Originally I’m from Newburgh. It was a wild little town. It still is.
I grew up in an alcoholic home. Most children, when you raise them, you try to raise them with happiness. My growing up was always filled with darkness, because I was witnessing negativity every day—the alcohol. I used to be traumatized seeing my mother get beat up by my father. I grew up thinking that negativity and darkness and pain and suffering were all going to be a part of my life. It was instilled in me at that age; the feelings you’re feeling now, you’ll feel for the rest of your life. And so I started living that feeling. I identified with pain more than I identified with pleasure. It made me to want to isolate myself from the world.
So eventually, I ended up exploring the drugs that led me to prison. At the age of 15, I went to prison and I did 26-27 years in different prison bids, going back and forth, in and out of prison, until the age of 47. Prison became a cycle that I didn’t know how to stop. After adapting to a childhood life of pain and misery, I adapted to an adult life of pain and misery. That was my comfort zone.
I was one of those people who was comfortable in prison; I was able to handle it. I didn’t fear prison, I didn’t care about going to prison. I was trying to use drugs to replace pain and suffering. And I never replaced it; it always just sent me to a different level of pain and suffering. And, again, you adapt to things after a while. I did not enjoy what I was feeling, but I became accustomed to it. I became accustomed to not believing in myself, to those cell doors slamming behind me, to police chasing me, to looking in a mirror and not seeing that light behind my eyes.
I ran into a point in my life—they call it a bottom—I ran into a spiritual bottom about eleven months ago. I was spiritually bankrupt; my self-esteem was shot. I didn’t want to feel how I was feeling spiritually. I didn’t like the person in the mirror any more. I didn’t like the person of the past or the present. When I prayed, tears came out. I didn’t want to die an addict. I didn’t want to die with no one to say, “Hey, he was a good guy.”
That’s what brought me into everything I’m doing now. At my transitional housing program, they told me about Project Comeback. I was told they’d train me and place me, and because of my criminal history, I figured this would be an easy way to find a job.
When I first came here, I came here just for one thing: give me employment. I didn’t come here for any of that other stuff, I didn’t come here to interact with people. But I came here willing to change, and so something happened on the way—I began to find myself. This program helped me to find myself—or at least point me in the direction to look for myself.
My first month or so, picking up garbage cans, lifting a garbage can, I couldn’t stand it. I still don’t like it. But that’s how this program helps. I learned humility. Because even though I don’t like doing this, I get a check. And I’m doing something besides sitting up there in the Esperanza house.
You come here and learn more than you think you’re going to learn. You don’t have to like something, but you deal with it until things get better. I learned to communicate with people. I learned humbleness, responsibility, to respect others. I learned to believe in myself a little bit again.
Drawing is the love of my life, that’s where I’m at peace, when I take a piece of paper and create something. I also write poems. I really want to pursue that so I can find true happiness. When I used to go back and forth to jail, drawing was my piece of mind, it was my escape; it was my way of thinking that I wasn’t in prison.
I like greeting cards because they bring together both drawing and poetry. I have a greeting card company called Passionate Greetings. My name is copyrighted and my work is patented. I sent thirty-two greeting cards to Albany and Washington DC, and they authenticated everything, and gave me my license, sent me my title. And now I’m trying to raise $200 to get the copies.
This is the love of my life, if I can somehow get back into it.