This man spent 14 years in prison with convicted terrorists. Now he’s fighting extremism

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“Don’t you believe in redemption? Are you saying that there’s no good a person can do after having made mistakes?”

Ismail Royer served almost 14 years in a US prison on terrorism-related charges for helping friends get to an extremist training camp in Kashmir. He spent a substantial portion of that time in solitary confinement at a maximum-security prison alongside convicted terrorists like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski; and Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber.”

Royer now wants to use his experience to fight the extremism he once embraced.

His goal is to fight fanatical ideologies, such as those held by extremist groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda. While in prison, he devoured books and exchanged letters with other prisoners. He even engaged in debates with Reid, an experience he says gave him a close-up look at the worldview of an al-Qaeda jihadist.

Since his release in December last year, Royer hasn’t laid low. Though smartphones and social media were in their nascency when he went to prison in 2003, he has quickly learned how to use them, frequently updating his website and Twitter with personal musings. He’s also gone from working as a contract construction worker mixing cement to a full-time job at The Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, a Washington non-profit that advocates for religious tolerance.

Royer’s imprisonment had a great impact on his personal life. His children grew to young adults without him, and he lives with his family under a cloud of stigma.

Having served his time, he believes he deserves another chance. His goal, he says, is to make up for his mistakes by stopping others from making the same ones. “I hope to make it up to my country,” he says. 

Hear Royer in his own words in the video above.