I met Steven on a beautifully clear day in downtown Grand Rapids. As I waited in Rosa Parks Circle in the middle of the commotion of the annual ArtPrize festival, I kept my eyes open for a smiling face and a dog. Steven had sent me a selfie earliler of himself and his dog ‘Stewie’ so I knew what to look for. He walked by and caught my eye and came over asking if I was Sky. Unleashed, faithfully at his heel was Stewie panting and smiling. After short introductions we started to talk about his story and experience in the incarceration system.
EDIT: Since writing this blog post I have gotten the chance to meet up with Steven again. During this second meeting I took the pictures that are included in this blog. Sadly, Steven also told me that the vet had found a mass in Stewie's abdomen that is likely cancer. He is heartbroken but is trying to make Stewie as comfortable as possible until the end.
Steven was the oldest of 5 other children living in a tumultuous home. His mom was continuously in abusive relationships and ended up eventually marrying an individual that was not healthy for her or the household. As a preteen he wanted to escape the home and go get to know his real father. His mom was only 17 when he was born and the relationship between her and his father did not work out; as a result he never got to know him. So at 12 years old he ran away from home;
“I didn’t go very far, I didn’t know anything just knew I didn’t want to be there.”
He began consistently taking off from home leaving him to fend for himself to survive. He was arrested multiple times for minor breaking and entering charges, then for stealing cars which eventually led to breaking into houses. This string of decisions landed him in prison at 25 years old in 1990. He was sent to an SAI (Special Alternative Incarceration) Boot Camp program. He was given 90 days inside with 5 years probation and 90 more days house arrest. During the house arrest period he was arrested again for crimes.
“It was something that was just ingrained in me in a lot of ways because of how I was when I was younger."
To escape the charge he took off to California but was caught and taken back to Michigan and sentenced to 5-15 years.
After being in and out of corrections centers and prisons all over state, Steven finally got out of the incarceration system.
Steven got a job as a MIG welder in Grand Rapids. Luckily the employer found his record to be of no issue and gave him a chance. He maintained the job for 5 years before he was laid off. After this he experienced 3 to 4 years of unemployment. He honorably refused to hide or lie about his record but as a result he rarely got any callbacks. He was able to get rehired at the same welding place but after 5 more years was laid off again. 6 months later he started suffering terrible headaches.
He checked into the hospital and was found to have a blood pressure of 3x a normal level and his kidney’s were failing. Specialists told him his kidney’s were barely functioning and his life was in danger. For 3 months he found himself alone in his dark room, crying, scared to die. The medication they gave him made his feet swell so badly he was unable to walk his dog, one of his favorite things to do. Thankfully he went to see a counselor to discuss the struggle he was having with the diagnosis.
“I realized I had really started to just not care about anything going on around me; it made me nervous”
Steven asked that I place my hand on his wrist. His whole wrist was vibrating.
He had a surgery to put in a fistula which connects an artery with another vein to prepare for dialysis. If his kidney’s continue to fail he will have to start dialysis. He has looked into a kidney transplant but it is not currently doable because there are not consistent people in his life that would be able to take care of him during recovery. Because of his blood pressure and kidney issues he has been trying to get approved for disability as he is unable to work.
Thankfully, today Steven is very close to his father. In fact after we talked he and his dad went off to go play Madden together (Steven says his dad hasn’t won a football game against him in a year and a half; he does not hesitate to remind his dad of this). Over the last two years of getting laid off, having copious health issues, and dealing with family and marriage problems, it has been hard to stay positive; still he told me.
“you know what I tell people is I have good days, and not so good days. I don’t have bad days.”
So nearly every day he will be found walking Stewie downtown and enjoying life. I was so fortunate to have my day blessed by Steven’s laugh and smile. As we parted ways he showed me the tricks he had taught Stewie.
I look forward to continuing conversations with Steven; anyone would be lucky to have the opportunity to meet him.
Everyone experiences life in full and complex ways. We all share a common human experience. If someone is genuinely trying to turn their life in a positive direction, regardless of their past, nothing should stand in their way of doing so. Everyone deserves love. Everyone deserves dignity. Everyone deserves forgiveness. Steven’s story is one of so many stories in the United States; we are dedicated to sharing them. #ForgiveEveryone