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Ray Winans: Violence Intervention Specialist, D.L.I.V.E. (Detroit Live Is Valuable Every Day)
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Few emergency rooms in the nation are as busy as Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit. Last year, 321 patients were admitted with gunshot wounds and 153 as a result of stabbings. Before each victim is released, Ray Winans pays a visit. His work as a violence prevention specialist for the organization "Detroit Live Is Valuable Every Day," also known as D.L.I.V.E., is proving to be critical in mending their emotional scars.
What is a day in the life of Ray Winans?
The day usually starts at around 4:15 a.m. First and foremost, I pray because you've got to get the stuff from God. After that, no two days are the same. My days never go as planned. I know there will be some things that will not get accomplished because there will be a crisis that needs my attention immediately. I usually start at the hospital checking out trauma logs, contacting staff and looking at members that need our services. We are serving a population that was completely unserved prior to D.L.I.V.E.
More than a job, what you do is a mission. How many hours a week do you work?
I don't get caught up in the hours. I am committed to putting 80 to 100 hours a week with D.L.I.V.E. For me, a good week would be about 60 hours.
How do you balance your professional and personal life?
I am a father, a husband, a son, a grandfather and a godfather. I've been blessed with regard to my family. They understand this is my God-sent purpose - to impact young people's lives. I am thankful because I don't have a wife who complains about that. I find a healthy balance in spending time with my grandchildren and my godchildren. Every time we take a family vacation, which we do every year, that's my time with my family. Also, I try to find a healthy balance throughout the month, maybe a movie with my wife. I do the best I can.
You became part of D.L.I.V.E. after emergency room physician Dr. Touloupe Sonuyi brought you in. What's the relationship between both of you?
We are brothers. We are friends. We are comrades. Our bond is unique because of our dual leadership roles. Dr. Sonuyi is the medical director, and I serve as the executive director. This model has received a lot of attention from people because, apparently, it is very difficult to replicate. We met more than three years ago at a community table at the Skillman Foundation, the organization that gave us the seed money to get started.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in in the Jeffries Projects in Detroit. I had a normal life as a kid up until my father was murdered. I was 9 years old. I was angry, hurt, and I experienced a pain I had never felt before. At 12, a cousin who was like a father to me ended up being murdered, too. Then a friend was killed right in front of me. That's when I started believing I was going to die young. That's when I started drinking and smoking.
When did you leave your family's home?
I was 14 when I ran away and left my mom's home. It allowed me the opportunity to be off into the streets and receive everything that came from the streets. Drugs, guns, women, cars and money. The lure of the streets had my attention and the people in the streets felt my pain. It was comforting to be with guys who had similarly traumatic experiences, not really understanding the mental sickness that comes behind it. Ultimately, I was suppressing my feelings and trying to cope with drugs and alcohol.
At 14, you experienced an event that changed your life. What happened?
At 14, I went back to my childhood stomping grounds, the same project where my father was murdered. During a fight, I took a man's life. I was sentenced as a juvenile and released three years later when I was 18. My past has served most definitely to redeem myself. As part of D.L.I.V.E., I put myself in a position where I can serve so that the life I took was not in vain.
When you meet with victims of violent trauma, how do you connect to them?
It all depends on age or who is in the room. I have not used the same approach twice. I am always guided by what God is leading me to do and leading me to say. When I'm working with an individual, I pray and say, "Let me remove myself out of the way so you can have your way." For me, it's all about bringing God's glory through my work. Most frequently, I let them know there's somebody who can help them. I also let them know some of the things that they are going to be dealing with and battling with as a direct result of their injury.
How does D.L.I.V.E. work after victims of crime leave the hospital?
Before they leave the emergency room, we develop a relationship with the family. Based on what they identify as high importance, we set up short-term goals, long-term goals, and tailor a plan. Employment is not always the first step because we are talking about people who have suffered violent trauma and, due to their injuries, are not able to go back to work. Then we put them in our trauma peer support groups. In these groups, they get opportunities to be with other individuals who have been exposed to violent trauma themselves. We educate them on the adverse childhood experiences, and then we decide on the most appropriate goal plan for each individual as it relates to his or her individual case.
How are mental health and substance abuse issues addressed during the trauma peer support group sessions?
You cannot talk about physical health without mental health. Because we are a trauma-informed organization, we don't use the word substance abuse. We use substance use. Victims of violent crime utilize substances for coping skills, and we let them know that is normal.
What is the difference between the approach of D.L.I.V.E. and that of law enforcement as it relates to violent crime prevention?
The police approach is from an investigative lens. They have a crime to investigate. With us, we have an injury that we must heal. That is the difference. We come in with a health-centered approach to healing. Law enforcement concentrates on solving the crime. They ask questions like: “What led you to be shot? Who shot you and why?” Our job is never to ask who shot you or why you got shot. Ours is, “What can we do to lead you to a healing journey?“
This story appears as part of coverage for "NBC News Learn Presents: Education Now Detroit," a two-hour live community event supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. For more information, go to nbcnews.com/learndetroit.