“I felt like I was a little boy all over again,” Joey says of the agony he experienced when he discovered his mother Dawn had died in her sleep. The rock of a family brought to its knees by tragedy, she had not only witnessed the permanent disability of her oldest son following a horrific accident, but watched in anguish as Joey sank deeper into a life of crime. For 13 years, it was Dawn who saw Joey through the perils of gang life, never once forsaking him, and now she was gone.
“When my mom died, everything I’d done—being incarcerated, being shot, everything I put her through, all came over me ten fold,” Joey recalls. “But in her passing away, I realized I had to grow up.”
Less than a month after his mother’s death, Joey got his chance to “grow up” when he arrived at Harvest Farm. Just two weeks before she died, Dawn had bailed Joey out of jail in return for his promise to enter the Mission’s New Life Program. Though determined to fulfill his mother’s last wish, Joey, known as “Side Show” by fellow gang members, faced an uphill battle transitioning from a lawless lifestyle to one of a mature adult.
“I’m 26, and I’ve spent 8 years of my life in jail; I robbed myself out of learning the most basic of life skills,” the Phase III Farm resident explains. “I was 14 1/2 years old when I went to juvenile prison, and my life stopped there. When I got to the Farm, I felt like I was picking up where I left off at fourteen.”
Now nine months into his stay at the Farm, the father of two young sons has made remarkable strides. For the first time in his life, Joey confronted the grief that compelled him to join a gang after his brother’s accident, as well the guilt that consumed him following his mother’s passing. With help from Chaplain Art Herrera, Joey began to grow in his faith, while also learning the problem-solving and communication skills his former lifestyle made impossible for him to develop.
“I’ve come out of [Chaplain] Herrera’s office in tears many times, but in essence it’s making me the man I want to be,” Joey says. “So many basic things have been added to my tool belt since I’ve been here; I feel like I can build anything now.”
While Joey continued to make significant mental and emotional breakthroughs, he had yet to face one of the biggest obstacles on his road to responsible adulthood—finding employment. Though he was working toward a degree in welding and thrived in the Farm’s work therapy program, Joey shuddered at the thought of speaking, yet alone interviewing, with a potential employer.
Thankfully, in what he deems a “blessing from God,” Joey secured a position as a mechanic for a local car repair shop the first day of his job search. “It’s ironic because everyone in the gang used to say I was fearless, but having to get a job scared me more than anything in my life,” Joey admits. “This job is teaching me how to be a man and work nine-to-five like everyone else; it’s a great starting point.”
With six months to go before graduating from the program and reuniting with his children, Joey is steadily becoming the son, the father, the man his late mother would be proud of. “I wish more than anything I could give my mom a hug and say, ‘Look at me now,’” Joey, who voluntarily works to bring gang members to Christ, says. “I crawled onto the Farm like a baby, and I’m going to leave walking like a man.”
– See more at: http://www.denverrescuemission.org/page.aspx?pid=570#sthash.VO3dFOG4.dpuf