When Scott Rollins started hacking away at the weeds and trash in the 4200 block of York Street a few months ago, he wasn't looking for a hand — or a handout. Recently released on parole after 31 years in prison, the 59-year-old former bank robber was just seeking to contribute something positive to the long-neglected neighborhood around his halfway house.
"I'm not doing this to get a pat on the back," he told me a few weeks ago about his one-man quest to clean up Denver's meanest street. "I don't give a fuck about that. But everyone looks at people like me and writes them off, and I wanted to show them that they shouldn't."
No, they shouldn't. A Westword article about Rollins's project — and how he cadged tools from local businesses, paid out of his own pocket to haul trash away, and devoted his spare time to the mission between required stints at the halfway house and a regular job for a CDOT contractor — caught the attention of Colorado Department of Corrections officials, community groups and others. And last Saturday, an unlikely coalition of more than three dozen volunteers, ranging from prison-reform activists to a prominent conservative ex-legislator, showed up in the blazing heat to work hours alongside Rollins, sprucing up the block and reclaiming the sidewalk from overgrowth and debris.
Richard Morales, deputy executive director of the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership — and one of the organizers of the event — noted that there's a lot more dialogue among corrections officials and community groups about re-entry issues than anyone could have anticipated a few years ago. "This is a good project for us to get together on," he said.
Some of those who turned out to bag heaps of trash have been longtime supporters of Rollins, including family friend John Andrews, former state senator and founder of the Independence Institute. Others had never met the man before Saturday's sweaty get-together. Rollins directed the work as best he could, in between being interrupted by well-wishers and trying to get some shovel time himself.
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"Boy, it sure goes a lot faster with all these people," he said. "What a humbling experience to get so many people out here who believe in me."