For our first post in the #tlpstories series we sat down with our student Byron to learn about his story. We talked about his childhood, the decisions he made that kept him cycling in and out of prison, what brought him to Turning Leaf, and where he is taking his life now. His is a story like so many others – youth and confidence and that devil-may-care feeling that keeps so many young people on the streets despite the damage it’s doing to their lives. There’s always a turning point, though. At least for the students at Turning Leaf.

This is Byron’s story.

Byron grew up in the country surrounded by women: his mother, his grandma, and his aunts. As the only child – and a boy, no less – he was very loved, and possibly spoiled. When he was ten, things changed, though. The family moved to the city. There, Byron began to feel isolated. He was an outcast among the city kids: he wore cowboy boots, his voice and accent were different, and he didn’t fit in. He learned how to fight.

As he got older, fighting became second nature. So did street life. On the streets, Byron saw things he wasn’t used to seeing. He saw older kids drinking, smoking, and realized that he would “look cool” or “be a badass” if he were to join them. Before long, he started selling drugs, which of course led to other criminal behavior. And, of course, he got caught.

Byron landed in juvenile detention where he had to fight in order to survive. He fought his way to the top of the food chain in juvie, which gave him even more confidence, and made him think he was definitely on the right path. When he got out, he went back to the same life style – selling drugs, carrying guns, and stealing.

At 18, he got caught up on a new charge and went to prison. There, he noticed that most of the other guys were ones he had been in juvie with as well. Soon he was back on top of the food chain. This was an easy thing for him; he liked the feeling of confidence that came with being on top. Why would he change when everywhere he went, he was in charge? So the cycle continued: prison, home, crimes, prison, home, crimes

Byron’s mother tried to stop him. She tried to break the cycle. But young and confident as he was, Byron didn’t listen. He thought since he was becoming a man, he needed a male influence to help his decisions, not another woman. She told him that he was going to get into something that he couldn’t get out of, and Byron’s most recent prison sentence was it.

Up to that point, Byron’s prison sentences were all relatively short: one year, a few months, nothing too crazy. But then he was sent up for ten years. It was the first time he was sent to prison since his children were born, and right away he realized it was time to do whatever he could to be there for his them. He started to better himself.

He took his prison time day by day. He stopped fighting and started working on his education instead. He got his GED, take drug and alcohol classes, read a lot, got involved in the work program, and listen to music to help himself cope. Unfortunately, during his sentence, despite his hard work, he lost a lot. He got a divorce, lost his sister, an aunt, and his mother. This was another huge turning point for Byron. From then on, he had to get straight and do everything to get better for himself and for others because time is short.

Byron spent his weeks at Turning Leaf living in a halfway house to avoid a commute; this made it far easier to stick with the program. His goals were to get a job, save some money, get his license back and get a car. He’s also focused on spending time with his children to make up for what missed during his eight-year sentence. His ex-wife isn’t always able to bring his kids to see him which is tough; he still can’t be a father the way he would like to. But Byron won’t give up.

He’s a hard worker and always held a job, even when he was living the street lifestyle. The streets raised him, and although he still has that mentality in the back of his mind, it doesn’t mean anything to him anymore. He no longer feels that he needs to turn to the streets to feel like a man. Since being out of prison, he hasn’t been in any situations that have made him want to turn back. He can’t do any more time. His oldest daughter just turned 17, and when he left she was only nine. He will not put himself in any situations that are going to jeopardize his situation or his freedom.

Byron is on a good path for success, for being a man, and being free. Coming out of prison it was difficult for him to still have quality time with his family. He copes by talking to them constantly. He was always a standup father prior to going to prison, and he made sure they were all provided for, but now he knows he could have done it differently.

He plans to bust his tail to take care of his family, even if it means working two jobs. He has six kids, ranging in age from eight to seventeen, and they are worth all the hard work and sacrifice. He is so amazed and proud of them and how they have progressed while he was in prison. He plans to see them in October when he is able to move closer, and is excited to see the people they have grown into.

In the next few months, Byron is focusing on getting his license back. He is enrolled in a drug and alcohol class as well as a driving class. Before being in prison he was an alcoholic but now he is able to say that without being ashamed, which is something he would have been able to do before now. The driving classes run until July, when he can take his permit and drivers test, finally getting his license back (he lost it long ago for recklessness, drinking and driving).

Over the past many months, Byron has had a lot of time to come up with a plan to make sure he won’t jeopardize his freedom. He is patiently working toward October, when he will complete all his classes and become the father he wants to be for his children.

Keep on going, Byron! We are so proud, and know you can be the father your children need!

Story Captured by Leah Rhyne