My dad gave me my first gun and a pack of drugs when I was 11 and told me that was the way of life. That’s when I also found out which gang I was associated with. From the moment you were born, even if you didn’t want to be, you were associated with a gang depending on which side of Chicago you grew up on.
After that, the only thing I knew how to do was run with the gang and deal. My momma told me that if I was going to be running in the streets, I couldn’t stay with her. So, I decided to move in with my grandma. I couldn’t blame her; my momma didn’t have any time to be dealing with that since she had seven kids of her own (two were with my dad, and my dad had 22 overall). My dad was never really around either being that he was always running with a rival gang because he grew up on a different side of town.
Chicago was really different than La Crosse. Being an 11-year-old in Chicago was like being an 18-year-old in La Crosse. There was a whole different mindset, and you had to grow up fast if you were going to be out on the streets. My momma, my dad, and my grandma all taught me how to survive in the jungle of Chicago because if you weren’t going to be a lion in the streets, you were going to be eaten by one.
My grandma passed away a few years later after I was heavy into the drug trade in Chicago, making close to five thousand dollars a day. Eventually the trade caught up with me and I ended up getting shot.
I got shot in 1991, no, no ’93, in 1993 I got shot six times. There was a big-time gang war going on back in my neighborhood in Chicago. I came to La Crosse to recuperate and live with my auntie and her family. My auntie owned a grocery store in town. As time went on I started to realize how relaxed La Crosse was and how easy it would be to manipulate the situation in my favor. After healing up, I started running my drug business in La Crosse. I was only about 15, 16 maybe at the time, and I got bored and missed the fast life of Chicago. So, I ended up going back to Chicago, and then I started running drugs from Chicago to La Crosse.
The law caught up to me and I got in trouble again in 2013. Technically, I was supposed to go to prison for a long time, but the judge, she took a chance on me. Judge gave me a chance. I didn’t understand why she gave me a chance until she explained why she did what she did. “Your whole life you have been in and out of prison, and nobody has taken a chance on you.” Judge stuck her neck out for me and took a lot of criticism for doing what she did. I told myself I’m not going to violate her trust, and I am going to turn my life around because I could be sitting behind bars right now.
So, I listened to what Judge said, and I bought into the system and started the program “Thinking About Change” here in La Crosse. The program was corny, but it taught me how to understand life in a different way. After that, my son challenged me to go back to school, he would say, “you ain’t never gonna graduate.” I dropped out of school in seventh grade, and later earned my HSED in jail. But, my son was still challenging me to achieve my goals and get a higher education.
I ended up meeting a new network of people at TC, positive people. I got a job in West Salem at Features, they took a shot with me. I wasn’t making 5-6 thousand dollars anymore with my new lifestyle, but I was happy and doing the right thing with my life. But my wife left me once I started making less money. I worked at Features for four and a half years before I got really sick and couldn’t work, which lead me to the situation I am in now.
I started failing on rent and stuff like that, and soon I was looking at zero. I’m living in my car now because I hate asking for help. This weekend it was freezing – what am I supposed to do? I try and spend as much time on campus and do homework until I get tired, then try to lay down. School counselors and local service agencies help me, but I don’t like some of the shelters in town because they don’t practice sanitation and people have to qualify to receive help. Programs should not dictate who gets help, they should be equal and not be prejudice and segregate who gets help. Society as a whole should bond together and help homeless people, not by just giving them a place to stay or a program, but where they can reintroduce themselves to life. Why not make programs like Project Proven that addresses this at an institutional level. My goal is to reach out to people in similar situations as me in the community and show my support and help them in any way I can.
Judge was really the turning point for me, for sure. It was the reality that I needed in my life. Then, the newspapers ran Judge’s name through the mud in an article. So, what’s gonna happen is, when I graduate college, I’m going to take my degree to Judge Gonzales and invite the media to take a picture and show them that she took a chance on me. Write about that in your paper.
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in La Crosse, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Western Technical Community College, the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, and Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.