Conference Teaches Youth to Prevent Violence; SMART DECISIONS Boys2Men Urges Young Men to Plan for Success and Skip Risky Behavior

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Byline: ERIC BRADNER

The best way to lower Jacksonville's high homicide rate is to change a culture that fosters violence. That's the reason a group of community agencies, led by Jermyn Shannon EL, gave for holding Friday's third annual Boys2Men conference at the Potter's House Multiplex.

This year's theme was "Violence is Preventable," and the goal was to educate young males on the risks they face and the tools they have to overcome those risks.

The keynote speaker was a man who spent more than 24 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit and said it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't made bad choices beforehand.

"Every bad decision on your behalf can change your life forever," Alan Crotzer said.

DNA evidence overturned the conviction of Crotzer, who was arrested on rape, kidnapping and armed robbery charges when he was 20.

Before his arrest, Crotzer was on parole, the result of a plan to steal beer from a convenience store, which he and some friends concocted during his teenage years.

That incident, he said, got his photo placed in a lineup of men who matched the description of the suspect police were looking for in the rape and robbery investigation. A victim never would've had the chance to mistakenly identify him if he hadn't made poor choices earlier in his life.

He detailed the horrors of a life he thought he'd live out in a cage. "There was total disrespect for me as a man."

"My time is gone. I'm just a living example of what can happen to you," said Crotzer, who was released from prison at age 45. "If you set yourself up for failure, that's what's going to happen, and there's no guarantee you'll come out of there alive. …