PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A former drug dealer sentenced to life in federal prison is out early and now mentoring kids in the community to keep them off the streets.
Hassan Hills returned Tuesday afternoon to the intersection of North A Street and West Jackson Street.
“This location here brings back memories,” Hills said. “When I was young, 14 or 15 years old, I started a life of crime and I started selling crack right here on this corner.”
Hills ran into police a lot back in the late 1990s including a young narcotics officer named Chip Simmons who’s now sheriff of Escambia County.
“I knew the name Hassan Hills,” Simmons said. “He was one of our targets.”
Hassan was indicted on drug charges and later handed a life sentence in 2001.
“Prison is not a place you want to spend your life at,” Hills said. “Your life is on the line everyday.”
Hills changed his behavior in prison, laws changed and he was able to get out after 20 years. When he did, he called Simmons to tell him about his vision.
“We had a conversation about how our lives had intersected in the past and the potential good that can come out of our current intersection,” Simmons said.
“From that day forward, it was like he gave me the strength and the inspiration to know that beyond my past, and what I have done, somebody believed in me and with that, that was all I need to know that I was in my rightful place,” Hills said as he described his meeting with Simmons.
Hassan started a non-profit organization called “Youths Left Behind.” He shares his story with troubled teenagers whose parents aren’t in their lives for whatever reason. He doesn’t want them to go through what he did.
“It makes me feel good knowing I can come back to a city, come back to a neighborhood, come back to a state and do something positive after all the negativity I had done,” Hills said.
He also wants to see more businesses hiring these young people.
“You can’t want them to come off the street corner if we can’t get employers within Pensacola to agree to hire them,” Hills said.
Hills is trying to get money to purchase a building in the city and a van for transportation as he works to keep teenagers on a path to success. Visit his website for more information about what he is doing in the community.
“I’m very proud of where he is now,” Simmons said. “I’m proud of his desire to help our community.”
Keshawn Fountain (pictured above) is one of the first young people Hills had the opportunity to mentor. Fountain graduated from Escambia High School and is now attending Pensacola State College to become an artist. Hills works at Angry Crab Trap in Orange Beach, Ala. and convinced the owner to hire Fountain as well.
Hills took a group of kids to a Blue Wahoos baseball game thanks to a donation of tickets from Quint Studer. Hills said many of those kids had never been able to attend a game.
This summer, Hills had an inaugural back-to-school clothing giveaway. They were able to help 10 families in low-income neighborhoods in Pensacola.
Hills said he visits Walton Academy for Growth and Change monthly which is a residential treatment program for males between 13 and 18 years old. He talks to teens there about ways to stay on the right path to success.
Hills does a weekly group session called peer group empowerment. The teenagers must complete a 7-week course that addresses guns and gangs, how to deal with peer pressure, and how to conduct yourself when coming in contact with law enforcement. Each teenager writes a 500-word essay about what they learned then they’re given a certificate at a graduation ceremony and they’re given a Visa gift card.