Sunday, June 27, 2010

David Lewis, 54, Dies

The Washington Post

Ex-convict pioneered Drug Rehab programs known nationwide

David Lewis, 54, an ex-convict turned social activist who co-founded a substance abuse treatment and prisoner rehabilitation program that gained national recognition, died June 9 of a bullet wound to the abdomen, said his mother, Cora. Mr. Lewis was shot outside a mall in San Mateo, Calif., in what police are calling a targeted attack.

Mr. Lewis started Free at Last in East Palo Alto, Calif., with a Stanford University student in 1992. The organization helps more than 4,200 people annually and has become a model of community-based treatment, said Lara Galinksy of Echoing Green, a nonprofit group that provided seed money to Free at Last.

Born Nov. 23, 1955, in San Francisco, Mr. Lewis was a high school dropout in East Palo Alto who became involved in gangs and drugs. A victim of heroin addiction at 15, he was in prison at 19 and spent most of the next 17 years behind bars.

He was serving time in San Quentin State Prison when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989. He felt powerless and "vowed to never feel powerless again," Mr. Lewis told the Sacramento Observer in 2003.

Released from prison shortly after the quake, he eventually entered a California drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and joined a black men's support group, Circle of Recovery, that was featured in the 1991 Bill Moyers documentary of the same name.

Mr. Lewis co-founded Free at Last the same year that East Palo Alto recorded the highest murder rate in the nation. The program has been credited with greatly reducing area crime.

He also pioneered a program aimed at East Palo Alto residents who are returning to the community from prison. Run by the local police department, it provides life-skills training and temporary jobs with the California Department of Transportation.

More recently, Mr. Lewis had been working with Pasadena police officials to set up a similar program and had completed projects with New York correctional systems and Michigan drug rehab programs.

In 1994, he received the California Wellness Foundation's Peace Prize for his efforts to treat violence as a preventable health issue.

In addition to his mother, Mr. Lewis is survived by three children and three grandchildren.

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