|"I didn’t think I’d live to be this old. Who would have thought at 63 I would have so many possibilities?"
Anthony has always believed in three things: the dignity of work, the power of education, and always having a back-up plan. “I dropped out of school in the 10th grade, but went back and got my GED because you always need something to fall back on,” he said. He began working as a teenager and never gave up, even when he was in prison.
After losing both his mother and his grandmother before the age of 16, Anthony moved in with an uncle. It was a tense household, also home to a cousin who had recently returned from the Vietnam conflict. “He’s the one who introduced me to drugs,” Anthony elaborates. “He got hooked after what happened to him over there.” Anthony has also struggled with a mental illness as an adult, and for years self-medicated with marijuana, cocaine, and eventually crack. His drug use also served as a form of bonding, allowing him to form and keep a close social circle of other users. However, he maintained his independence, staying in housing and employment until being sent to prison for possession. Even there, he yearned to stay active and useful. He was able to find work and assume leadership roles in the prison kitchen, owing to his extensive experience in food service. It was there that he first began seeing a psychiatrist for his previously undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder.
Anthony found life outside of prison much more difficult after he was released. Although he had previously worked for the Smithsonian, his conviction disqualified him from many jobs, and he soon became homeless. Several years and two shelters later, he was able to find housing through Pathways to Housing DC. But his recovery journey had not yet ended. Even though he no longer used drugs, the trauma surrounding his arrest and incarceration had left him too anxious to visit the courthouse for his regular probation visits. “Going downtown, being in the court with all of those police officers … it was too much. I hid in my house.” Eventually, he felt emboldened to confess his situation to his caseworker, Kim. “Kim was like magic,” Anthony said, laughing as he retold the story. In a small setback, Anthony returned to jail briefly, but his greatest fear – losing his housing and his supportive mental health services – never materialized. When he left jail, he had a safe, stable home to which he could return; this made all the difference.
Though unable to find full time work, Anthony is staying busy, active, and engaged in the community. He wants to start an exercise program, and is looking for a suit so he can begin attending church regularly again to expand his social circle. Anthony is also considering taking up a volunteer position so he can help others who are struggling. Sometimes when he rides the bus, he passes the shelters with people hanging around outside, or passes parks where people are sleeping under benches. He remembers how hard his life was, but he feels positive about it, not bitter. “I think about how fortunate I am, how many chances I had,” he said. “I was so blessed. Pathways came into my life and helped me turn it around when things were looking pretty bad.” He says the key is to have faith and believe that there is always something to look forward to, even if you are uncertain about what the future may hold. Anthony now loves living in Northwest DC. He’s happy to enjoy his time there in well-earned peace, at home in his one-bedroom apartment, regardless of what else happens. “The AARP is writing to me now,” he chuckles. “I didn’t think I’d live to be this old. Who would have thought at 63 I would have so many possibilities?”