I can’t help but to have flashbacks when I see the growing problems in Manchester. There are more shootings than I’ve ever seen in my time in this city. Gang violence, addiction and crime seem to have risen, while the quality of life seems to be slipping. Although still one of the better places to live, I’m optimistic about it getting better.
There were times in my life where I tried to reach the American Dream by illegal shortcuts. These shortcuts led to drug charges, manslaughter, the breaking down of various communities and pain inflicted upon my own family.
I was the anomaly – born into a two-parent household in the housing projects of Brooklyn. Fast forward to my teens, my mother was diabetic, and my father was laid off from work. Although I have siblings who took the conventional route, I decided that the streets and illegal money were the best paths. I wasn’t completely dumb. I’d always envisioned owning property and being a businessman. One of my problems was that I chose the wrong product to push.
I’d tasted fast drug money, and let me tell you, it left an aftertaste that lasted well into my 30s. And little did I know, I was building bad habits that would last into my 30s as well. I’d left the lobbies and hallways of housing projects and thought that I’d smarten up by going out of town to maximize profit and not have to worry as much about having to show a violent side. Out of town, I handled business much differently. I did as the Romans while in Rome. I just added my intuition and made a few tweaks to normal drug dealing protocol. Where I was, I rarely had to worry about protecting myself through means of violence and I didn’t really have to worry about being murdered by those who were jealous of my monopoly.
Those instincts never left me though.
They rarely do.
I had a warped sense of work ethic. Again, for most of my youth, I watched my parents leave for work, day in and day out. They were the epitome of responsibility and role models during that time. I can’t make any excuses. One can attribute my wayward ways to peer influence, greed, and being the risk-taker that I am. Those shortcuts that I took had monumental expenses. I’d lost my mother while doing time in a NY state prison. Nearly 20 years later, I lost my father while doing time in a federal prison.
I didn’t make either funeral. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to the people who gave me life.
Three days into my latest incarceration, my fiancee at the time told me that she was pregnant with my daughter – she’s about to turn 7 years old. I’ve been free for only 10 months of her life.
Those short cuts…that fast money … it doesn’t add up.
I unveil these old wounds not for sympathy, but because it may help you and yours. Your children may be walking the path that I once walked. They may need to be spoken to in a familiar tongue from someone who’s been there. Maybe this can serve as a deterrent. I’m all too familiar with this terrain, its landscape of pain and backdrops of humility.
When a person reaches this stage of life, they should be honest about their pros and cons, strengths and shortcomings. To avoid or deny those realities only stagnates growth, progress, and evolution. Over the course of time, I’ve learned to accept constructive criticism from others. Through various classes, courses and programs, I’ve locked in on the things that I struggled with the most. The things that shape and mold us. Everything from being a shy fat kid to PTSD from the things I’ve seen and been involved in.
These streets in Manchester are like a microcosm of the neighborhood that I was raised in. I extend my hand to any group or organization that are looking for help regarding outreach to these young men and women, of all ages. Certain areas aren’t safe, and many parents, like myself, don’t want their children exposed to the gang violence, addiction, and prostituiton that has been rearing its head more and more. This is a city that has great potential. It’s the true melting pot north of Boston.
I head out to work five days per week, and I don’t have a desire for my former life. I’m not that negative risk-taker that I once was. The biggest risks that I take nowadays is day trading in the futures market. I’m busy and focused on honing my entrepreneurial and creative skills into the positive. I don’t mind being a square. I embrace it wholeheartedly.
Where I once led men into battle on the streets and prisons, I believe that I can now lead some of these misled youth into a brighter day.
Anthony Payton is a Brooklyn-born content creator and media maker, a proud father who loves writing, cooking and learning. Reach him at email@example.com