Joseph grew up on the West Side of Chicago. He had two great parents and a nice childhood. However, Joseph was “drawn to the streets” at an early age. He describes himself as “young and impressionable.”
Although Joseph did not graduate from high school, he did complete his G.E.D. while in the United States Army. Joseph served three-years in the army, stationed in West Germany. Serving in the army was the only thing in Joseph’s life that he had ever started and finished properly.
After leaving the army, Joseph began working for the Postal Service, as both a postal carrier and in the processing center, where he would continue to work for nine years. While working for the Postal Service, Joseph was using drugs and he felt his substance use disorder spiral. Joseph said, “Drugs led to everything,” including his first felony.
After serving five years in prison, Joseph came to St. Leonard’s Ministries in 2000 through his mother hearing about St. Leonard’s from a friend. He completed four months of St. Leonard’s programming and landed a job as a forklift operator. Joseph eventually landed a well-paying job at a freight company.
Joseph spent three years on parole upon his release where he successfully completed all parole requirements, including staying sober. Within three days of successfully getting off parole, Joseph went to purchase drugs. At first, he told himself “I’ll only do this on the weekend.” It would not be like before. However, Joseph’s substance use disorder was strong and it did lead him to what he considers a point of “insanity.” Within two-year of being off parole, only five-years after his initial release from prison, Joseph was arrested with a second felony and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
While in prison, Joseph received a letter from Sr. Jean Hughes, one of his biggest advocates and supporters while he was at St. Leonard’s. Sr. Jean wrote that she knew Joseph was going down a path filled with his old habits. She had tried to intervene previously, but Joseph did not listen. Although she provided Joseph with tough love and a heavy dose of reality, he still carries Sr. Jeans’ words with him to this day.
After serving fifteen years in prison, Joseph reapplied to St. Leonard’s Ministries. Joseph describes the day he received news that he was accepted into the St. Leonard’s House program as “one of the best days of my life.” For Joseph, “everything hits home” this time. Joseph knew that without St. Leonard’s, he would end up on the streets or in prison.
Joseph’s second time at St. Leonard’s is not like the first because he says, “I’m different.” It all started with praying. Joseph says he has God this time. Joseph can feel the blessings in his life.
Joseph is grateful for the programs he has been able to participate in, including computer literacy as he considers himself technologically ignorant. Joseph appreciated his time in Anger Management classes where he learned a lot. “I learned how to deal with it [my anger], how to function with it.” Previously, Joseph would act out on his anger and he has since learned stress reduction and breathing techniques. He learned how to acknowledge that while anger is a valid feeling, it does not have to result in violence.
Joseph looks forward to a bright future. He is focused on obtaining safe, permanent housing, and finding part-time employment. Joseph is well connected with the Department of Veterans Affairs as well. “I know what I got today and I know where I want to go.”
St. Leonard’s gave Joseph the safe housing and supportive community that allowed him to focus on himself and his well-being. “It has to be about me today.” Joseph remains humble when speaking of what St. Leonard’s means to him. Upon program completion, Joseph hopes to remain connected to St. Leonard’s. He knows in order to continue on a positive path, he needs to remain connected to like-minded people. Joseph considers the St. Leonard’s community his foundation, his family and his rock.