“After I learned to read and write poetry with Free Minds, I started to feel confident and I wrote my first poem titled ‘Mommy.’ Writing that poem was very therapeutic because I felt like I was actually talking directly to my mom.”

Find out how you can help here.

Gary photoWhen Gary was born, his mother was addicted to drugs, so he was raised by his grandparents who loved and nurtured him. Gary and his grandparents resided on Duncan Street Northeast, a quaint area that boasted clean streets and homeowners who looked out for their neighbors. Gary remembers his time on Duncan Street fondly. “I had a best friend named Tim. He was a white guy, but he lived around the corner from me. He was a cool white guy who had an apple tree in his backyard that we climbed to the top of every day. When I was about six years old, we started to build a clubhouse with his father’s help. Every day after school I would go to his house and play with all the cool toys he had.”

When Gary turned seven, he and his grandparents briefly relocated to South Carolina before returning to DC—this time, however, to a tough neighborhood in Southeast Washington where negative influences abounded. It was in this area that Gary discovered that he had a love and passion for sports and that he could use sports to escape his daunting surroundings. “I knew that I could go play sports and not have to worry about the things that were going on around me for that time.” Although Gary excelled at sports, he struggled with reading and writing. “The coaches and the teachers were friends, so because I was so good at sports, whenever I failed a test or performed poorly, the coaches would talk to the teachers and the teachers in turn would just sweep it under the rug and pass me to the next grade.”

When Gary turned thirteen, the family moved yet again, this time to an area so notorious for violence that it was nicknamed “Little Vietnam.” It was in this neighborhood that Gary began to hang out with the wrong crowd, sell drugs, and ultimately received his first adult charge. This was a very dark time in Gary’s life and still causes him many regrets today. “I was locked up at the DC jail with adults and I lost scholarships to prominent colleges to play football.” Gary shares that the life he was living at the time was leading nowhere fast. “I believe that I got caught up in this negative lifestyle of selling drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd because of greed, also me wanting the best of both worlds and not wanting to struggle anymore…The consequences never deterred me, the consequences never bothered me, at the time I knew what they were, and I just didn’t care.”

Once the reality of being in jail fully hit Gary, it seemed to be too late; but then he met Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop and Gary became engaged in learning.  “Reading books helped me to free my mind and not to focus too much on the horrors of being in prison. Writing poems was a way to express myself. The type of poet I am, you have to read my entire poem to get the meaning of it and this made me feel like my voice was being heard. After I learned to read and write poetry with Free Minds, I started to feel confident and I wrote my first poem titled Mommy. Writing that poem was very therapeutic because I felt like I was actually talking directly to my mom.”

Gary served seven and a half years in prison, with two of them in solitary confinement. He credits reading, writing, and receiving comments on his poetry from Write Night volunteers with helping him survive and stay mentally intact during that time. “Getting Write Night comments made me feel like although I was locked up I was still relevant, like people cared to hear what I had to say. It also motivated me to write more because I felt like I was helping people to understand young men like myself who end up in trouble because of their environments.”

When asked what motivated him to change his life Gary responded, “Deciding to change my life was a gradual process. It was a combination of my jail experience, realizing that there was more to life, and my passion for sports…I knew that I wanted to make it and that I had the talent to do so.”

Today, Gary is employed full time as an Assistant Supervisor for Wagtime, a job that he has held for the past two years. “Getting this job was a huge relief for me, one of the most challenging aspects of having a felony on your record is obtaining employment so I was overjoyed when I was hired.” Once Gary had securely obtained employment, he set his sights on bigger things and he is currently pursuing an online degree, majoring in Child Psychology and Sports Fitness. Gary’s story was featured in the Washington Post in 2013.

These days, Gary also plays football with the semi-pro league ECFA, which helps him maintain a connection with the one outlet that allowed him to escape his negative environment as a child. However, it’s his role as Senior Poet Ambassador for Free Minds that gives Gary a keen sense of purpose while mentoring and encouraging countless youths at middle schools, high schools, and juvenile detention centers. “I want to be a mentor…This is so important to me because that is what Free Minds did for me, they helped me to read by pushing me to do better and helped me to stay connected to positive friends and a positive environment.”

When asked about his plans for the future, Gary responded contemplatively. “I want to finish school and earn my degree and continue to give back to my community.”

 

By Keela Hailes

 

Gary is one of the featured poets in the Free Minds literary journal, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison. You can read his profile on page 15 as well as his new poems “A Mother’s Love” and “Nightmare.” Here is Gary’s first poem, written in the Book Club at the DC Jail:

Mommy
By Gary

The most beautiful flower on God’s green earth
Yet at the same time the most wretched weed
Loveable yet neglecting all at the same time
Trying to do everything right
Yet only doing more harm than good
As a child I never really understood
The fact that you were only human
And being human
You were entitled to make mistakes
Some days the hate outweighed the love
But there was always an emotion to thrive on
Strong, for being able
To raise a boy to a man
All on your own
Yet weak for falling victim to temptation
Children never understand such things right away
And more often than not
When we do acquire the wisdom to figure it all out
It’s too late to make peace
I understand now
It was your unconditional love for me
That sometimes made you hate yourself for your choices
I understand
I love you

 

Please join us in our campaign to provide 10,000 literary journals to youth in need across the country. Find out how you can help here.

#10000JournalsForHope

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.