Malik

The streets seemed magical to Malik. The guys out there had all the cool things: jewelry, Jordans, Starter jackets. By age 12, an older boy, already heavily involved in the streets, took a liking to Malik. “He took me under his wing,” Malik says. “He showed me everything. How to cook, how to package. He told me who would buy from me. He sold me my first gun.”

Rashad “Melo”

We hear it all the time. The square life – this rule-following, law-abiding life we ask Turn90 participants to lead – is boring. Long days at work, long nights at home. There’s no thrill, not like our guys are used to.

Because the streets move fast. They’re unpredictable. Exciting. Money comes fast.

But then, so does the chance to lose everything.

This is Melo’s story.

Unk

There’s a scene in The Shawshank Redemption where Brooks, the elderly man who’s been incarcerated for most of his life and has just been released, sits in his rented room, head hanging low. He doesn’t understand the world around him. He left his friends – his only family – in prison. Despair is his only companion.

It’s impossible not to picture this scene when talking to Unk (short for “Uncle,” and so named because, for a while, he was the oldest man in the room in prison and in the Turn90 classroom). He served 25 years after his young adulthood spiraled out of control, and when he was released, regrets and despair waited with open arms.

Emanuel

“I was nine years old the first time I saw a lady overdose from heroin,” Emanuel says. We’re minutes into our time together, and we’ve already discussed where he grew up (Greenville, South Carolina, in the same neighborhood as Jesse Jackson, with whom his mother went to high school), and what it was like (“a LOT of drugs,” he says, pulling a face). But this is the moment when I realize how different this story will be.

Ben

We say all the time around here that trouble is easy to get into, but really hard to get out of.

Ben is a great example of this. Coming from a childhood that was a mix-up of difficult experiences and glimpses of what life could be like, if only there was enough money to support him and his mom, his induction into the streets was perhaps the easiest, most natural thing he’d ever done. But almost two full decades in prison have shown him that change is necessary, and he’s dedicated to making a difference in the lives of his children and his community. It’s not easy, but Ben is committed.

This is his story.

Jonathan

Jonathan is 35 years old but doesn’t look a day over 20. “Prison preserved me,” he says with a laugh when we sit down to talk. But I think it’s more than that. I think a lifetime of neglect, of punishments without impact, have thrust him into a delayed adulthood that he’s finally learning to … Read more

Troy

Every Turning Leaf participant is unique. Special. Different backgrounds, different education levels. Different family structures and barriers to success. Troy, though. Now here’s a guy who really stands out. He was educated in some of the top schools in Charleston. He was the first male in his family to graduate from high school. He had … Read more

JB

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. –Matthew 5:44, King James Bible Turning Leaf isn’t a faith-based organization, but when a student comes to us with a story heavily punctuated by loss, and yet has “love your enemies” … Read more

Rigg

Drugs. Robberies. Guns. Violence. There are so many things for parents to worry about. Sometimes, all a mama can do is try her hardest and hope that someday her child will hear her. That’s how it was with Rigg. His mama did everything she could to show a good way to live. But from the … Read more

Deon

“The power to grant pardons and clemency is one of the most profound authorities granted to the President of the United States. It embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance.” –President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017 It’s not every day you get a letter from a sitting President of … Read more