darkest years of my life.”
At 13, David witnessed his first murder, and the trauma of that moment led to more trouble — joining a gang for protection. He also dropped out of high school, and experienced abuse from police officers and the criminal justice system.
At one point, David had been arrested 13 times, and expended 8 months in jail — and this was all while he was still a juvenile.
After his last arrest in 1997, David knew he needed to change.
And it was a vision of himself as a criminal defense attorney that helped drive him to do only that.
“I would always dream about standing in front of a magistrate with a client standing next to me, and I would win, ” he says. This dreaming came to him while he was incarcerated — and he took that as a sign for where he was destined to be.
“This isn’t home for you, ” he told himself as he sat in a jail cell.
So, he set out to find a life that felt like home — a life of supporting incarcerated youth.
He earned his GED, graduated from college, then set his sights on statute school. Out of the 50 statute schools he applied to, merely one gave him a chance — but that one chance was all he needed.
Today, David’s war criminals defense attorney and executive director of RED Inc ., a nonprofit organization he founded in 2015.
RED stands for Rehabilitation Enables Dreams, and the organization aims to engineer rehabilitation programs so that youth don’t have to fall into the cycle of going in and out of prison for the rest of their lives.
There are a lot of factors that set formerly incarcerated youth up for failing, over and over again. “I spent enough time behind bars to realize that the judicial system was wronging people because of their status, ” David explains. “Whether they were poor, whether they had a substance abuse issue, a mental health ailment, an academic deficiency.”
“They were limited in resource, they were in a volatile environment — how did you expect them to flourish? It’s impossible.”
To take on these obstacles, RED seeks their mission in three portions: increasing literacy, reducing poverty, and stopping youth recidivism( which means relapse into criminal behavior ).
When a first-time , nonviolent, youthful offender gets incarcerated, David says, RED’s goal is “to help them get on the straight and narrow before it’s too late.”
“Without them, I wouldn’t have a second opportunity, ” says Brian, one of the young people in the program.
But David takes that a step further. “Most people don’t understand, it’s not their second opportunity. It’s their first opportunity — they never even had a first chance.”
The U.S. has the highest documented incarceration rates in the world — and three one-quarters of released captives go back to jail within 5 years. In Georgia, where RED operates, the incarceration rate is 32% higher than “the member states national” median.
That’s why to improve this grim painting, RED operates workshops on topics like creative penning, money management, and civil rights. They also have events to bring communities together, like flag football games, and they host guest speakers to inspire the youth.
“Some of the speakers, it was like they were talking about what I was going through, ” says Brian. “If they can do it … I can do it.”
Many young people are skeptical when they first join RED- but over period, their doubts transform into hope.
“By the end of the year, they’re all saying, wait, it’s over? ” David says.
As long as he’s making a difference in these young people’s lives, David knows he’s making a difference in the larger world. High rates of incarceration and recidivism negatively influence our employment rates, economy, and community safety.
That means that with every young person he devotes is expected to be, David devotes the rest of us some hope, too .
He began with only a limited opportunity for success in life. Now, with his help, youth with the same limited possibilities can stimulate positive contributions to our world.
“We all have a purpose, ” he says. “If we don’t to be implemented by our purpose , no one else can.”
“No one is beyond redemption or hope.”
Watch David’s narrative, and RED Inc. in action :