Updated: Jul 2, 2018
We met on an overcast day at our local coffee shop after a friend of mine suggested I speak to him. He worked at her church and she knew I was interested in hearing the stories of previously incarcerated men and women in my respective communities. When Lawrence entered the shop I immediately rose to meet him to which he shook my hand and immediately offered to pay for my coffee. We sat down and began to talk.
Lawrence was vibrant. We talked briefly about the company and what I was trying to do and raise awareness for with Forgive Everyone Co before diving into his story. I asked if I could audio record so I didn’t miss anything to which he agreed. I started the recording and began furiously taking notes as he described his experience before, during, and after incarceration. Taking notes didn’t last long as I became increasingly engaged in his story. I was hooked
Lawrence grew up in New York City with both parents. His parents had their differences just like any couple. Due to these differences, Lawrence’s protective instincts and his drive to take care of his own family were strengthened from an early age. At 14 years old his father killed himself and shortly after his mother was diagnosed with cancer; this diagnosis later ended in her passing in 1996 when Lawrence was 22 years old. From the age of 9, Lawrence was working odd jobs and dealing on the side up until landing a job that was able to feed his family. After losing his job, he began to hustle more to make up the difference. He wound up going out of state to continue business with a few friends and wound up getting caught and incarcerated. After a lengthy legal process, he wound up serving 13 months.
“This is what we were dealing with. We were helping take care of the family, helping [our mom] out. I decided to drop out of high school completely; I told her listen, I promise I’ll go back, but right now, we need the money… all that really made me into who I am today. I care. And when I see somebody in trouble I go and help, even if it’s going to hurt me in the process.”
After getting out, Lawrence moved from New York City to Washington State; a lengthy process that included getting his GED, doing hundreds of hours of community service, and doing 5 more years of supervised release before being approved to move. In Washington he discovered that there were a lot less resources available for returning citizens compared to NYC.
“When I came out here I beat the pavement every day. Nice shoes, nice pants, nice shirt…. Tie. I stayed ready. So it didn’t matter if I got an interview that day or the next week or the next month, I was ready for it.”
“It was awful…first job, ‘Have you ever convicted of a crime’ was on the application.”
Even though he was released in 2003, to this day, even though there has been no problems for 15 years, in many places where he may apply for a job he is still required to reveal his record.
He finally got his first opportunity at a little church in Hilltop, Tacoma called Christian Brotherhood Academy. He did everything he needed to do to make ends meet. He worked constantly at the job and managed to scrape by with only $500 a month. He continued to search for other job opportunities now that he had post-incarceration employment experience. He got a second job at First Presbyterian in Tacoma.
“I went in the interview and I was just sitting there and I was thinking I’m just going to tell them. I’m going to break it all down. So I sat there and I told them about everything from my past but in more detail than what I just told you. Everything.”
He got the job. They appreciated his complete vulnerability and honesty. He started working and began meeting people and greeting people. He discussed how in all the places that he works; many people initially just see his tattoos and his color and automatically make assumptions about who he is as a person. Racial prejudice and bias is still very alive in the U.S.A. However, he feels like God blessed him with opportunities to prove assumptions and biases wrong. Because of his joyful presence, work ethic, and the light he let shine through him, he was able to break the prejudices and biases of many people he came into contact with. He even worked at a nursing home for a while in which many of the individuals there were initially wary of him but he says if he went back now he would be greeted with open arms, warm smiles, and many requests to have a dance with him.
Initially people only saw his color, his tattoos, and his record; through proximity they were able to see his joy, his love, his faith, and his humanity.
You can make a change in your community or work place. If you are able to hire individuals, consider hiring previously incarcerated men and women. If you are financially able, support non-profits that are helping previously incarcerated men and women through the reentry process. If you rent housing, don’t discriminate on the basis of a criminal record. Everyone is human.
Everyone has a life story that is just as vivid and just as complex as your own. Be kind to everyone. Don’t judge anyone.
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