Baltimore woman turns to mediation to save lives

Sirens, crime scene tape and evidence markers are all familiar signs of the violence in Baltimore city. 
Erricka Bridgeford has been hit by the reality of this scene not once, but twice.
Two of her brothers were shot in six years time. Only one of her brothers survived. 
"I became way more passionate about what peace really is about and the difference between peace and revenge and where my power really lies and that my power lies in my voice and using it," Bridgeford said. 
She set out on a mission to change the world by helping other people come to the same realization, starting with Baltimore. She is determined to help people resolve conflicts without someone going to jail or dying.
Bridgeford works for Community Mediation Maryland, a non-profit serving all 17 community mediation centers in the state. 
"We get referrals from courts, when people have assault charges and so I believe that it saves lives because the very thing that my brother got shot over and was DOA for, I've mediated those kinds of cases and people have survived and come up with plans that really work for them and are realistic in their lives," Bridgeford told ABC2.  
She described it both as a powerful blessing and sad.
Bridgeford said she wishes more people realized their options in a conflict before it was too late. 
"People often escalate, stab each other, shoot each other. People think that conflict in Baltimore is mostly about drugs. Drugs have always been around but this level of violence hasn't. So it's about the way our society views conflict in that violence is power and people are constantly searching for power, especially in a conflict," Bridgeford said. 
That power, she said, can come from another place. The seemingly simple choice to sit down and have a discussion.  
So often though it's not an option, as she's learned from talking to young people in the community about what they say life is like in streets. 
"They were saying that this is a day in age where if you fight somebody and you win then you are afraid that they're going to bring a whole crew back to jump you, stomp you whatever. Or if they lose the fight, they might come back shooting and so the mentality, especially for a lot of today's youth, is I'm going to get you before you get me."
Someone who knows that way of life well is Cornell Anderson. 
He explained, growing up, every conflict he ever had ended in violence. 
"I mean I can recall times I'm just sitting outside doing what they do, hustling, sitting outside and somebody could be sitting right next to me shooting at somebody across the street and me just being out of my mind at the time, I'm just laughing because to me it was funny. It was something I was accustomed to," Anderson said. 
That is not the case anymore.
Today he is working as an Intake Specialist at the Community Mediation Center in Baltimore through AmeriCorps.
He is coming up on two years in that role and said he expects to be hired permanently by the end of the summer. 
At 39 years old, Anderson has spent most of his adult life in prison. He said between 1993 and 2011, he was behind bars all but 18 months, most recently charged with close to 50 counts of burglary.
"During the course of my incarceration, I was getting in a lot of trouble. I spent probably four years in solitary confinement but then my son was murdered," Anderson said. 
That is what pushed him to stop creating conflict, and become part of the solution.
After his last ten year stint in jail, he worked hard to stay employed and out of trouble until all the pieces fell into place with Bridgeford's help, who began training him to be a mediator when he was still behind bars. 
Even though getting here wasn't easy, Anderson said he doesn't regret a thing. 
"It was a blessing because it actually gave me time to put myself back together because I was torn apart. The person I am today is the person I'm supposed to be. I'm right where I need to be right now. I was in prison because that's where I needed to be at that time and it saved my life."
Now he is using that life to help make that same impact for other people. 
He and the rest of the staff at the Community Mediation Center on Greenmount Avenue stay busy working with people all over the city. 
Last year, they took on 301 cases, the year before that, it was 321. 
Each free and confidential mediation session lasts for two hours and Bridgeford says there can be as many as needed. 
"It sounds simple from the outside but it's not simple to really sit down and get real about what you think and how you feel and then listen to somebody else say it but the joy in it is, if you do it, you get to find out that you actually shift to a different place on your own without somebody telling you, you're right and you're wrong, you need to do something different," she explained. 
have seen it work and feel that it has the power to do more, even if it is with just two people at a time. 
Bridgeford and Anderson said the key is getting to the conflict before the thinking even escalates to violence but it's also going to take more involvement from those outside of it. 
"We're going to need some kind of intervention. We're going to need everybody to work together," Anderson said.  
"We think we don't have a lot of power so we need to use violence for our power but every thought, every choice creates something. You don't get more powerful than that," Bridgeford added. 
In addition to grants and fundraising, hey are able to provide mediation sessions for free thanks to funding from the MD Mediation Conflict Resolution Office, or MACRO. 


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