IN PEORIA, Arizona, during the 1980s I was a pretty good kid. There was some abuse going on in my household, so I went to live with my Grandmother who raised me until she got a little too old. In the early 1990s, I was sent to Arizona Children's Association down here in Tucson. It was safe there. I could be like a kid again; learn how to play sports and communicate and have friends. What I liked most were the outings. And gym. There was a greenhouse and we did gardening--with a gardener named Father John. It was one of the best places I'd ever lived.
When I got a little older, they moved me to a group home in Tucson, then at age thirteen, I was moved back to the Phoenix area. I became a ward of the State and lived in a group home in the Maryvale area. I graduated from High School, but it was not a real good time for me. I got mixed up in things and ended up in treatment, where I subsequently got arrested and did some time in prison. When I was released I moved myself to Tucson, to a halfway house, but ended up homeless, in a tent, in the desert. Then I found HOPE.
A Parole Officer pointed me in the right direction and it was Dina at HOPE who helped me pick up the pieces. I started the disability process with HOPE and was introduced to Sasha, who helped me work with Cenpatico to get housing. I also found seasonal employment as a sign waver with Liberty Mutual. I am now on more solid ground; I have a roof over my head, I am a contributing member of society, I have help for my SMI diagnosis and I have a purpose. I just never gave up. I knew that no matter what, I would figure it out, even at the lowest moments.
I've been working every season for the past three years with Liberty Mutual. I love this work because I get to communicate with hundreds of people every day as they pass by in their cars. People recognize me and wave or smile or sometimes they are agitated because they're stuck in Tucson traffic and they send not so positive messages. It doesn't bother me; that's them, not me. I smile, because it makes me feel better and maybe it helps them too. They did a story on Channel 4 News and featured me and my story, showing me waving the sign during Tax Season. It makes me proud.
I want to live a long life, put away some money and continue to improve my health. I will never go back to prison and never go back to where I was in life. It's not that you forget about what happened, but it is what happened in the past, and it does not mean that it's your life now. You have to take the bad and make something good out of it. Group homes may have let me down, but I learned something along the way and I got my GED, went through vocational training and learned how to do a lot of different jobs. It was good for me that I hit bottom, because it makes me appreciate and respect what I have. I wouldn't wish that (hitting bottom) on anyone, but it has helped me to learn respect for others and to honor myself. I have that and the love of my dog, Summer, my quiet and loyal companion. I have it all.