Chateau Hough, more than a vineyard
At 72, Frazier is a man who has more energy than his 20-something counterparts, and an unrestricted vision that tests even the most innovative creators in the Silicon Valley. Started in 2010 with a $15,000 grant from the city's Reimaging Cleveland—a grant program that funded 50 environmental projects on vacant lots dispersed throughout Cleveland— Chateau Hough drives Mansfield's mission to help those formerly incarcerated get back on their feet through meaningful employment.
A vineyard is the last thing one might expect to find on the corner of Hough Avenue and East 66th, – a neighborhood notorious for violent riots in 1966 that ended in bloodshed—but it is this unlikely place and element of surprise that fuels Frazier to do what he does.
With a grin and an unyielding demeanor, Frazier admits he doesn't know everything and that he doesn't have all the answers, but what he does have is a contagious passion to make a difference in communities where hope and a promising future are dreams.
“I love challenges. I love skepticism. I like being underrated by people. I love for you to tell me I can't do it, absolutely love it. It is inspiring,” Frazier says confidently.
For some people, breaking ground on an overgrown, concrete lot is difficult enough, but breaking down societal and economic barriers requires a self-made attitude, determination, and a fearless approach to solve a perpetual social injustice problem gripping communities across Cleveland.
“I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I am the most experienced. Any room I am in from government to academia, I am always the most experienced,” Frazier says. “I've done so many things in my life that I could be in a room with police officers, prosecutors,and lawyers, and still be the most experienced.”
While sitting back on a plastic white chair and drinking a sample glass of Chateau Hough's latest batch, Frazier says he has seen life from more sides than most. He, too, had his fair share of run ins with the law: peddling strippers and prostitutes in Toronto and Miami, and claims to have run high-end brothels and escort services. Later, he landed three years in federal prison for credit card fraud. But with all that behind him, it are these experiences help him form connections with other offenders trying to get back on their feet.
He laughs and says “I got half a brain. I listen well. I don't have all the answers. But always willing to advice.”
At an age when most people consider their life to be just starting—college, traveling, executing to-do lists—Damian Calvert considered his own life to be over at the age of 18. In 1992, he was sentenced to 18.5 years in federal prison for aggravated murder of a woman in Akron, Ohio.
In recent decades, more and more Americans have had contact with the criminal justice system—and the number is growing exponentially. The Federal Bureau Investigation estimates that one in three adults now have a criminal history record. This could consist of an arrest that did not lead to a conviction, a conviction of a person who was not sentenced to a term of incarceration, or a conviction for a non-violent crime.
Spending his early years serving time in prisons across the region, most notably in the infamous Lucasville Correctional Facility, where one prison guard and nine inmates were killed during the 1993
riots, Calvert was just trying to survive in an environment where it was every man for himself.
“I was sent down there in 1994, the prison was under reconstruction, and the attitudes were still very much the same. Every vibe operated in the extremes there. It was tough,” reflects Calvert.
It wasn't until 2006 when he went up to the parole board to ask for a release that he began to make a choice to do his time with dignity and productivity. Considered an old law inmate—those who were sentenced before 1996—he was still required to see a parole board, which made the it a more arduous process.With the possibility of getting out five years early denied, Calvert had to come to terms with being locked up for another five years.
“If I took the life of your loved one, you don't want me getting out and re-salvaging my life, enjoying freedom and my loved ones, so it is an understandable position. I wasn't mad or bitter. I was hurt. I doubled down and wrote to the people who supported me and explained to them the situation. My way of framing myself was saying that unfortunately there are people still hurting me behind my actions, my 18-year-old actions.”
As a general guide, inmates are assessed under nine needs and risk assessment principles: public safety/risk management purpose, amenability to probation, effective conditions of probation and responses to violations, stakeholder training, availability and routine use of offender assessment, evidence-based infrastructure, assessment instruments, assessment reports, and monitoring and evaluation, as a way to reduce recidivism once they are integrated back into society.
“What I had discovered is if you do not get visits while you are incarcerated that translates to a lack of family and community support. So by their standards and measurements, that lack of support, you are at a higher probability of re-offending, therefore it becomes a detriment to your release into society,” Calvert explains.
Over the course of his incarceration, visits from family and friends began to dwindle. With the realization that he had to make more connections to the outside world in order to appear ready to renter society, Calvert knew he had to build relationships with citizens doing well in society.
In the inmate programs, Calvert distributed the Re-Entry Advocate magazine—a publication, established by Mansfield Frazier—dedicated to spreading positive news about those who were formerly incarcerated. Seeing this as a way to network himself with the world he would soon be returning to, Calvert reached out to Frazier to come to the graduation of the first NAACP prison chapter in the state of Ohio. The two quickly connected on a personal level, and in 2010 when Calvert went back to the parole board, Mansfield and other people such as Roger and Carrie Friedman—whom later opened up their home to Calvert when he was released—wrote letters of support to the board.
March 28, 2011 will forever be etched in Calvert's memory because it was the day he was released and received a second chance. Immediately, he started working for a man who he refers to as one that made a positive imprint on his life.
Damian Calvert: The Ultimate Meaning of A Second Chance
Calvert's story of success and transition back into society wasn't always easy. Temptations and influences in the community made rehabilitating his life more complicated.
In the distance, during mid-conversation, Frazier remarks with a laugh, “You can't make up for 18 years of deprivation in one year. Anything with a skirt, he was on it. His head was on a swivel. He would flirt with everything you see. He had that penitentiary walk, man. His studies were suffering. He needed brazen up, that's all.”
By just sitting in the presence of Calvert and Frazier, one can't help feel the bond and friendship the two men have for each other. It is this personal connection and mentorship that has helped Calvert make up for lost time and become a productive, and valuable member of society.
“He got me together. He gave me a strong talk, but never turned his back on me. I always had a strong work ethic. That I had,” noted Calvert. “I am a lover of education and an avid reader. He saw those things and affixed me to a lot of opportunities and I ran with it.”
Now, at 41, Calvert can be found around Cleveland giving motivational speeches to the community, educators, and government officials. No longer inmate 27020, he is now a Reentry Advocate, a research assistant at Case Western Reserve Sociology Department, and one of the most motivated, and eloquently spoken individuals you will ever meet.
Asked how someone deals with spending 18.5 years in prison and the process of moving forward, Calvert humbly responds by saying,
“For one thing I know my blessings. To come out of that experience and to have these opportunities, it is a blessing. I practice out here what I practice in there. People often ask us what is your religion, I say I don't have a religion. If I am hard pressed to name my religion, then I say it is gratitude because in there when I would get depressed about all that I am missing out on, the way for me to come back in the moment was to say and list all the things I am grateful for. I am healthy. I'm alive. I'm grateful for that. I got food in my drawer. Then what it does is bring you back into the moment.”
For Frazier, when asked what the most rewarding aspect of this whole operation has been, he doesn't hesitate to say Marvin Foster Jr., one of the vineyard's first employees from the very beginning.
“Marvin was the terror of the neighborhood. He was always drunk and reckless. He worked with a crew of scrappers. Marvin was so bad he was pulling off siding from a woman who still lived at her house,” Frazier recalls.
Foster, who is now 25 and a long time Hough resident, admits he wasn't in a good place in his life when he met Frazier through his younger brother, who is now serving time for an armed robbery.
“Man, I would say that I was a young individual who was lost and not doing anything productive. It was the product of my environment, I guess,” Foster says.
Over the course of five years, Frazier fired Marvin three times, each time bringing him back.
“I don't like loosing something and he kept coming back. I thought I could turn him around. I really thought I could. It was a challenge for me to turn him around,” Frazier says. “ He was very sloppy and didn't know how to use tools. I am most proud of the human aspect. This is about people.”
There is no question that Foster is changing the narrative of his family, friends and community by taking a different avenue in life.
“If you want a second chance on life, you got to go through Mansfield Frazier,” Fosters says with a genuine opinion of the man who notably changed the course of his life. “You got to really want it. All he can do is show you., but it is up to you to walk through it. When I look in the mirror, I'm proud.”
Breaking the Barriers and Changing Perspective
Frazier uses a tough love approach to see who is serious and who is just bouncing around from one opportunity to the next. With resources sometimes limited, and others who want the opportunity at a second chance, there is no time for lack of indecisiveness.
“If they[ex-cons] are not serious, then beat it. Some people don't change. It is easy to be good in prison. You have no options. Once you get back freedom, some do well, and others fail and retreat to their old habits,” Frazier says. “We only help the willing. It isn't our job to convince you to be willing. not tell. I don't beg you. I don't plea with you. If you don't see this as the right way, then I can't help. We don't do hugger thug. This is big boy shit. If you don't like to work, then move on.”