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Why La La Anthony Is Working with Incarcerated Young Men: 'Let's Give Them Real Rehabilitation' (Exclusive)

The actress tells PEOPLE she felt compelled to help rehabilitate young men serving time at Rikers Island, especially after becoming a mom

<p>Amanda Edwards/Getty</p> La La Anthony at the Annual Women In Entertainment Summit in L.A, Feb. 2024

Amanda Edwards/Getty

La La Anthony at the Annual Women In Entertainment Summit in L.A, Feb. 2024

Actress La La Anthony is currently starring in the third season of the Starz drama BMF (Black Mafia Family), loosely based on the true story of the rise of an organized crime family in the '80s. However, in real life, Anthony dedicates her free time to helping young men not live a life of crime.

"I have people ask me, 'Why do you want to work with people who committed a crime? Why should we feel sorry for them?' " she tells PEOPLE, of her non-profit organization ThreeSixty, which mentors and rehabilitates men aged 18-21 who are incarcerated at Rikers Island.

She says the cause is close to her heart — especially now that she's a mom to a teenage boy.

"At this age they are still so young," she says. "When you talk to them, especially if you have your own kids, you just become so much more compassionate. It feels like any one of our kids could be one bad decision away from being in a similar situation."

Related: Woman Who Grew up with Both Parents in Prison Is Now Helping Kids Like Her Find Hope

Anthony says ThreeSixty offers leadership and enrichment programs, through sports, meetings with motivational speakers, and mental health support. They also help with job training, relationship building, and legal assistance as needed — whatever it takes for successful reentry upon release.

"We do weekly sessions, and we do a lot of group building sessions, we do acting classes, we do seminars. We just make it a really fun day," she says of being hands-on in the organization. "We want them to be prepared with certain skills so they can really get out there and back into life and into the workforce after release."

So far they've seen incredibly promising results.

"Just recently one of the kids in my program, who was released not even a little over a year ago, got a full scholarship to Columbia University," she says with pride. "It's really amazing to see that when you take them out of jail and put them in the right environment, with the right opportunities and love and support, incredible things can happen."

Related: How La La Anthony Is Supporting HBCUs and Black Designers this NYFW: 'We Need to Be Uplifted' (Exclusive)

Anthony wants people to realize notes that a lot of these kids initially get into trouble because society tends to forget about teenagers as a whole.

"This country is not set up with programs for teens," she says. "You have some after school stuff, and some sports, but most American kids have to have two working parents these days just to survive. So when you have teenagers, what are you supposed to do with them? You can't be on top of them all the time."

She says that's when trouble can start.

"A lot of their stories are similar," she says. "They were at the wrong place at the wrong time, or trying to fit in with the cool kids. A lot of them had single moms who had to work, and not a lot of strong male guidance. When you think of them as teenagers out there fending for themselves, you have to have more compassion. You don't want to discard them. They're not worthless."

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She believes proper rehabilitation is key.

"If they did something wrong and they're paying for their crime, let's give them real rehabilitation while they're there so they can come out and be better citizens," she says. "That's also so much better for our communities, because without the rehabilitation, when they come out, the same crimes might be committed or even worse crimes. How is that benefiting any of us? We want them to come out and do better, and be better."

She adds, "I just feel like there's still so much opportunity at that age for change. And I can't get discouraged by the system. I'm taking it one kid at a time, and I'm starting to just see so many incredible changes. That's how I have to look at it: If I could help one kid, then that in itself is a success story."

To learn more about ThreeSixty, visit ThreeSixty.org.

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Read the original article on People.