My name is Erik. I grew up in a poor neighborhood on the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1970’s. My father was an alcoholic, so my mother raised me by herself. It was rough for me back then.
“When I was 14, I got locked up for selling drugs. I was sent to Rikers Island.”
I started drinking and smoking when I was 13. It’s hard, as a child, to know what’s right and what’s wrong, which is what I was—a child. I didn’t understand that being a productive part of the community meant you worked hard and paid taxes. I wish I knew that. I had no one to teach me back then.
When I was 14, I got locked up for selling drugs. I was sent to Rikers Island. It was scary. On one hand I wondered, Am I going to make it through this? On the other hand I thought, If I make it through this, everyone on the street will respect me. I was confused, with no one to guide me. After serving eight months, I was released and given five years probation.
“I took the time to sit down and work things out. I thought, Do I want to die in here?”
I was arrested several more times over the next few years and found myself in and out of prison. It’s hard to do the right thing in prison. In society, if you break the law, you’re an outsider. In prison, if you do the right thing, you’re an outsider.
Finally, finding myself locked up on yet another drug charge, I realized something had to change. I made a conscious decision to end the cycle. I took the time to sit down and work things out. I thought, Do I want to die in here? I realized how badly I was hurting my family, my daughter, myself. At last, I understood, I was hurting society. Selling drugs hurts people.
I was released from prison in 2016, but I didn’t have the trust of my family. My daughter wanted to help me but she was scared that I was going to go to prison again. She thought, He’s been to jail, he’s been to institutions, and only death is left for him. I needed something to show me the way.
In early 2017, a counselor at a New York City homeless shelter referred me to ACE. At ACE, it was like I had finally found myself. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions, I didn’t feel like I was going to be judged. The people at ACE worked with me to build my confidence and that made me want to work harder. Some days, I worked so hard that my fingers hurt, but it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to give back to the community that I had hurt in the past, and I just worked really hard. It paid off because I eventually got hired as a full-time sanitation worker.
“I have a job, I have my own apartment, and I have my family back in my life.”
ACE has changed my life, it really has. I enjoy my job, and I like the people I work with. I wish the same for everyone who comes to ACE. If I can do it, anyone can do it. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
I wake up every day and I thank God. I have a job, I have my own apartment, and I have my family back in my life. My daughter tells me, “Dad, keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s working.” She’s really proud of me now.
It takes hard-work, dedication and courage to overcome the extreme circumstances that Erik faced. Partners like you make the entire journey to independence possible. As our city faces a crisis of homelessness, please help these men and women achieve their goals of economic self-sufficiency by making a tax-deductible contribution today.