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The start is to remember that, despite what that other guy might have done, he, we, are all human. 

Louis Reed, national organizer for the advocacy group #cut50, promoted for that point of view Wednesday night at Rock Island's Martin Luther King Center.

The group is working to reduce crime and prison populations through recognizing the humanity of those impacted on both sides of a crime and incarceration and working to reform the criminal justice system, according to its website. Wednesday's visit by Reed was part of the group's Empathy Tour, which is part of the overall effort. 

He said an important initial step to that reform is growing empathy between people with criminal records and those without, to help others to understand that people with a record are still that: people. The hope is from that step, it can lead to efforts to prevent overincarceration and for those who do serve time, to better opportunities to reintegrate into society once they have completed their sentence and ease the risk of recidivism.

"You are not defined by the worst mistake you made in your life," Reed said.

The event included a discussion with a panel of local people familiar with the criminal justice system in the area, and a screening of an episode of "The Redemption Project," a CNN series hosted by Van Jones in which people impacted by a crime meet with the person convicted of it. The panelists included Jerry Jones, executive director of the center; Rev. Dwight Ford, of Grace City Church; and Sommer Jones, #cut50 organizer based in Clinton, Iowa. About 60 people attended.

Much of the panel discussion revolved around prevention, often with a focus on youth: identifying problems children might be having at home that could lead them to crime, including not having enough to eat, abuse or mental illness, and helping them address those problems. 

The panelists also discussed the roadblocks faced by people who are getting out of prison that can prevent them from rejoining society, including being restricted from housing, not being allowed to vote, or being overlooked for work because of the conviction on their record. 

Jones said the process of learning about the people and the underlying causes of their incarceration is not just about empathy. There is a practical side as well. That depth of knowledge gives them a better chance to be a productive member of society.

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Reporter

Anthony is a reporter for Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

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