St. Louis Comedian Shares Story of Redemption, Reentry Following Prison Sentence

Read the final segment of KSDK’s three-part series about Concordance here.

Elton Neal at Concordance


A blessing.

Those are the words Elton Neal, 45, uses to describe what the Concordance Academy of Leadership means to him.

It’s a St. Louis County nonprofit run by a retired Wells Fargo Advisors CEO aimed at preventing people like Neal from returning to prison. And it’s gained acclaim by experts like John Roman, a senior fellow in the Economics, Justice and Society Group at the National Opinion Research Center. It’s one of the largest independent social research organizations in the country and it’s based at the University of Chicago.

“It’s really hard to get people off this trajectory of offending because, for the most part, people don’t go to prison the first time they commit a crime,” he said. “They cycle in and out of prison, in and out of courtrooms, so to break that cycle is really hard.”

Concordance paid Roman to evaluate its program. He looked at a group of inmates returning to the St. Louis area. He concluded about 9% of inmates returned to prison within their first six months of release compared to only 4% of Concordance participants.

“Those are substantial reductions,” he said. “This is an important starting point in rebuilding some of our most disadvantaged places in St. Louis and throughout Missouri and throughout the country.

“I’ve been studying prisoner reentry for 20 years and we know very little about what works for this population.”

To Neal, it’s simple.

“There’s no other program that offers as many things as this program,” he said.

The 18-month curriculum begins about six months before a person’s prison sentence ends.

Concordance partners with the Missouri and Illinois Department of Corrections to select participants that reflect the prison populations when it comes to race, age, gender and the type of crime they commit. The DOC sends Concordance about 80 names at a time, and those who agree to participate are transferred to one of the three prisons where Concordance staff can visit them.

That partnership is key to ensuring the participants are chosen at random, and that the program can work for anyone, said Danny Ludeman, Concordance’s CEO. He said Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe and her deputy director Matt Sturm have been instrumental in making the partnership work.

“They have dedicated their lives to restoring and healing those individuals who have been incarcerated,” Ludeman said. “We are immensely grateful to them.”

Read the final segment of KSDK’s three-part series about Concordance here.

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