This isn’t Leroy’s first time out of prison, but he is confident it will be his last.
His story begins with a familiar archetype. From a young age, drug dealing brought him easy money and a false feeling of progress. Certainly, there were moments and milestones where he felt he was moving forward. With his long-term girlfriend, Leroy bought land and a house, and they had a son.
Leroy started selling heroin and was initiated into two gangs. He engaged in shootouts and gang wars, a tumultuous life that risked imprisonment and death. And with tragic precision, Leroy would encounter both.
“It was more or less the cars, the money, the girls, the having it soon, like that,” he explains, snapping his fingers. “Fast cash. Eventually once you have that excitement and you have everything, you go into using [drugs].”
His first serious girlfriend introduced him to cocaine, and there is nothing like drugs to muddle a person’s thought process.
“It took me to a dark place in my life,” says Leroy. “I never want to go through that again.”
Leroy reflects on how different his mindset was on drugs. “Looking back on who I was, I could see the difference,” he says. “My thoughts were clouded, my judgment was clouded.”
At one point, his girlfriend received a life insurance policy from a relative, and the two spent the entire $60,000 on cocaine. “And that’s just using [drugs] alone—not all the other mess that goes along with that,” he says.
In 2013, Leroy’s best friend and partner in drug dealing borrowed a small amount of cash from Leroy to run to the store for cigarettes and liquor. When he returned with short change and no bottle, the two friends argued. The next thing Leroy remembers is waking up in the hospital surrounded by his family. He had a fresh scar down his chest and a collapsed lung.
A police detective recounted what happened. During their argument, Leroy’s friend had attacked from behind and stabbed Leroy in the heart. Viewing security camera footage, they saw his friend dump his body in the street, go through his pockets for his wallet and phone, and leave him for dead.
In fact, Leroy did die – twice. He lied there for half an hour before paramedics arrived at the scene and resuscitated him. He died again in the ambulance.
Afterward Leroy, a spiritual man, wondered why God had kept him alive. He wondered what purpose he was supposed to fulfill. He spent a year in excruciating recovery, trying to get back to life as usual.
But the trauma of a near death experience does not dissipate with physical recovery. Leroy struggled to trust people again. He went back to drugs. Inevitably, his behavior alienated people who were close to him.
“Living in the streets and thinking that the world was against me put me in a whole different place,” he says. “Some people didn’t want to be around me.”
His near death experience, the lost money, the turmoil in his relationships – that is not what shocked him into a new mindset. Instead, he had a blunt moment of clarity when he was standing in front of a judge facing fourteen years of imprisonment for a nonviolent offense. He thought about the gravity of this sentence, and how old his son would be when he got out.
“At that moment, I knew I was done,” Leroy recounts, “and that would be the last time [I would make] a decision that would even put myself in the situation I was in.”
Fortunately, he was offered a plea bargain. His sentence would be reduced to a year and a half if he went into the Shock Incarceration Program, a 90-day therapeutic program with a military-like structure to instill discipline and citizenship.
Leroy had to wait some time before he could start Shock. He was transferred to several different prisons for over a year before he was accepted into the program. A year may seem like a short time in the scheme of life, but it is enough to slay a person’s identity and spirit.
“You do realize, when you’re locked up, who really loves you and cares about you.” Leroy describes the feeling of “looking at the walls and realizing you’re not being treated like a human being.”
“It doesn’t get lower than that twelve o’clock at night, caged in, can’t go nowhere, gotta use the bathroom that’s right by your head, can’t eat when you want to, you’re starving…And on top of that, the people that are supposed to be helping you get through this transition, the ones working there, are treating you like an animal.”
He describes seeing guards pull a prisoner out of his cell and beating him for asking about medical treatment. At one particular prison, riots and stabbings were the norm, and the guards would step back and watch. Then the smoke bombs and tear gas would fly. The prisoners faced 23-hour lockdowns where no one could leave his cell.
“There was a point where I almost gave up on myself,” Leroy admits. Beyond this crushing environment, he was in a struggle to maintain contact with his son, a court battle he engaged in via video chat from prison. With depression lurking and easy access to drugs in prison, Leroy had to make a choice.
“There was a moment where I had to knuckle down and realize there are people in worse situations,” he says. His spirituality guided him, and he began to think about his place in the world.
Leroy completed Shock. He was released on parole after a year and a half. He is now planning a wedding with a wonderful woman, an attorney in Buffalo. He is working for full custody of his three-year-old son to ensure he grows up in a safe and healthy environment. He soon will be a stepfather to his wife’s three sons. He is also starting his own business.
“Being out is definitely different this time,” Leroy explains, “I know what I want to live for now and what type of people I want to be around…I’m able to look at all the goals I never accomplished and look at people that’s in dire need or came from where I came from in life,” he continues. “And possibly be a blessing or help to them.”
His transition has involved letting go of certain destructive relationships and nurturing the positive ones.
“Everything I went through built up to this point,” he says. Leroy has faced death in more than one way, but now his mindset focuses on facing life.
“Every day I look in the mirror and I see [my] scar. I know what I’ve been through, I know what I came from, and I know where I’m at today. That’s just more determination to keep pushing forward.”