"It's really heavy work"
This story is part of the Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative's Mental Wellness Project
Michael Wilder is no stranger to dangerous jobs.
Before his last prison term, 17 years ago, Wilder was a drug dealer and a tool of the trade was carrying a gun. Occupational hazards included getting shot at, and the hypervigilance required to survive.
Now, Wilder is a coordinator of Kalamazoo's Group Violence Intervention program, an initiative that interjects itself into the cycle of gun violence in order to stop it. The risk remains the same – perhaps even more so now; he works with victims, shooters, and even the police and criminal justice system in a way that only is successful if he's on the front line. But of course, there are costs.
“We’ve been through trauma. We've been raised through trauma. But we didn’t know it because it was normal to us,” says Wilder.
Dozens of people in Kalamazoo work with Wilder or in other organizations whose work extends beyond a typical 9-5 in a multi-year epidemic of local gun violence, mitigating what both Kalamazoo city and county governments have called a public health crisis.
He's not alone – but the work brings with it a series of mental health stressors, triggers of both new and past experiences. And the risk of burning out the people doing this work goes far beyond the personal sacrifices they make; who will do the job if they no longer can?
This story is part of the Mental Wellness Project, a solutions-oriented journalism initiative covering mental health issues in southwest Michigan, created by the Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative. SWMJC is a group of 12 regional organizations dedicated to strengthening local journalism. For more info visit swmichjournalism.com.