The 2,650-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail runs from Mexico through California, Oregon, Washington and into Canada, making it one of the longest and most diverse hiking trails in North America.
Beginning Tuesday, April 11, Marietta resident Kolya Schubert and Brookhaven resident Marc-Antoine Davoust will set out to hike the entire trail, which is expected to take about five or six months. Aside from both enjoying the outdoors and nature, they also have one other thing in common — they were both arrested as teenagers. Both are 27 now.
Their experiences with the justice system are what led them to complete this hike and raise awareness for the Atlanta-based nonprofit RED (Rehabilitation Enables Dreams).
The organization provides programs for young, first-time, nonviolent criminal offenders to attempt to help them assimilate back into society without relapsing back into criminal behavior.
“The more people that understand what we’re doing, the better our chances are of helping the next kid that is going through the criminal justice system (to become) a contributing member of society,” said RED founder David Lee Windecher, a lawyer in DeKalb County.
Entering the criminal justice system
As youths, Schubert and Davoust first met each other at Atlanta International School.
“Our friendship started when we both couldn’t go on a field trip, and we had to stay at school for a week while everyone else went camping and backpacking,” Davoust said. “We were both upset we couldn’t be out in nature.”
However, they both ended up attending Chamblee Charter High School their sophomore year of high school, and they both said the transition was incredibly tough, citing a visible difference in education quality and peer behavior.
“I saw a lot of drugs at Chamblee High School,” Davoust said. “That was a very prominent thing, which I was not used to seeing from Atlanta International School.”
Both went on to say they soon got involved with the wrong crowds and made poor life choices. Both ended up being arrested, Schubert multiple times for crimes such as theft, prowling and other misdemeanors.
For Davoust, he was arrested once along with a group of seven others for trespassing on school property late at night with the intention of climbing on the roof. He vividly remembers one thing the officers said during the arrest.
“The cops were poking fun at all of us, and I remember them taking pictures of the girls crying on their cameras,” Davoust said. “Also while they were crying, I remember an officer saying, ‘Do you want some cheese with your whine?’”
Breaking the cycle
For both of them, the justice system didn’t “scare them straight.” They claim the disappointment of their parents hit them much harder than a night in the Cobb County jail ever could.
For Schubert, attending a mandatory first offenders program almost made it easier to commit another crime afterward.
“Break time was basically spent in the smoking area with everyone speaking about (how) they ended up there, and what they did wrong,” Schubert said. “Then they’d start making suggestions on how they could’ve gotten away with it or better ways they could’ve done it.”
Both of them ended up breaking the cycle of recidivism, which is the relapse of criminal behavior.
Windecher had his own similar run-ins with the law, being arrested 13 times for a variety of crimes. His experience motivated him to become an attorney to help young adults like him.
“I saw how jacked up and unfair our criminal justice system was to people that didn’t have resources to hire an attorney,” Windecher said, “so I wanted to come in and create a curriculum that would keep them out of the criminal justice system.”
Attempting to end recidivism
RED was founded in March 2015 after two years of research and operation, which Windecher self-funded with about $100,000.
“What we learned is that a lot of these guys are lacking basic life skills,” Windecher said. “The easiest thing for them to do when they don’t have money is get angry, so we have to teach them anger management and self-control.”
RED offers rehabilitation programs that are supposed to enhance the employment potential of individuals with a criminal record. He said that some of these people only have fifth-grade reading levels, which he tied to poor socioeconomic upbringings.
“My first arrest was due to poverty. I didn’t understand how to cope with poverty,” Windecher said. “When I got arrested for the first time, instead of the system teaching me how to deal with not having money, it punished me for being poor.”
Cobb County offers a Diversion Program, but it costs $150. RED offers its services for free, with the costs being covered mostly by fundraisers, donations, sponsors and grants. (For more information about RED or to donate, visit stoprecidivism.org.)
Windecher compared RED’s priorities to those of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, created under Gov. Nathan Deal. Georgia’s incarceration rate is 32 percent higher than the national average, and its probation rate is almost four times greater than the national average, according to the council.
Both have the goal of lessening recidivism.
“Everybody wins when you lower recidivism,” Windecher said. “The taxpayers’ money is being used properly to build better roads, better highways, better parks, etc. — we know we need a better highway.”
Trekking through desert and ice
Schubert and Davoust have more than 2,600 miles of desert, mountains, rivers and snow to prepare to hike across. Davoust said there is beauty in the diverse terrain.
“America is absolutely gorgeous,” Davoust said. “There’s a reason we call it America the beautiful, and I want to be able to see as much of America as I can.”
Schubert grew up as a Boy Scout, and he said hiking the Appalachian Trail was always a goal for him and his troop, but he looks forward to hiking the West Coast.
“Living here on the East Coast, I’ve spent so much time on (the Appalachian) trail that I (want) a change of scenery,” Schubert said.
Schubert’s longest hike was 500 miles along the Appalachian Trail. Now he’s about to quintuple it.
The duo had been planning on this hike for roughly a year before deciding to do it as an awareness event for RED.
“Right now, I believe trying to end recidivism should be on the front of everybody’s radar,” Davoust said.