I was born with many gifts. I was smart. I had a mind for working with people and for business. I just started out on the wrong road selling crack cocaine at the age of 12 in Los Angeles. In spite of my side work, I still did well in school – so well that I skipped a grade and then graduated from high school at 16. After that I was in business full-time. Learning that central Ohio had become a lucrative market, I moved to where the business was.
Life was good. Business was good. Until one night when everything turned – rival dealers robbed my partner. Naturally we plotted revenge and got it. When the smoke cleared, one of the opposing dealers lay dead. I wasn’t the one who fired my gun, my friend had done that. But I was there. I was part of it. I pled guilty in court to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery, both felonies. I took a deal. The public defender couldn’t even remember my name.
In prison, everything turned a bit more. I got busy learning data entry and eventually earned an A.B. in Business Administration. I did everything I could to make myself employable when I got out. I stayed busy, but in prison you have to deal with yourself. I did a lot of self-reflection.
So now I’m back on the streets again with a fresh start. I had everything I needed to change the course of my life. Except a job. Door after door after door. All closed. No one would hire someone with two felonies. I had needs – right now. My girlfriend, who eventually became my wife, was living on student loans and pursuing a nursing degree. So with no hope, I did what I had to do. Returned to the streets of Cincinnati to sell drugs just to make ends meet for the family.
That’s when I met Brother Mike at the HELP Program. They have a way of believing in you – getting you to believe in yourself. I fell away from the process twice. But the third time worked. That was the final turn for good. I never had experienced so much compassion; I didn’t feel worthy. They did so much for me and my family (which now includes two children). They gave me a chance when nobody else would.
Brother Murphy saw something in me and promoted me to run the program. “He was my director here for three years,” Murphy said. “He has excellent administrative skills, better than mine. His greatest gift is his passion.” And now I’ve landed at St. Vincent de Paul as the coordinator of their Re-entry Program. What I’m dealing now is life changing – in the best possible way.
Together with the Cincinnati Archdiocese and the Amos Project and St. Vincent de Paul, we are helping to educate the community about the barriers to employment faced by returning citizens. A major goal of our program is to foster community collaboration in support of positive change and recruit and train community volunteers as mentors.
SVDP Re-entry Program Priorities:
• Educate the community on barriers faced by returning citizens, including facilitating the Dismas Journey
• Mobilize St. Vincent de Paul conferences and Vincentians to volunteer and get involved in the program. SVDP has more than 900 Vincentian volunteers making home visits in neighborhoods throughout Hamilton County.
• Recruit community volunteers for hands-on, meaningful direct service to support returning citizens and their families.
• Provide returning citizens and their families with basic needs assistance in support of their efforts to re-establish self-sufficiency.
• Administer a basic needs fund to provide assistance.
• Foster community collaboration between returning citizens, service providers, community organizations, employers, local government, faith-based groups and other stakeholders in support of positive change.
• Collaborate with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, AMOS, the HELP Program, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, Nehemiah Manufacturing, the Hamilton County Office of Re-entry, and others connect SVDP volunteers and Dismas Journey participants with campaigns in support of returning citizens.