Filthy Rags Outreach, a nonprofit, working to fight crime through gang intervention

The prison-based nonprofit, “Filthy Rags Outreach,” wants to fight rising crime through gang intervention and prevention programs.

It has a two-fold mission — to help men change their lives in prison and then become mentors when they’re released.

KIRO 7′s Gwen Baumgardner spoke on the phone with Charles Champion, an inmate at Stafford Creek Correction Center. Formerly known as “Baby Jody” within his gang, he is now inmate 878837.

He has been in prison for more than 20 years after pleading guilty in 2004 to fatally shooting Des Moines police officer Steven Underwood, avoiding the death penalty through a plea deal.

“I’ll tell you who he is, he’s a punk, a thug, a selfish scum-sucking parasite,” the victim’s father Dick Underwood said during Champion’s sentencing in 2005.

Despite that description in court, Champion told KIRO 7 that he’s now a very different man.

“I’ve been in prison a very long time. I’m very well known within the prison system and one of the things that are eye-opening for a lot of the guys in here is they look at me and say man, Charles Champion, I know him. I know how he used to be, and if this guy can change ... then I know that I can do it too,” Champion said.

In prison, Champion said he found God and purpose. He also found fellowship with other inmates, like Alfonso Bell, a former gang member who also pleaded guilty to murder.

Both are eager to denounce their gangs and crimes, and now want others to do the same.

“That process had to start with exposing the false realities of the very lifestyle itself. So, that was the model that we began to create a curriculum around,” Champion said.

They created a mentorship program in 2018.

“What began as only a few men on the prison big yard gathered around the desire to change, had just grown into a group of 30 men,” Champion told KIRO 7.

They called themselves “The Filthy Rags Outreach,” pulling it from a Bible verse.

The logo is a nod to how gangs identify their affiliation through bandana colors.

Even from prison, Champion knows about rising gang violence as he sees younger and younger inmates come through the prison system, highlighting a glaring gap in prevention and intervention.

“They just had a website and meetings on the inside when I stepped in,” said Jessica, who helps out with the program.

Using a church as a meeting space, Jessica now helps with Filthy Rags’ reentry program to make sure men don’t relapse into gangs when their prison sentence ends.

“We can’t do the work for them. They’ve got to do the work themselves, but you know, being able to help on the outside, once they get out and make their transition smooth, being able to connect them with resources,” Jessica said.

The organization established a network of former gang members who now serve as mentors, targeting at-risk youth through community outreach events.

“I think police would be surprised to see, you know, a former gang member being the one to help her … but who else could it be? Who else would it be, they don’t trust the police. But they would trust somebody that has walked the life that they’ve lived,” Jessica said.

Jessica, who has never been in a gang but was inspired by the change in Champion, reached out in 2020.

However, there are skeptics.

At his sentencing, Champion’s attorney predicted his current role.

“He will likely be a spiritual leader to many in prison as he has been,” his attorney said during his sentencing.

It was not well received.

However, Champion told KIRO 7 that he is determined not to let other men make the same mistake he did.

“I would want them to know that I apologize. I’m sorry for what I’ve done and I’m doing everything that I can to try to change my life for the better,” Champion said.

Champion still has more than 10 years left to serve in prison.

Meanwhile, Filthy Rags Outreach said its focus is currently in Tacoma. But it wants to continue to expand to other cities in Western Washington and it is always looking for donations or mentors to help build its outreach efforts.