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This week: Tony on Freeing His Mind

This week, in support of Bread for the City’s Holiday Helpings Campaign, People’s District will tell five stories on the people affected by and fighting against hunger and poverty in D.C. You can read the other stories here.

“I think a lot about how my life would have been different had I had never come back to Washington. I was born in the area, but am a Naval dependent and traveled all over the states as a child. I did most of my schooling in Massachusetts and Maine, and life was just so peaceful and serene. We lived in a beautiful community with parks and trees and kids playing outside.

“Everyone there supported each other. Didn’t matter what you did, you could get your first babysitting job or win a football game, and the whole community would know and celebrate your accomplishments. It was the only neighborhood that I had ever lived in where you could lose your wallet and someone would return it with every dollar bill in it. It was a great time of life for me.

“When I was ten, my parents divorced and I came with my Mom back to D.C. My family goes back in this city to the 1940’s and we were living over by the Navy Yard. I had spent a lot of time around here growing up, so I knew kids in the community. Still, it was hard for me. First thing I did was to try and lose that New England accent. I tried and tried, but couldn’t seem to get rid of that thing fast enough. I started going to school here, but what people were learning here in the 7th grade, we learned in the 4th. Living in this community, I learned about the difficulties and all of the pain here from things like poverty and violence and drugs. There are a lot of good memories, but I also saw a lot of really bad things.

“As people do in the neighborhood, I started to get into little bits of trouble here-and-there and fell in to peer pressure. I even went through incarceration. I got locked up the first time for being nosy. I saw some of my friends getting arrested, so I went down to see what was happening. Turns out, I was wearing the same outfit as one of the guys who committed the crime and they locked me up for two and a half years. I fought it and had witnesses there supporting me, but it didn’t matter. I went in to the system angry and came out of jail with a vengeance. I hated the government for putting a mark on me for something I had nothing to do with. When I got out, someone tried to rob me and I fought back. Can you believe it, the cops came and arrested me for it. I just lost it. I felt like the world was picking on me and I had the worst luck. After that, I just gave up on myself and turned away from all of the good principles I learned and let the hatred take over. I had no respect for the law and wasn’t myself for a while.

“After some time, I saw that nothing was going to change for me living this way. The epidemics kept rolling through the neighborhood, but they were just getting more dangerous. We started with grass and then they brought in the chemicals like acid and powder cocaine. Guns and violence took over and I saw people kill themselves for nothing. I started thinking about Maine and just wanted to go back to those days. I was on a pre-set path to go to college and be somebody. At the time, I didn’t even have a degree and stopped caring about everything.

“I knew there was a better way to live, so I started to change my ways. I wanted to get out of the cesspool, but I still had issues with the government and knew that they couldn’t help me, so I decided to do it by myself. I started doing handy work for the old people around the neighborhood. When there was a rat infestation in our community, I became the pest control. I would wash cars, mow lawns, fix houses, and do whatever you needed. People used to call me the little entrepreneur. I also started to work as a counselor, to help the teenagers and people struggling with addiction in my community.

“About seven years ago, I was blessed to get a job at Bread for the City. Now, I work as the food program coordinator and distribute food to people in need. Because I spend my days with people who are struggling, like I struggled, I still get to work as a counselor. This place opened me up to realizing my potential. I am still in the process of getting better and wanting to grow, but I now have people who come to me looking for advice and direction. It is elating to see someone make a breakthrough with your help. I thank God that I went through what I went through and found Bread, so that I could free my mind and give back to my community.”

Bread for the City’s Holiday Helpings campaign provides low-income DC residents with a turkey and all the trimmings so that they may enjoy a celebratory meal at home with their families. This year they expect to serve more than 8,000 families. You can help! Just $29 provides Holiday Helpings for a family of four. Make a donation here, and to learn more about operating a food or cash drive in your workplace or community group, contact Nathan LaBorie at [email protected] or 202.386.7611.