Boxer helping ex-offenders battle bad habits after life behind bars

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Men and women who were once incarcerated are dealing with new battles trying to re-enter society. Now a Mid-South boxer is now trying to help.

Mike Cook has been boxing since he was 8 years old. He’s 32 now.

“Got in trouble a lot when I was a kid,” Cook said. The way to break bad habits is discipline, he said, “and you don’t get more discipline than boxing.”

Cook is a career boxer. His childhood passion turned into a profession. He’s undefeated, 15-0.

But the ring is not the only place he’s leaving a mark. Chillcutt’s Memphis Martial Arts gym offered him a space to coach a different group of people.

Recently, Cook teamed up with Deandre Brown, who leads Lifeline to Success, a non-profit helping former felony offenders re-enter society successfully.

Brown says they brought the team to the gym about three months ago. Since then, the group of the ex-offenders have been taking a weekly boxing lesson.

From the punching bag to floor exercises, it’s a class Brown has been taking for quite some time.

“I wanted the team to experience the same type of therapy I had,” Brown said. “I learned that boxing was a way for me to relieve my stress. The discipline of boxing helped me to cope and deal with the trauma of being in prison.”

Brown says life behind bars had its share of trauma — and that trauma haunts you after incarceration.

In fact, researchers at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee found those who spent time behind bars were twice as likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is associated with an increased risk of violence, suicide, underemployment, health problems and more.

Researchers also believe physical exercise is an effective way of coping with trauma. It offers discipline, concentration and reconnects the body and mind with repetitive movements.

“I wanted my men and women to find a different way, to learn different mechanisms to keep them from being violent and them deal with their trauma,” Brown said.

Korey Thomas says since taking the class, he’s seen benefits.

“A lot of stress. A lot of things off my mind. It’s actually pushing me to go farther,” Thomas said.

Cook says it feels really good to see what it does for other people.

“Regardless of whatever has happened in the past, they’re good people,” he said.

Now Cook says he wants to expand his efforts. The gym has agreed to back his every move.

“To help them. So they don’t fall back again,” Chad Chillcut said.

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