“When I was six years old, my mother sat me down and said, ‘We are moving and dad is not coming with us.’ Before I could process the idea of my dad not living with us, my mother said I was now going to be the man of the house. Within a week or two, my mom, my brother and I moved to a 12-storey apartment building called Friendship House. There I was, six years old and the man of the house. My job every morning was to drop my little brother off at the babysitter, catch the bus to school and return home to an empty apartment. My mother taught me how to lock and unlock the door and she instructed us to be very quiet. No one could know we were home alone or she could get in trouble and go to jail.
Growing up in the hood, we didn’t have a lot of role models, so I wanted to be a drug dealer. The drug dealers had the nice cars, the girls and the money. Before I knew it, I was on the streets selling drugs and getting in fights all the time. I was in and out of jail for 10 years and realized there was one common denominator – drugs. My first daughter was born while I was in prison. We spent three-and-a-half years getting to know each other across a visiting room table. The last time I was incarcerated I read a book called ‘The Purpose Driven Life’. It was then that I found my purpose in life. While locked up, I started writing a five-year plan. In my plan, I wanted to be a part of society and a positive member of my community. I decided I wanted to be an addiction counselor. One of my life goals was to get a master’s degree. Another life goal was that I wanted to be a better dad. I was released from prison on June 10, 2010. My five-year plan was my road map for the next chapter of my life. I had just been released from prison and I wasn’t sure if I had a chance, but I knew I was going to try anyway.
When I got home I had one shirt, one tie, and my old pair of black shoes that I shined up with some Vaseline to make them shine like new. I applied for my first job as a Peer Recovery Specialist with an agency in town. I showed up clean, with my shirt ironed and my shiny pair of shoes. During the interview, they asked me if I had any experience in corrections and I said that I had 10 years. Then I went on explaining that my experience came from being incarcerated. The interviewer told me she would be in touch. I didn’t think they were going to call me back, but I received a phone call a week later and they asked me to come see them again. They wanted to tell me that they were interested in hiring someone with lived experience to support and encourage people. I got the job and years later went on to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree and accomplished many other life goals. I am now the Director of the Office of Recovery Community Affairs for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, State of Connecticut. One day while working with a client, I saw a prosecutor I knew from years ago when we were in court. He was surprised to see me working on the legal side of the fence and said, ‘You give me hope.’ I thought, ‘You gave me time, and I give you hope?’ My life has changed a lot in eight years.
The biggest change is that I have been given another chance at being a dad. Being a dad is the best job in the world. Now I am there for my kids. I moved my kids from the hood to a nice neighbourhood. I have a nice house with a swimming pool, where my kids can grow up not worrying about violence. I also have the opportunity to share and give others hope. If you get even a small piece of hope from my story, that’s better than any high I have ever had. I even coach 12-year-old youth basketball. Even though there was a season where we didn’t win a game, the important thing was the relationship I built with those kids that didn’t have dads. For a long time, I wanted to a part of a community and a better citizen. Today, I can proudly say, I am that.”