“Being a better man makes me a better father…I don’t want to let him down. I want to show him what I think a father is—someone who you can trust, someone who is there for you. I’m always going to be there.”
Will grew up in a poor neighborhood that was heavily impacted by gang violence. When he was six or seven years old, Will’s mother left. “She left for good. My dad was drinking heavily and was just the guy to bring over the rent money. So I grew up in those circumstances and then in elementary school I started doing negative things.” Will started getting into fights and by middle school, he was involved in a gang. “I continued to do a lot of negative stuff because I felt that the more negative or violent things I did, I would be accepted. I didn’t feel the love or care at home, but I did feel the love and care in the gangs and in the street.”
When he was 16 years old, Will was charged and incarcerated as an adult. He joined Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop at the DC Jail and immediately distinguished himself in the Book Club. He had been disengaged from school, but was drawn to the Book Club. “There was something that caught my attention. I guess the love and care of a mother or of a friend that I’d never had before. And the books that I read really changed my outlook on life.”
Will’s favorite book is My Bloody Life by Reymundo Sanchez, a memoir about a young man’s journey to change his life and leave the gang world. Sanchez struggled, but his determination and ambition to change struck a chord with Will.
“I started thinking about different things, and about my future. As a teen, I didn’t really care about my future, but the Book Club taught me that I could change.”
Will has been in and out of prison several times, a fact that he is open and upfront about. His motivation to change his life came from witnessing this revolving door, the cycle of incarceration and recidivism. “I had family members doing life sentences. I had family members going through the revolving door and it took me time to see that, to see the harsh effects of prison life, the street life, the negative impact of giving up.” Now, Will is 28, and he has been home for nearly three years. He has been practicing various coping methods, including writing and meditating, to help him stay on the positive path. And he is on a positive path—Will is the Co-founder and CEO of a cleaning company called Clean Decisions that is dedicated to helping others escape the revolving door. Clean Decisions employs all returning citizens—people who have been incarcerated—and provides not only gainful employment, but also a supportive environment to help people deal with the stresses of reentry and recovery.
Will credits Free Minds with showing him that he could accomplish his goals, and with introducing him to the power of community support. “I’ve seen that one on one with Free Minds. They were always there supporting me. I’ve seen that at Write Nights, poetry readings, giving back, talking to the community. What Clean Decisions is about is basically taking all that I’ve learned and trying to help somebody like me.”
The Clean Decisions motto is Renew, Redeem, Reclaim. As Will explains it, Renew means “renewing our vows, our goals to ourselves. We renew that because at some point in time we lost sight of that. We lost sight of our futures, our lives, our families. We lost sight of everything and just gave up.
“Redeem means living every day to become a good man. A good man becomes a good father and a productive member of society.
“By renewing and redeeming, you are reclaiming your life and reclaiming everything that you’ve wanted.”
Clean Decisions also plays an important role in the Free Minds Job Readiness and Life Skills Apprenticeship, a month-long paid Apprenticeship for Free Minds members recently released from prison. Apprentices work shifts at Clean Decisions and another contracting company, Perspectives (also owned and run by returning citizens), as part of the Free Minds Apprenticeship. They get real hands-on work experience, as well as personal evaluations to help them better prepare themselves for the workforce. Another Free Minds member is currently a supervisor at Clean Decisions. So far, the company has a 0% recidivism rate—none of their employees have re-offended.
Will’s entire perspective on life has changed since he first joined Free Minds. When he was younger, his definition of success was having money to buy anything he wanted. “Now I’ve seen a lot of ways money changes people.” Will is no longer interested in making money for the sake of making money. He wants to support his family but beyond that, he says, “I see money as if I had money I would donate it. I would give it away.”
Success, for him, is about learning from one’s mistakes. He defines success as “falling down and being able to get back up…and that goes for people who have been incarcerated or people who haven’t been incarcerated. For anybody that has fallen down, or anybody that has changed their way of thinking.”
In 2014, he and his girlfriend had a baby, a son named Dylan. For Will, his love for his son adds to his commitment to being a better man. “Being a better man makes me a better father…I don’t want to let him down. I want to show him what I think a father is—someone who you can trust, someone who is there for you. I’m always going to be there.”
What does Will want people to know about him? He’s changed, and he’s still changing. “It takes time. I tell a lot of people I’m not recovered, I’m in recovery.” He doesn’t want to forget the mistakes he’s made in the past or the negative impact he’s had on the community; instead, he’s doing everything he can to forge a brighter future for himself, for his family, and for others who have been in a similar situation.
By Julia Mascioli
Will is one of the featured poets in our literary journal, The Untold Story of the Real Me: Young Voices from Prison. The following is an excerpt from his poem “Hope = Dylan” on page 30.
Hope = Dylan
You only consider me a man with the clear baby bottle
Trying to keep your head up until you get stronger
But to me, I see the faith of those that linger around church
To me, I see those who prostrate for another chance at forgiveness
When I see you laugh, all the pain, all the challenges disappear
All I see is innocence
I feel like the world stops
And I have been given a chance to make someone smile instead of hate
A chance to create peace
I just hope you never lose that laugh
Hope for you to be just you
Because “just you” has made my hope for a better man come true
Updated December 2017: Will was selected to be part of the inaugural cohort of John Legend’s “Unlocked Futures,” a 16-month accelerator for social entrepreneurs impacted by the criminal justice system. Read more about Unlocked Futures.