F5 Project Helps Felons Readjust To Society
Project Helps Inmates Rebuild Their lives On The Outside
FARGO, ND — A Fargo man wants to show that former criminals aren’t castoffs.
He’s dedicated to showing the value, determination, and hustle of felons while helping them rebuild their own lives right here in our region.
His efforts are getting noticed more and more, and more and more people are claiming he’s helping to save their lives.
It’s Wednesday night at the Cass County jail.
Dozens of inmates are hustling in to hear this Adam Martin and his friends with the F5 project.
These inmates are here for a reason. Decisions and mistakes they’ve made in the past.
“Raise your hand if you’re an addict or an alcoholic. Right.”
People like Jan-Michel Wangstad. He’s been in jail since March of 2016, when he fired a shot towards west Fargo police at a motel, setting off a standoff.
He was already a convicted child sex offender and bank robber.
The state of mind I was in when it happened. I was suicidal. I didn’t care what happened.
But he’s come to every F5 meeting at the jail since they started more than a year ago.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve literally said to myself a few times that I was thankful to be in jail for,” said Wangstad.
The F5 program teaches felons how to readjust to society.
Wangstad said, “He’s had lawyers come in. He’s had people from human resources come in and help us with jobs.”
Martin pledges to help them find everything the need to rebuild their lives if they hustle with him. Housing… transportation… a job…His end goal is to help them start their own businesses.
Martin said, “There’s a fine line between being an entrepreneur and being a felon.”
That may sound weird on the surface, but he has reason for saying that. He says stealing and other criminal activities are, in a way, a form of entrepreneurship.
Martin said, “People in my mind are true entrepreneurs because they figured out how to make money out of nothing.”
But why does he so readily have the undivided attention of a room full of felons, people not known for cordial relationships with authority figures?
Once he was the one in the orange jumpsuit, a life he built after starting abusing drugs and alcohol in middle school.
“Next thing I know, I’m 31 years old and I’ve got 5 felonies on my record, been in and out of jail my whole life,” said Martin.
Once he made the final commitment to turn his life around, he assembled a crew of mentors around him to help stay clean.
“We just started kind of a lifelong process together to not go back to jail,” said Martin.
After rebuilding his life, It’s a process he repeated on a larger scale when he started visiting jails. He wanted to provide more than what was available for inmates. His message is getting through.
“Because now I know I’m not alone, because if it wasn’t for this I probably would be,” said Wangstad.
It’s grown quickly, from seven that first meeting to more than 50 a pop now.
F5 caught on quickly.
Awards from the governor followed.
Judges are taking notice.
Martin says multiple times they’ve released defendants from custody or reduced sentences because they’re in F5, a sign they’re hustling.
“It’s a lot better than when I used to go to court,” said Martin.
The project has stretched into the community with F5 houses, opened out of necessity.
“When they would call us we would pick them up, run around, look for a job, and then I would always drop them off at the shelter, and that was the last time I would ever hear from them.”
There’s now seven homes, including one in Bismarck, housing about 35 men and women hoping to get back on their feet.
People like James Williams, fresh out of a halfway house.
“Basically denied housing by 20 people in the last three months,” said Williams.
He admits he’s an addict who stole and ended up in jail.
Now he’s in an environment where he’s held accountable, and has the support of everyone around him.
Williams said, “We’re stronger as a team. Walking alone out there is almost impossible, it really is.”
That strength comes out in house meetings where there is no judgement.
“I’m really grateful we get to do this once a week and everybody shows up,” said Martin.
Regardless of struggles.
Got to get through that last little area, and I got a push last night from Adam here.
Tomorrow I got a new job starting, also with help from Adam.
Homes that welcome felons aren’t in the best of conditions.
But that’s just another chance for these felons to hustle.
“Our guys stepped up to the plate and paid for about 50 percent of those things so it didn’t cost too much for our landlords.”
Doing things like helping repair houses show these guys are committed to hustling and rebuilding their lives. Plus it helps show possibly tentative landlords that it can be alright giving a felon a second chance.
It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride.
Controversy popped up this year over whether or not the project was adhering to the city ordinance that limited three non-relatives in a single residence. Problems Martin says are behind them.
Martin said, “We had all the houses inspected and found out that all the residential codes were within what they were supposed to be.”
He says rumors spread that neighbors didn’t want felons living around.
That’s part of the mission, reducing the stigma felons have.
“I see Fargo coming together,” said Williams. “I think people are starting to take the label off the felon, the addict, and realize that we are human beings.”
Wangstad said, “We’re not those maniacs that were out there doing these stupid things, you know what I mean?”
These guys say they’re hustling.
And that it’s easier for people with rough pasts to make something of themselves thanks to Adam Martin.
“We’re gonna show them what F5 is all about,” said Wanstad. “We’re gonna show them what the refresh button on your keyboard is all about. This is about mentoring people. This is about felons helping felons. You just got it, didn’t you?”
Adam Martin hopes the next step for the F5 project is opening a home for single mothers.
He says single mothers have the single hardest time adjusting back to life outside of bars.
His dream is to have an F5 home with an in-house daycare center.