It’s hard to imagine a more troubled life than that which Rickey lived in his early years. From the moment of his birth he was surrounded by the street life: users, addicts, aunts and uncles selling drugs from the living room of his grandmother’s house. Before he came to Turning Leaf, he was arrested more than 100 times. How do you even begin to change, when you’ve never known anything other than trouble?
Rickey proved that, with the help of his family at Turning Leaf, anything is possible. He graduated four years ago and is living life on the up-and-up with a successful career and fiancé. He hasn’t been arrested since his graduation day. He’s never going back to jail.
This is Rickey’s story.
“My family was loving but dysfunctional,” says Rickey of his early childhood years. His mother worked a lot; his father was the head of the household, and he tried to make everything good. Family outings, discipline. Things were tough but normal when Rickey was home with his parents, two younger brothers and a baby sister.
However, with both parents working he spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house. There he was surrounded by the street life. “All the activities were there,” he says. “People were getting high, selling drugs in the neighborhood.”
Rickey was only 13 years old when his father passed away in a car wreck while visiting Rickey’s grandmother in Memphis, Tennessee. “We were real close,” says Rickey. “He was a Navy man, a college graduate. He made sure I was doing my homework, getting good grades. He’d buy me anything I wanted, as long as I was staying out of trouble. Things fell apart after he died.”
In the first place, Rickey was numb. At the funeral, he had to look out for his three younger siblings, but he couldn’t even begin to process the enormity of his loss. “I buried my feelings. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, or at least I didn’t think I did.” Normal was a thing of the past; there were no family outings, no family dinners. His mother had to work twice as hard to support her family.
With nothing but numbness at home, Rickey started looking elsewhere, trying to find a place he could belong. He found it on the streets, living life like his aunts and uncles. The life he’d been seeing ever since he was born. The life his parents wanted to keep him from.
In the beginning, Rickey just wanted to make some money. He was tired of asking his aunts and uncles for things. “They’d whoop my ass if they caught me, though,” he says. It wasn’t the aunts and uncles that gave him his start. “It was a bigger cousin who put my first pack in my hands,” he says. “I’d wait until everyone would leave, then I’d sneak out at night to do my own thing. Word got around, and I just got bolder.”
No one wanted him in the street life, of course. “’Stay in school, do your homework,’ they’d say.” He laughs. “Eventually they realized I was hardheaded, and they started giving me the game, showing me the ropes.” It was a done deal from then on: Rickey was immersed in the street life.
And while some people manage to go for years without the police catching up to them, that was never the case for Rickey. “My uncles were always getting in trouble, getting harassed by the police, and I had the same last name,” he says. The police were always aware of what he was doing. “I couldn’t stay out of the eyes of the law.”
From drug busts to counterfeit checks, Rickey’s been hauled in for all sorts of things. He estimates he’s spent at least thirteen years in prison thanks to six federal charges, but the truly shocking number is this: when he asked a woman at the desk at county how many times he’d been arrested, she told him it was over 100 times. “I had no idea it was that much,” he says. “There I was, thinking I’m some bad-ass. Hearing that changed my state of mind.”
So did a chance meeting with Amy Barch, the Director of Turning Leaf. “I got into her program in County,” says Rickey. “It was about how you think, and it really opened me up.”
He was moved to federal prison shortly thereafter, where he started listening to his fellow inmates. “There was a 22 year old who had 55 years,” he says. “And he’s going around acting like it’s nothing. I thought, I’m not gonna end up like that. I’ve gotta get a different route because this one ain’t working.”
While in prison he wrote to Amy, and she responded. It meant the world Rickey. “It told me someone cared. I didn’t have that support before, but Miss Amy had my back.”
Turning Leaf was a natural next step for a man who wanted to change his life. Rickey entered our program in 2016. “To me,” he says, “Turning Leaf equals change. Changing my life around. It’s a positive support to those who need help and who want help. Turning Leaf…it’s like turning over to improve yourself.” He learned thinking skills, cognitive restructuring, and situational analysis. “It taught me to stay focused with work, setting goals and accomplishing them.”
That’s not to say life’s been super-easy since Rickey graduated from Turning Leaf. At first, he was surrounded by the difficult environment that had set him on the streets to begin with. As he wanted to stay on the crime-free path he was on, he knew he had to make a change. Amy and the team at Turning Leaf were there to help him every step of the way. “Miss Amy helped me get into school at Trident Tech,” he says. He got his commercial driver’s license and a job with a trucking company. He became a lease/operator of his own truck and is saving money to become an owner/operator instead. He spends his days driving around the country, something he never would have dreamed of before. “I’ve been to California and Seattle,” he says. “The scenery is beautiful. I love getting out, seeing a sunrise over the mountains. I’ve seen all different cultures and different places. I love Miss Amy for helping me find this occupation.”
Recently his truck slid on some ice, and he’s had to fix a dent in the bumper and some electrical issues. The cost was over $8000, an astronomical amount that in the past would have overwhelmed Rickey. Nowadays, though, he knows what to do. He got himself set up on a payment plan and has a few months ahead of him to pay it off, all while working and living his regular life. His mom is proud of him; so is his fiancé, a woman he met up in Wisconsin, the state he now calls home. So much has changed in four years, but one thing hasn’t: Rickey hasn’t been arrested since his graduation from Turning Leaf.
“I’m not gonna quit,” he says. “Everybody’s gonna have their own trials. You can’t give up. You have to keep pushing. I’ve been through a lot, and Turning Leaf has helped me so much. And look at me now, Mom. I made you proud!”
You made us proud, too, Rickey. Every day, we are proud of you. Thank you for sharing your success story with us, and we’re cheering you on from South Carolina!
Story Captured by Leah Rhyne