Ex-Prisoner’s Group Brings “Cell On Wheels” Around Milwaukee As A Warning


The setup and the message are simple: if you do the crime you're bound to do the time. Through its Cell on Wheels program, a Milwaukee organization called the Phenomenal Men's Support Group (PMSG) aims to paint an accurate picture of what that time in jail is actually like, reports the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. “A lot of guys who were in prison come home and act like it's a badge of honor to be in there,” said Johnson “Smithy” Chapman, president of the group. “That's the image we're trying to shake.” PMSG was founded 15 years ago as a support group for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Chapman was one of five founding members. Today the organization has 75 members.

At a recent block party, the cell quickly became one of the most eye-catching attractions. The dimly lit cell holds a bunk bed, toilet and a dull piece of reflective aluminum for a mirror. Everything inside the makeshift jail cell was donated by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department. The trailer is rarely cleaned and its overall dingy state is intentional. “We didn't want to make this a fun experience for them. A single bad decision could end you up in here and not enough kids realize that,” Chapman said. “Once you step in [the cell] you lose your name and become a number.” Chapman added that before he was president of the organization and mentor to 50 youths in the community, he spent three years behind bars. After going to college on a track scholarship and starting a career in the Army, Chapman said he gave it up and “chose the streets.”

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