Devin’s Story

A young man from Raleigh looks to find his place in a new city.

“I’m not going to be no specialized big vocabulary word person. I’m going to give it to them straight up. How do you get through situations?”

[Intro noise, crowd talking, fades out]

In the morning, I woke up to get the plane here. My sister dropped me there, you know. I left my phone back home. The plane is about to leave so I can’t go back. I’m trying to call my sister. I’m like, “You know what? Forget it. It’s not meant to be.” They asked me if I had any bags. I’m like, “No.” They’re like you don’t have any bags? No. They’re like all right. I get on the plane. I stay up the whole time, the whole ride. I’m just looking out at the clouds. I’m like, “Wow.”

It was more scary than exciting. It was exciting but my heart was racing because I’ve never been on a plane before. It was my first time on a plane. I don’t know anybody out there. Nobody. So, I’m just going by faith. I already called places over here to work a while, like temp services. I know I can work. If New Life will let me stay here, I just have to thug it out to catch these buses or whatever. But I’m not going back. That’s what I told myself.

So, I get off the plane and it’s cold as hell. It’s snowing too. I’m like, “Whoa. This is different.” I’m looking around. I don’t know anything about the light rail. I don’t know nothing about no trains, buses, or nothing. I didn’t have a phone. I’m trying to remember. How did I get around? This man gave me a ticket. He said the F word. Fuckin’ catch this and go all the way down to the Union Station. I’m just asking people how to get to the Denver Rescue Mission. One dude that’s working at a tattoo shop, he saw me and was like, “What’s up?” We started talking. I had to stop by one of these weed shops. I’ve got to smoke. I don’t know anything. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t got no phone. I’m lost. As soon as I started to smoke, I calmed down. That’s where I met the dude.

He was like, “The Denver Rescue Mission is over there. Please be safe. It’s a dangerous place out here. The people in Denver are good but where you’re located at, it’s really dangerous.” So, we finished talking. I walked towards the Denver Rescue Mission. This dude stopped me. He’s like, “You need any crack? I’m like, “Hell, no. I’m good.” I ain’t gonna front, I was nervous as hell. I wasn’t scared. I was just nervous because I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I had all the information. I went to the Denver Rescue Mission. I was like, “Look, my name is Devin. I called here and they told me I would be able to get into the program.” He knew I wasn’t from here because I was expressing it more, like, yeah, I knew what I was talking about, but I didn’t know where I was at. Everybody around me moved fast. I’m like, “Yo, I know I’m not staying here. I know this is not the place. This can’t be.” It was on a Sunday. It was like, “He’s not going to be her until Tuesday.

I’m like, “Where am I going to sleep?” They’re like, “There’s a bed called 48.” I’m like, “What does it look like?” He was like, “There are bunkbeds and it’s like a big gym.” I’m like, “All right, cool.” So, I go in there and get something to eat. I go to 48. I’m like, “Hell, no.” Ain’t no way. There’s no way. There are dogs. They’ve got dogs sleeping in there with the people. They’ve got bedbugs. The place is terrible but I slept there. I didn’t have no choice. I got up the next morning. I started embracing how to go hard. I was in my feelings for a couple days. It was the worst. It’s like nobody cares about stepping on your shoes or literally using your stuff. Stealing your stuff. Our stuff is getting stolen back to back. I bought a brand new coat I bought from Ross. It got stolen. My shower shoes got stolen. Food gets taken. It’s one of those things where it’s like every time somebody takes something, though, I get something back in return, even if it’s like a learning experience about it and how to keep my stuff up. You, like, jobs I can work. It’s a real learning situation. The fact that people are just comfortable and get involved and not respect other people’s space. I have respect for people in general—like, I have a good heart. That’s what got me in trouble a lot. When I was trying to help everybody out, but I got respect.

I’m at this place called New Genesis. It’s $65.00 a week. I couldn’t do Denver Rescue Mission places anymore because the people were real sick. The place is real dirty. People were loud. I’m like, “You know what? I’ve got to just start respecting myself more.” So, I went to New Genesis and that’s $65.00 a week.

They put me on some medication that was way too strong. I went to sleep in the alley. I lost my wallet. I had $60.00. I had my ID, my driver’s license. I had my social security card. I lost everything. So, that put me back all the way because now I couldn’t even get a job.

I’ve got to go back and get everything. So, that’s the only reason I couldn’t get a job I wanted. I had my birth certificate, though—I had my birth certificate and some medical records. So, I went to social security and I filled out a social security form. So, that’s coming in the mail. My mom was so helpful. She ordered my driver’s license online and had it sent here. So, that’s really it. They had to give me everything to go to get Colorado identification. So, that’s a process. That’s what had me so tight. It’s like I can’t even really work because I don’t have any identity. So, that’s that. I just got my glasses. I’ll get them next Thursday. I need them for driving. Once that rolls in, I’m good.

Everything was going all right. Now it’s a negative with this happening. It’s literally like just to see if I’m going to stick to my process and not go swerve off to go do anything else. That’s all it really is.

I just spoke with the employment center for here in Denver. They told me to go to trucking school again. I have to meet with a case manager. I like trucking because it’s very good money. But I’m really asking myself, “Is that what you really, really, really want to do? Is that a reason that you should get that license and try to be a driver like that? Because, you didn’t pass trucking school the first time. You never tried to embrace it again back home.”

Yeah, Raleigh. Single mother raising just me and my sister first. She only could do so much. She tried her best. She made a way all the time. I just chose another route for college, which was the streets. Which wasn’t safe. I learned a lot, good and bad, more negative than positive. I was good in school as far as grades but I always stayed in trouble just behaviorally, just always wanting to be attention wise seen because I wasn’t really getting it at home. It wasn’t right. I started getting into juvenile trouble. That was a lot. I started going to court, like the juvenile detention center. It just got worse.

I got incarcerated when I was 16. That’s when life spun around. Before I got incarcerated, my mom really didn’t give up on me but she only could do so much. I made all my choices. She had my little brother and sister. It was like you’re going to choose. I’m just going to put it in God’s hand and see how it works. That’s how she left it.

I wish I would have listened more, but it is what it is. I was in prison for like five and a half years. During that sentence, I was away from the world, literally. I probably had about 20 letters my whole time. It was mostly from a good friend, a lady named Felicia. She was very, very, very supportive.

During that prison sentence, I learned a lot about myself—that I didn’t actually know myself. I was actually I call it a runner. A runner is always somebody else. I always say this: I was lost, man. In those five and a half years, man, I learned a lot. What I really learned is that out of all the stuff you do in the streets, everything you do in the streets, when you get locked up in prison, all you’ve got is yourself. You’re away from the world. You need to realize that you’re there to find out what brought you to this point. How can you be better when you come home?

I lost all my so-called friends. I never got letters from them, no money, no pictures, none of that. I didn’t really embrace that until I came home actually because I was still trying to make excuses for them why they weren’t writing me. They’re busy out there. They’re doing this and doing that. I had a female [corresponding with me] that was pursuing college. She was 16 when she first started. I learned she could do it, so they could’ve done it, too. I also learned that in the streets there are a lot of lost young teenagers and young adults that don’t have a voice. They find themselves searching for godliness. They go to the wrong individuals. The wrong individuals have them feeling like it’s support but it’s not. So, they feel like they’ve got to be gangster. They’ve got to be killers. They’ve got to be drug dealers. I met some of them. They’ve got life sentences. Art wise, they could’ve painted so many perfect pictures. They could’ve been good chefs. They could be lawyers. They never come home again: 30 years, 40 years. That’s what the streets do to you.

Yeah. If we’re recording this, then it’s important that we got to say it right. It’s Felicia.

Interviewer: Felicia. Let’s get it right. That must have meant a lot that she did that.

A whole lot. I don’t even think she knows to this day how important she was for letting me know, like, “Hey, you got it. You’re smart. Don’t let this get to you. You’ve got it.” I made a bad decision about the relationship and she was like whoa. She stepped back a little bit but she still was there. And I really loved her for that.

Interviewer: When you got out, what did you find yourself up to? It must have been not too long ago, right?

Yeah, 2017. I was supposed to come home in July 2017 but I had caught a charge when I was in prison. So, I had to do 60 sixty days in the county jail. I did 60 days in the county. When I came home, my mom had a surprise party at this club. And there was all this extra stuff, man. Like I said, I do music. I don’t really care about nothing else. I said I’m going to go to trucking school. I want to be a sheriff. I want to do this. I want to do that. I want to embrace life. Doing that time, I had three of my GEDs. I didn’t finish them because I was in the hole. I did two years and six months. I did a year and six months straight and came out for a month. I got into a fight. Yeah. Those are the worst times. It was good because I had time to myself but I started really feeling like the Lord was talking to me. I’m reading the Bible. I’m reading the Quran. I’m reading all types of spiritual books. That was messing with my head too.

I’m being chained to the bed for like 60 hour period of times. I’m being transported back to the mental hospital. They shoot me with thorazine shots. I’m not going crazy but I’m telling them I don’t want to be back here. I’m going to make my way out of here. They try to give you shots to go to sleep. It was a whole lot.

She was like, “I hope you don’t think you can get a job anywhere without a high school diploma or GED. It’s hard enough without any college.” So, I’m like, “Yeah, all right.” So, I did that. I thought I was going to get one more, which was math. That’s all I had left.

Interviewer: One more class?

Yeah. It was one more test. I go to the school and they’re like, “You’ve got to start over.” I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” So, I signed up, but me and the teachers, we get into it I’m like, “Yo, you’re not gonna talk to me like this.” So I left. I saw it wasn’t going to work. I applied for jobs. They said to work on my GED. I’m like, “I’ve got to get a job. I’ve got to get my GED.” So, I go back. They gave us a test in a month and a week.

Interviewer: That’s pretty quick.

Yeah. I got it done. I started over. I got it done. It was a lady. This lady is real good to me. She’s in the category with Felicia. Her name is Shelby Douglas. This lady means everything to me. Everything. She got me signed up for trucking school. They have a grant to go to trucking school. She got that approved for me. She was there for me when I was going through stages of giving up. I don’t know, man. I don’t even think she’s human. Seriously, her support was unconditional. It didn’t matter what I was going through. I could talk to her about anything. I embraced her so much. I got my GED. I went to trucking school. It didn’t go well but I went and tried it. When that happened, it was like all my eggs were in that basket because I was hoping to go to trucking school. I got a job in South Carolina. That didn’t work. So, I was back at home with my mom. Doing Staff Zone. Me and my mom were getting into it. She had rules to follow. I was like, “I’m grown.” I didn’t want to follow those rules. We got into it so I left. I went to the shelter in Raleigh. I didn’t have to go there. I just went. I was embracing independence. I didn’t want to be with my mom.

That’s when I heard about the job with GoRaleigh. They hired me at GoRaleigh. It was a good job. It was a good decision. I was making $14.00 an hour. It was great. I did well there. I didn’t have—I knew how to work but I didn’t know how to work with people. That’s what it was. I didn’t know how to work with people. I could work great—like, if they could show me one time how to break that table down and put it back up, I could do that. Working with people was different.

I had a co-worker that really was more old school about his ways. He was always on my back. I didn’t know how to cope with that so I left. I just, literally—I waited until my manager wasn’t at work. I put all my stuff on his desk and just left. He was calling my phone” “Where is he at?” Because I was a great worker. They didn’t know what was going on. We would go downtown and clean up regularly by ourselves. We didn’t have supervision. We supervised ourselves. We were doing great. They didn’t know me and my co-worker had so much potential. Why didn’t we want to come to work some days? I just left.

When that happened, that’s when everything started going downhill because now I’m not working anymore. I had to find a way to get money. It is what it is. I’m embracing it. I don’t want to be one of these people that are tired of this.

I was more so embracing to feel God to get more grace. Every time I tried to embrace that feeling, God kept giving me signs like, “It’s not for you,” like, “It’s not going to work.” I never even got close to even getting anything done. He just kept showing me those signs. I just got tired. I was looking for love. I was looking for answers from everybody. I was talking about doing music. I’m going to the studio. You have to have emotion to write good music. I’m not even focused on that because I’m worried about helping other people. There was just so much going on. I’m trying to do it all at one time. I just got frustrated and was drained.

That’s when I looked up Denver, Colorado. I looked it up on the internet. I was like I’m going to go to Denver, Colorado. It’s a great city. You’re here in Denver where you can embrace your music, your art. Those are the things that you have a passion to do, like school, like no problem. So, I’m kind of like this right now. By next week when everything comes, I’ll have to make a final decision of what I’m going to do. I love helping people though. That’s why I looked up peer support specialist, behavioral tech, anything in that field. My mom told me about it. She was like, “You know I’ve got my peer support specialist certification.” I’m like, “What is that?” She’s like, “If you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, or even if you’ve been in prison before, you are a support specialist that can help peers get through their situation.” How are you able to live with it? It’s good to be able to get in public and talk to people. Those days are wonderful to me because I’ve been through a lot emotionally. I’m really a sensitive individual.

I’m out here in the world still looking for jobs. I still wake up in the morning and get out of my bed. I still give people an attitude. I know it’s hard. I know people that can’t even do that. Their emotions have them so caught up that they don’t do nothing but sit in one spot and just down themselves. I want to be an individual that can enlighten them and just give people a push.

I’m not going to be no specialized big vocabulary word person. I’m going to give it to them straight up. How do you get through situations? I just wanted to give up on everything. I’m tired. I just want to die. I’ve been in those stages. The only thing that got me out of that was good music, talking to good people like Miss Shelby. I had to believe in myself.

I’m picking up faith. I’m getting closer to God by reading the Bible and stuff more. My days are a new experience. I’m learning. It’s another experience every day for me. I’m really focused and humble. I’m just trying to keep my eyes open, my ears open, and my mouth closed.

I’m quiet. I don’t really talk to too many people. If I do, it’s talking about my music or asking them what they do. I don’t like talking to people. I’ve got to open up more. I don’t really talk to too many people. I love the library. I love the art center. RedLine. The three times I went, I’d go in there and read the books. I like looking at art because it helps me write more. It helps me get real sensitive and intense. It’s just so different with my music when I write. I feel comfortable there. My guard is down.

Interviewer: RedLine’s great. I used to work there.

I love RedLine. I like the park if it’s not too cold. The one by the library. The one where I did the resume. I like seeing the alleys where it’s art paint, places where I can just be by myself. I don’t really normally come to coffee shops or stuff like that. I just like to walk places. Yeah, relax. I write poetry on my own. I can be on the bus. I’ve got this app on my phone. I just write poetry. I’ve got a lot of good poetry.

Interviewer: Which makes me think to ask, sounds like writing, or music, or poetry, is like a big outlet for you.

It’s a big outlet. I’ve already got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten already wrote. And they’re long, too, man. This one is called “Swift like Music.” It says,

She who smiles in the light
prowls in the dark for self-understanding.
He who fights in the day
moves to the light to understand.

With no way to put her life on pause,
she maintains the full confusion.
Open the door to a castle.
He comes in swift like music.

He’s polluted.
She’s influenced.
But they dance Monday and Tuesday.
After Tuesday, the college student
only wanted to shoot music.

Down the row he went
and chased the woman who flinched
only to find out she was all he meant.

That’s “Swift like Music.” That’s the situation with—yo, her name is Tori. I met this chick at my job, man. I wouldn’t call her a chick. I met this young lady at my job. We met up one time. I came to her student housing and all that and, like, she is so cool. Seriously, though, she is dope. She doesn’t really like to be around a lot of people. She’s real quiet. She’s smart as hell. She’s funny. She’s beautiful. The point though is she likes to do things in her own time. So for her to be able to come into a crib and like be there for me to talk to her. I didn’t even really notice because, like, she came from California to come to school over here. She really didn’t have nobody. Like, she was doing everything on her own. So, I started helping her. She had got her card—and I was just—like, simple stuff, not money or anything, but I was there for her. But I seen that she was really trying. I was just helping her when I can. And she was, like, always stable to the deepest point. Like, “Yo, you help me so much, more than anybody else out here.”

But now she’s just a good friend. I really stepped back. If it was meant to happen, it would’ve happened down the line. We’re both young. I could talk to her about anything.
I just talked to her two days ago. I used to talk to her a lot about not knowing who I was.
I was in some gangs back home before I got locked up. I really wanted the leadership role when I came home but I didn’t have the balls to say it. So, she just knows the person that just wanted to get away, and write music, and smoke, and help people, and just be me. She was like I just want you to go somewhere where you can just be yourself. Be you. I see the truth in a person. She used to always tell me that.

I’m staying in Colorado. I’m gonna make this—there are a lot of opportunities for people like me. Once I open up a little bit more, once I get a steady job, I’m going to embrace my art more, my music, and my poetry. I’m thinking about school. There are just a lot of things but first things first is getting a steady job. I want to get my own little place, a student housing place. Everything else will follow. I’m definitely staying, man. I’m definitely staying.

[fade back to crowd noises]