Life on the streets doesn’t always make sense. In that way, it’s the same as the straight life. You find good people in bad situations who still try to live by a strict moral code, but you also find people willing to beg, borrow, steal, and lie just get ahead.
Marvin comes down on the good side of the street life scales. He chose the “easy” path to make money, but still had rules that governed his choices. Sometimes those rules landed him in extra trouble, but he had his code and he lived by it.
This is Marvin’s story.
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Marvin’s childhood wasn’t exceptional; his family wasn’t rich, but neither were they poor. His parents were together and life felt stable. His favorite memories are of going to work with his father on Saturdays. His father, a carpenter who built cabinets, paid him for his work, teaching Marvin early on how to work hard. His grandparents helped solidify that lesson for him. They had a farm and whenever Marvin spent time with them, the rule was you had to work for your supper. There, he picked peas, peanuts, potatoes, corn…you name it, he probably picked is on his grandparents’ farm. And while he sometimes tried to beat the system, telling his grandmother he wasn’t going to eat that day, he had to do the work anyway. The reward – his grandmother’s cooking – was always worth it.
Everything changed when Marvin was 14. “My dad was cheating,” he says. His mother kicked him out. “She cried a lot,” he says. “I think I got mad at my dad. I told myself I wouldn’t do that.”
His family’s financial situation changed drastically now that they were a single-income unit. Marvin had to shift from being a kid with new stuff to a kid with hand-me-downs from his older cousins. It was frustrating, he says. “Everybody at school had new stuff and I had hand-me-downs…I had to go make some money.”
This is where the street life caught him.
Marvin’s uncle would stay at their house sometimes. He was involved in the street life – smoking and selling weed. While he was asleep, Marvin would take his stash, then sell it at school the next day. It was easy money.
Soon he and a cousin began smoking weed as well, and the lifestyle was solidified.
Marvin flew under the radar for a long time – a brief stint at juvie in his later teens due to truancy hardly counts as being in trouble for a man who would later spend over a decade in prison. When he was 20, though, the life caught up with him. Marvin was hanging out at an apartment with an acquaintance. The police were looking for the other guy. He took off, and the police nabbed Marvin instead. They found drugs on him and brought him in. “They said, ‘Tell me where so-an-so is, and we’ll forget all about this,’” he says. “I said I don’t know who that is. It was my stuff on me, so it was my fault. I can’t do that to someone else. I don’t believe in that.”
Marvin’s unwillingness to turn on someone else landed him two years in probation, which wouldn’t have been too big a deal if he wasn’t still smoking weed regularly. He skipped an appointment with his PO and was arrested shortly thereafter. He spent about 5 ½ months in county while they sorted his case, so when he was sentenced to six months prison time, he was released from the state prison after just a couple of days.
His next arrest, and first federal charge, came in 2005, this time for possession of firearms as well as crack-cocaine. Once again, his unwillingness to turn on a friend made things harder on himself. He was picked up leaving a motel with a friend and was able to bond himself out. He tried to bond the friend out as well, but the friend’s father told him to leave the man in jail. While there, the friend turned on Marvin. The drugs and guns were all Marvin’s, he said. Marvin could have said the same but didn’t. The two aren’t friends anymore.
While that charge was pending, things got worse. Another friend wanted to take care of a dude who was messing with his girl. Marvin wanted to help. They got caught by police, and, as Marvin says, “I already had the one charge, so I took this one, too.”
With numerous gun charges facing him, he pled out, facing almost eight full years in prison. He had a daughter already and had to leave her behind. Other than that, though, prison didn’t feel too terrible. There were rules to be followed (for example: don’t talk to the police, ever), structure to be found. Life shifted into 60-minute increments: an hour in the library, an hour in the rec yard, and so on. Marvin’s biggest challenge came when somebody planted a knife on him. “They stole months from me,” he says, referring to the fact that this added back onto his sentence. He tried to appeal it to no avail; months were added on and his sentence extended.
Marvin remained in the street life after that long prison sentence. He had two more children – sons this time – before catching more charges and a 4-month sentence. He missed more years with his children, more years with a woman he met just before he went back to prison.
Today, Marvin is 40 years old. He got out of prison in September and has a few more weeks left in the halfway house. He wears an ankle bracelet that monitors his location all day, every day. He works at Turning Leaf during the day until 5:00 and has to be back to the halfway house by 6:00. He can stay outside until 8:00, then has to be inside with all the other men. There are 28 of them living in a single dormitory room. It’s not exactly peaceful but it’s better than the alternative. “I’m too old for that now,” he says. He’s trying to have relationships with his children, but it’s hard. He’s missed a lot. His daughter is 16 and is pregnant; this will be another responsibility he’ll have to face, as she wants to keep the baby.
Marvin is happy he found Turning Leaf. He likes it. The rules aren’t too hard to follow, and he’s learning how to deal with his problems in a productive way. When his sons’ mother texted him the other day, asking for money, he was able to stay calm and deal with it. Would he prefer she give him time to settle into his life before asking him for things? Of course, but thanks to Turning Leaf, it didn’t turn into a battle.
His new girlfriend won’t tolerate the street lifestyle, he knows. He likes that about her. “I feel good now,” he says. “I’ve got my girl and we’re doing this together. I have support.”
“I’m a good person,” he says. “I do my best. I want to get a good job and stay with the free life from here on out.”
* * * *
We know you can do it, Marvin. Stick to your moral code, do the right thing, and we’ve got your back all the way.
Story Captured by Leah Rhyne