RALEIGH, N.C. — Twenty years ago, Kerwin Pittman ran the streets in southeast Raleigh.

"Selling drugs, robberies, whatever the likes may be to make finances for yourself and for the gang," Pittman said. "The decisions you make today can affect your life longterm."

What You Need To Know

  • Activists are rallying outside the governor's executive mansion in downtown Raleigh every day this week

  • The group wants Gov. Roy Cooper to use his clemency powers to lower the number of people locked up in the state

  • They want justice, fairness, and second chances for people in prison, especially for people of color

  • One activist gives insight after being behind bars for over a decade

As a teenager, Pittman took to a life of crime.

"As a youth, you honestly feel invincible. You don't really think of mortality or anything of that nature. The consequences, it's not really on your mind," he said.

Although these days, Pittman's neighborhood looks a lot different.

"It wasn't uncommon for me to walk into [the nearby] park and see shell casings, for me to see baggings, for me to see needles, for me to see the police chasing somebody," Pittman said.

A couple blocks down from his childhood home, events unfolded that would change Pittman's life.

"Me and some of my friends went to actually fight some people in another neighborhood and one thing led to another as well and the individual ended up losing their life," he said.

Pittman spent 11 and a half years behind bars for conspiracy to commit murder, including a year in solitary confinement. 

"Being in that closed space where people beside me actually went crazy. That's where I lost and I found myself," Pittman said.

Letters from his mother were Pittman's only connection with the outside world.

"I realized that I wasn't doing time by myself, that my family was doing time with me. So, me going to the hole was hurting them more than anything," he said.

Today, Pittman's a social justice advocate and founder of his own nonprofit called "Rreps." It stands for recidivism reduction educational program services and helps people who are coming home after being released from prison, on parole, or anyone entangled in the criminal justice system.

Pittman also serves on the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

"My hope for the future is a state and a country that is free of racial disparities, free of racial inequalities, and free of injustices," Pittman said.

Pittman accepts the bad choices he made and realizes he was caught in a vicious cycle.

"Put in a different environment, I may have been afforded more resources," he said. 

It's a cycle he works to end every day.

"Nobody is free from the racial discrimination, racial biases, racial injustice, until everyone is free from it," Pittman said.