When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut or an Air Force pilot. Unfortunately, I had some dysfunctional home circumstances that played a strong role in making sure that never happened. I was smart with a strong, adventurous spirit but didn’t have the proper outlet to fulfill it. As a result of my advanced academic skills and a lack of stimulation, combined with social dysfunction that I inherited from my alcoholic father, school was boring. I eventually dropped out.
The very first day after dropping out I knew I had made a terrible decision. I had too much unsupervised time on my hands and wound up meeting others in the same situation. This eventually resulted in my repeatedly committing crimes against property over a relatively short period of time.
I almost had myself turned around at one point by going through a juvenile residential program. We had positive activities—scuba diving, sports, normal things—and some great role models on staff who gave me great self confidence. But when I got out I went right back to the same home environment, same people, and the same desire to do something adventurous. Had I had one good mentor, things could have turned out dramatically different.
I had just turned 17 when I found myself at the end of my rope. It was during a strong ‘tough on crime’ regime and I was sentenced to 14 years for crimes against property.
As a prisoner, I worked on a plumbing detail because we were building new prisons. A couple of master plumbers who had been in the union mentored me and I learned the trade. I started to read plumbing magazines and a handful of books on plumbing. I had a fanatical desire to teach myself and not become a statistic. Along the way I had long-distance support from my family which kept me from being swept away in the overwhelming negative current that goes along with being incarcerated.
I was released after serving ten years. I found a job making $8 an hour which wasn’t enough. I tried working ridiculous hours and tried to fight the frustration of ten years of negativity. I ended up with a bad attitude and did some things that could have gotten me back in trouble. I justified my behavior by thinking I deserved to live a better life and that I would make it happen by any means necessary.
I almost landed back in prison and that was a turning point. I made the commitment to harness my energy and convert it into positive actions toward being a success and not a statistic of recidivism. I transformed my thoughts and actions into a fanatical desire to succeed. I got my civil rights restored and used the plumbing skills I’d learned. I saved up some money, took some classes, studied like crazy and got my contractor’s license. That was a big breakthrough as they would never have allowed me to get my license if my rights hadn’t been restored; at that point, only a handful of former offenders had done that.
I’ve worked hard and now own my own business and, with the help of a very accomplished businessperson, have begun to mentor others.
The incarceration rate multiples exponentially year after year. It’s a financial liability and divisive to our culture; a strong nation shouldn’t be so divisive. People are our country’s greatest assets. Why do we continue to turn them into liabilities? If we took all the money we put toward keeping someone in prison and put it toward programs like Project 180, we’d turn these liabilities around into assets and make our nation stronger.