I am 25 years old, proud to still be alive and finally on a positive road in life. When I was 13, I lost my mother. The streets took me in and I was gang-banging, selling drugs and committing crimes. My oldest cousin took care of me. He made sure I ate on a daily basis and had some money in my pocket. Eventually he started showing me how to be an independent man by selling drugs. I never saw a childhood because I was forced to grow up early. He taught me the codes of the streets. I was so committed to making money I also started robbing other drug dealers, bodegas and sticking up local Newark residents. My grandmother put a roof over our heads but I had to learn how to feed my two younger siblings and myself. By fifteen I became addicted to alcohol. Maybe it was to numb myself from the pain of losing my mother. All of the crimes I committed were under the influence of alcohol. I was in jail over and over from the age of 15 – 23. Even though I missed a lot of school, I did well on exams and with the support of one dean, I graduated High School. I received a track scholarship to Virginia Tech but was then forced to forfeit the scholarship due to my school attendance record. I always imagined how life could have been different and maybe I could have been a world class Olympic star.
When I was 18, I was sentenced to 2 years in jail. Prison was just like being in the streets except it was even more violent. I did not have the chance to see my siblings or my grandmother at night. I had to constantly look over my shoulder and wonder who might come get me today. These experiences only pushed me to become more aggressive and violent. I came home and got right back into trouble. Since I had no job, I went back into the drug game, selling crack, coke and weed. When I was 20, I had a son and moved to New York from Newark, New Jersey. It was no better because I was still getting into trouble. Instead of supporting my siblings, I now had to make money to support my son. During this time I was getting caught on mostly petty crimes, never serving more than several weeks.
In 2012, I got locked up for Possession of a Firearm. I served 6 months in Riker’s Island and I am currently on 5 years of probation. Those 6 months were harder than the two years I did for many reasons. I really missed my son and hated that I was lying to him about my whereabouts. I told him I was away at college and that’s why I couldn’t see him. This really weighed heavily on me. Plus Riker’s Island was extremely challenging because I was CRIP and most of the other inmates were from the Blood gang. I was fighting everyday. This time when I came out I knew I needed to make major changes in my life.
On January 10th 2013, my probation officer referred me to New York Center of Interpersonal Development’s ARCHES program. The program has had a major impact on my life. The program has taught me how to deal with my anger and also helped me to build a better relationship with my son. The ARCHES mentors have a hands-on approach and have helped me with several problems and issues that I have come across. My mentors taught me how to deal with my anger and to think logically about how I deal with conflicts. ARCHES helped pay for outings with my son and I got to take him to basketball games, circus events and other fun activities for youth. They also taught me how to communicate my love for him, which brought us closer.
In May 2013, the ARCHES Program Coordinator approached me and asked me if I was interested in attending a national youth leadership-training program at Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee. I agreed and I’m glad that I did because it may have changed my life forever. I attended the “Young Advocate Leadership Training” (YALT) June 2, 2013 – June 9, 2013. The Children’s Defense Fund hosted YALT. The training was meant to prepare people, 17-30 years old, to do community organizing around issues they care about. They walked us through the history of slavery and showed us what life was like for African Americans. I left feeling like I need to help my community. I need to help other young people lead positive lives. When I returned to New York I was on the panel for the ARCHES Employment Summit and I co-facilitated a presentation on anger management with my Program Coordinator at the Staten Island Cease Fire Youth Summit.
I would not have had the experience at YALT or been involved in these positive life experiences, if it were not for ARCHES. I truly believe that I have changed for the better and feel like I can speak about the problems that I used to hold in. The ARCHES mentors aren’t like other counselors, they are like my older brothers. They have led me down a positive road and I can finally see a bright future for me and my son.
Most recently I joined the 4As Leadership Council and it has really helped me develop my public speaking skills, facilitation skills and mentoring skills. It provided me strong peer support networks that are all working to become leaders within our communities. It has given me the building blocks to fulfill my dreams of becoming a mentor. The skills that I have developed also help me in everyday life situations, as I am a better listener and counselor for others going through tough circumstances.