Malik’s trauma runs deep. His story has a high body count, and it’s not an easy one to tell. But it’s his, just the same.

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Malik grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, the oldest of his mother’s three boys. His parents divorced when he was seven and he stayed with his beloved grandparents for a time. His mother remarried his stepfather, and life was stable inside his home.

But the neighborhood outside wasn’t. On the outskirts of downtown Charlotte, it was an urban area, with all that the phrase “inner city” implies. Violence. Neighborhoods fighting neighborhoods. The people who filled Malik’s life outside the house were in and of the streets, including his father, who struggled with addiction and spent time in prison for drug-related charges. Malik’s older half-brother, a talented barber, was also immersed in the street life. He would cut Malik’s hair, a brooding influence and a direct link to the hood.

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.”

Malik started selling but insulated his little brothers from the lifestyle. “They’d ask to come outside and hang out with me,” he says. “But I’d say no. Stay inside. Stay out of trouble.” It worked – both boys went to college and stayed in the straight life. “They’re nothing like me,” Malik says today, his eyes full of pride.

That wouldn’t be Malik’s path, though. Not for a long time.

Instead, he hit the streets hard, smoking and dealing, partying most nights. His mother kicked him out when he was fifteen, and he dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. One night at a skating rink someone started shooting, so Malik and his friends shot back. Someone got hit; Malik was never sure whose bullet hit him, but at least that boy survived. No one was ever charged for the shooting. Everyone walked away like it was just another night. Maybe it was.

Malik did finish high school, though, quitting weed, moving home, and enrolling in a special program. “I walked across that stage and graduated in 1998,” he says. It was only a year after he was supposed to.

But it was the calm before the storm. Malik’s life was about to hit the fast lane.

He started robbing in 1999. The same guy who’d taught him to sell drugs taught him to rob too. “He showed me how to kick in doors, what to do when you get inside. He told me to make sure you scan the house, see if anyone else is in there.”

The robbing lifestyle didn’t last long. In 2000, Malik and friends robbed drug dealers in Sumter; a nearby state trooper chased them down and arrested them all. Malik sat in Sumter County Jail on a $250,000 bond from January-November, 2000, until the star witness – another dealer – was deemed so unreliable that the charges were dropped.

“I knew then that robbing was risky,” he says. “Look where it got me! Jail for almost a year. But I could sell drugs. I could hustle. I was good at that. And anyway, with hustling, it’s not like I’m making you buy drugs from me. You’re making that choice yourself.”

Malik got his own place, and when his older half-brother returned from prison in 2004, he moved in with Malik and also got back to hustling.

The older man found significant success. He bought a house. Cars. Two trucks. People were jealous of Malik’s older brother, so perhaps his end was inevitable.

“No one was with him the day he came up missing,” says Malik. “When the police found his body, he was burned up, wrapped in a blanket. He’d been shot in the head and beaten real bad. His hands were smashed. His ribs were broken. They put him in his truck, took it to Fort Mill, and burned it with him still inside.” The murder went unsolved.

“I think it put a chip on my shoulder,” he says. “I went full-fledged into the streets. Things escalated.” He was snorting coke and doing other, harder drugs, and suddenly he was making real bank, “trapping full time” as he says. He sold drugs from his home – his trap – with his younger half-brother, Big D, as his right-hand man.

But the deaths would continue, fast and furious.

Malik took the younger brother of a woman he was dating under his wing. By age 17, the boy had moved into Malik’s trap and began selling, too. Their life was wild, with nightly parties, drugs, guns, and booze. One morning the boy took off with a gun Malik had just bought. He was gone a few days, then returned just as suddenly.

“We were all supposed to go out that night,” says Malik. “But I was pissed, cussing him out for taking my gun. I wouldn’t let him come out with us.”

“I should have let him go with us to the club that night. If I did, he’d probably still be living.”

Instead, the boy stayed at Malik’s place, and when Malik and Big D came home that night, they found him dead on the floor, a bullet through his back. The murder went unsolved.

“His death changed my life,” says Malik. The guilt was almost unbearable.

Malik was starting to see how toxic his lifestyle was, but he wasn’t ready to change. Not even after the birth of his daughter in 2007, and the effect he had on his baby mama’s life. “My life and my decisions affected my baby mama and how she is to this day,” he says. “She dropped out of college chasing behind me and found drugs because of me.”

Things got worse. Big D started dating a girl in a rival “hood” family. He brought a younger boy from the new family under his wing, but the new guy wasn’t quite on their level. He was doing more drugs, making less money, and getting jealous of the brothers’ success. One night, the boy robbed Big D.

The next day guns were drawn. No one got hurt, but when there are drugs, guns, and beef, it’s only a matter of time before someone dies. And someone did: the boy. Malik and his friend shot him the next night.

Malik spent five years in prison as an accessory to murder, agreeing to a plea deal that protected Big D. “I felt like I went to prison because this dude crossed me,” he says. “Not because we killed him. I came out with an even bigger chip on my shoulder, knowing the beef wasn’t over.”

There were frequent altercations with the rival family. They shot Malik in the hand. He never left the house without guns.

And in the meantime, he was learning about meth: how to cook it, package it, and sell it.

But meth was a whole new world, one that had an entirely different cast of characters. Malik gave his trust to the wrong man. He was set up in a sting operation and served six years of a seven-year federal drug sentence.

While he was in prison, he lost almost everything.

Big D was shot and killed. The murder went unsolved.

Malik’s biological father, with whom he shared a close, unbreakable bond through all the ups and downs, passed away in 2020. So did his step-father.

The losses became too much. “I realized I have to do something different in order to get a different result and live a different life,” says Malik. “I have to put something different up here [pointing to his temple] to display something different to the world. My father used to preach that to me all the time – he was in AA – but it didn’t stick.”

After his release, chance sent him to Columbia instead of Charlotte, and he’s decided to make the move permanent. His main motivation for change? His daughter, who’s now 14. She lives with his mother, and, says, Malik, “I know something’s missing between us. She’s been through a lot in her life, and I need to build something with her. I need to be able to reach my daughter and put myself in a position where I can get my baby back.”

He found Turn90, and it’s helping him become the man he wants to be. “My thinking was one way for so long,” he says. “But now, learning what Deon teaches makes me realize: my thinking wasn’t normal at all. I didn’t brainstorm. I didn’t think about consequences. I just reacted, all the time. I really, really needed the cognitive-behavioral training I get from Deon in the classroom every day.”

There’s also another person taking Malik under his wing, but this time it’s Blue. “I’ve learned so much from Blue. He can break things down like no one else.”

“I’ve learned happy isn’t always the right thing. You could doing the wrong thing and be very happy, or you could be doing the right thing but not always be happy. I want to do the right thing. My goal for the future is to be on my own, working hard, doing something I’m good at. I will not go back to prison. I needed this fresh start.”

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We’re so proud to be a part of your fresh start, Malik. Thank you for trusting us. We’ll have your back forever moving forward.