Michael has been looking for a safe haven his entire life. When he was a child he’d sometimes leave his house and head to the neighborhood basketball court wearing nothing but pajamas. It was the one place where he could escape the terror at home—the broken bones and bruised body that came at the hands of his abusive father. “My mother turned a blind eye to it and I used to blame her for that.”
The Doe Fund is his safe haven today. The Bronx neighborhood where he grew up—the place filled with so many terrible memories—is just a few miles from our Harlem Center for Opportunity, where Michael works as an intake coordinator. But it may as well be a million miles away. That’s how far Michael’s journey has taken him, and the road is littered with the remains of the life he once led.
His father’s abuse and his mother’s neglect roiled inside Michael as a child. “By elementary school I had become distant and rebellious,” he says. “Everything that happened at home I took to school.” He didn’t listen to his teachers. He got into fights. “I was battling the demons of abuse,” Michael says. “I was hustling, getting high, selling drugs, stealing.” Inevitably, he landed in juvenile detention.
A six-year odyssey of living on the streets, in group homes, and committing crimes led to arrest after arrest. He would spend five years in prison before he was even 21-years-old and additional time at Rikers Island after that. Michael realized he had to make a change, but seeing it through wasn’t easy. “I was on parole and knew that I couldn’t go back to doing what I’d been doing,” he says. A friend told him about The Doe Fund. “I was extremely resistant, but I thought, ‘Let me give this program a shot.’”
The transition was hard. Some mornings he’d wake up and think I don’t belong here. But Michael began to notice a shift in himself the longer he stayed in Ready, Willing & Able and embraced the program. “Once I started to settle in, I changed from the inside,” he says. “A few people here became mentors to me and helped me go from out of control to someone trying to figure out his life. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Today, as a staff member at The Doe Fund, he serves as a mentor to other men and share the lessons he’s learned along the way. And, just recently, Michael began pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree at Columbia University as part of its Justice-in-Education Initiative. “I’ve been in some very dark places in my life, and I know that there will continue to be tests every day,” Michael says. “But my whole focus is different now. I have so much to look forward to. My story is still being written, and that’s exciting.”