“To tell you the truth, I expected to get locked up.  My friends and I knew that one of two things was going to happen to us.  We were going to prison or we were going to be killed.  We accepted that.  It was part of the life we were living and it’s all we saw in our community.  And here’s what’s crazy: we were content with it.  Well, I’m not content with it now!” says Robert, 24.

By his own admission, Robert was deep into the “street life” as a young teen.  He already had a juvenile record and stopped going to school so that he could hang out on the corner.

“To tell you the truth, I expected to get locked up.  My friends and I knew that one of two things was going to happen to us.  We were going to prison or we were going to be killed.  We accepted that.  It was part of the life we were living and it’s all we saw in our community.  And here’s what’s crazy: we were content with it.  Well, I’m not content with it now!” says Robert, 24.

When he first arrived at the DC Jail at the age of 16, Robert was scared and full of negativity.  “The first time I came to Book Club, it was only because I wanted to get off the juvenile block.  I didn’t  have any interest in books!” he says. “And I definitely didn’t want to write poetry.  Tara and Kelli were just so persistant.  They used to ask me every single week to write a poem.  I’m not going to say they were crazy, but they just didn’t give up.”

When Robert finally agreed and wrote a poem, he decided to fill it with profanity out of spite.

“When I read it out loud though, I realized that despite the bad language, it actually had good rhymes.  It sounded really nice!”  That inspired Robert to try again.  This time, he took it seriously and wrote a poem called I’m Blessed. “I mean, it was like a spark was ignited in me.  I realized I could do this.  I could express myself.  I could show the good in me!”

As he began to write, Robert also began to pick up the books that Free Minds brought to him.  The book that he credits with turning him into a reader was Standing At The Scratch Line by Guy Johnson.

“I liked it because the main character, King Tremain, lived by strong principles.  His actions weren’t always good, but his intentions were.  Everything he did came from someplace that was loving.  And that’s how I wanted to be.”

Robert decided that he would not leave prison the same person that he was when he came in.  He was determined to improve himself and grow both spiritually and intellectually.

“I have changed tremendously,” he says of the more than 8 years that he spent behind bars.  “I think differently.  I’m analytical and I think before I do anything.  I am much more optimistic about my life now.”  Robert says that Free Minds spurred his desire to change.  “They were the same every time they came.  No matter what nonsense we threw their way, they just stayed positive and were determined to help us.  They were genuine and I learned from that.  That’s how I wanted to be.”

Immediately after he arrived home in July, Robert put his words into action by volunteering to become a Poet Ambassador for Free Minds’ On The Same Page violence prevention initiative.  He regularly speaks out in the community, sharing the story and lessons of his life to rapt audiences across the city.

Robert also got a fulltime job working for the DC Department of General Services on a maintenance crew.  He loves his job and strives to learn something new every day.  He plans to attend college to pursue a degree in Human Services so that he can become a youth counselor.

“I’ve been in the same predicament as so many troubled youth.  It’s important for me to give back and mentor them, because it’s what I needed when I was their age.  I’ve seen the weight that the label of ‘felon’ gives a person.  I remember how Free Minds stuck with me throughout my bid.  I remember how it felt when you were expecting mail from your family, or your man, or your girlfriend and you didn’t get anything.  But then they called your name at mail call and it was a letter from Free Minds.  That shows you have somebody that cares about you.  They helped me so much.  Now that I’m home, I’m here for Free Minds.  I ain’t going nowhere!  Helping others?  For me, it’s a necessity!”

 

I’m Blessed
By Robert

I have a family
And people who love and care about me
I don’t need the streets
The streets need me
Without people like me
People wouldn’t call it the streets
I’m blessed
I’m young, black and still living
I’m in DC Jail, but I’m not trippin’
While I’m here, I stand tall
Can’t nobody bring me 2 my downfall
I’m locked up and hopes still high
And I’m still fly like a piece of French apple pie
I’m blessed
I read in between the lines
Even though I’m doing time
I must carry on
And I remain standing strong
Even though I stand alone
Why try and put me 2 the test
I’m the best
But u gon’ fail, u know why?
Cuz I’m blessed
I do things cuz of me, not the next man
I’m a good influence
I know I can I know I can
I’m so blessed I begin and never end
I’m something like a kid at the playpen
I’m supported in everything I do
How ‘bout you?  Can you say that’s true?
I might shed a tear depending on how I feel
But I don’t trip cuz it’s made of steel
I’m blessed
That’s all that matters
How ‘bout u?
Ma, I’ll be home soon
So Ma, don’t get stressed or depressed
You know why?
Cuz I’m blessed

1 Comment

  1. joan on June 11, 2015 at 7:13 PM

    Good for your Robert!! I wish you all of the best in every challenge you tackle!

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