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Former Gang Member Found Purpose Working for CeaseFire

By Geoff Ziezulewicz | January 13, 2013 1:03pm
 Despite a life of crime and gangbanging, Marlon Lee's family said he had tried to make amends for his past transgressions before he was fatally shot Sept. 25 in Woodlawn.
Despite a life of crime and gangbanging, Marlon Lee's family said he had tried to make amends for his past transgressions before he was fatally shot Sept. 25 in Woodlawn.
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Courtesy of Rosalind Lee

WOODLAWN — After Marlon Lee was shot Sept. 25 in Woodlawn, police said he tried to drive himself to the hospital before his car crashed and he succumbed to his wounds.

But Je-Ree Scott, his sister, does not think he was headed for help in the minutes before he died. He was headed home.

“I felt like he knew that that was it for him, and that if he had to go, he wanted to go on Kimbark” avenue, she said. “He had even said it. He was born on Kimbark and he was going to die on Kimbark.”

Lee, 36, walked the line between a life on the streets and trying to make amends for his past wrongs, his family said.

He had been in and out of jail since he was 12. In the early 1990s, Lee was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to eight years in prison, according to Cook County court records.

Later, he pled guilty to multiple accounts of unlawful use of firearms and a drug-related charge, records show. Most recently, Lee pled guilty to an account of domestic battery in 2008, according to court records.

But Lee had found a sense of purpose working for CeaseFire, a group of former gang members that aims to defuse potentially fatal situations on the streets.

“He has been a thug in his life, a gang banger, he has been a drug dealer,” Rosalind Lee, his mother, said. “But he has also worked, especially when he got with CeaseFire. He tried his best to make amends with rival gang members the best he could for the things he had done in the past.”

Lee worked for CeaseFire for roughly 18 months, until budget issues forced the program to lay him off in November 2011, according to director Tio Hardiman.

“He wanted to help the people in the Woodlawn community, help guys change their mind,” Hardiman said. “He did the best he could do.”

Hardiman recalled a particularly tense day in June 2011, near the corner of East 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Two large groups of high school students and guys from the corners were facing off, he said. The tension was high.

Lee purposefully strode in between the two groups, and talked the escalation down, Hardiman said.

“They would listen to Marlon,” he said. “Whenever I called him, he was there.”

Lee loved working at CeaseFire so much that he slept in the office in case he was needed, Scott said.

“He had lived it,” Scott said. “He had seen the hurt. It did do him some good.”

“He was trying to make amends for the wrong things he did in the community while being brought up,” his mother said.

Earlier this year, he had attempted to move out of Woodlawn to his mother’s home in the suburbs. It did not work out.

“After a week, it was not the lifestyle he is accustomed to,” his mother said.

Lee lost his brother, Devon, to street violence in 2002. Scott said she thinks Lee went back to Woodlawn to be closer to Devon.

“His soul was there,” she said. “Marlon wanted to be closer to his brother.”

Lee left behind three children. He was outgoing, outspoken and fiercely loyal to his friends and family, Rosalind Lee said.

Despite the anguish of losing a second son to violence, Rosalind Lee said she took comfort in a young man who approached her at Lee’s funeral and told her how her son had helped convince him to leave the violence behind.

“There are some who have yielded,” she said, “who have listened.”