Varvie was just shy of his 18th birthday when he was arrested, charged and convicted as an adult. He spent the next 11 ½ years in federal prisons across the country. Upon his release, Varvie, now 29, was determined to prove to himself and his loved ones that he had changed and was now a hard-working and responsible man. “I grew up a lot in prison,” he says. “I changed and I put away childish things.”
Varvie’s number one goal was to work. “I knew if I wanted money or a car, then I needed to work for it. Money wasn’t going to fall from trees and nobody was going to give it to me,” he says. He got a job immediately, and then just as quickly he was let go because of his criminal record. Varvie refused to give up. It was his job counselor at the halfway house who first told him about the Free Minds Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship. Then his good friend Doug told him how he had just completed the Free Minds Apprenticeship and that Varvie should definitely check it out. “Free Minds, Free Minds. I keep hearing about Free Minds!” he remembers thinking. The name rang a bell, but he couldn’t put his finger on just why it sounded so familiar.
“As soon as I got to the office, I figured it out! Back in 2004, when I first got to the DC Jail, I went to exactly one Free Minds Book Club session before I had turned 18 and got shipped out to federal prison!” he says. Although Free Minds did not have Varvie’s contact information, that one session had an impact. Varvie used books and writing poetry to help him throughout his sentence. His favorites were deep thought-provoking books that caused him to examine his own life. “My favorite book ever is As a Man Thinketh by James Allen,” he says now.
The apprenticeship experience was powerful for Varvie. “They gave me the training and skills I needed to pursue my goals. Now, I had already learned some of these things while I was in prison. I even got my Associate’s Degree in Business while I was incarcerated. The difference though was the people. Everybody in prison had me prepared to be rejected by society. The older guys taught me that nobody would give me a chance. But Free Minds was different. They showed me there are people out here who are really trying to help. That gave me the motivation I really needed,” Varvie says.
Varvie was especially inspired by Free Minds’ Apprenticeship Trainer, Marcus Bullock, and Job Site Supervisor, Tony Belton. “Marcus and Tony really showed me that I could do this. If they were locked up and came home to become hugely successful business owners, then I just knew there was hope for me.”
Varvie had not even completed the month-long apprenticeship before he landed an interview and then a full-time job with the DC Downtown Business Improvement District. Now Varvie spends his days helping keep Downtown streets clean, safe and friendly. “I do everything from helping tourists who are lost to power-washing graffiti off of walls to picking up and disposing of dead animals,” he laughs. “I like to learn things and I’m open minded and I just appreciate having this job now. I feel pretty great about what I’ve done since I came home. Some days are tough, but I don’t complain. I just keep pushing myself to do the best that I can.”
During his off-hours, Varvie is a dedicated and loyal Free Minds Poet Ambassador, speaking at community events promoting nonviolence and mentoring younger Free Minds members. One day he hopes to work full-time as a counselor guiding and supporting young people. “I just want to give back to the community. I want to teach these young guys that you don’t have to go to jail to prove yourself or earn your stripes.”
The Free Minds Family is so proud of Varvie!
A beautiful story. I work downtown and hope you run into you one day Varvie! Thanks for all you do on and off the job.