Carlos, better known around Sox Place as “Los”, is a six-foot-two, 35-year-old Mexican-born gangster who was raised on the streets of Los Angeles. As a child, he was introduced into the brutal environment of drug dealing. His arms and head are covered with artfully crafted prison tattoos, most of which were inked while he served time in prison.
“There’s a picture of me – six years old – sitting on six blocks of cocaine,” he told me one hot summer afternoon as I was driving along Federal to drop him off for a UA.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home that was perched among the rolling desert hills of southern Colorado, far from any real danger. It was difficult to wrap my mind around what it would be like to be raised among such turmoil. But to Carlos, it was just a way of life.
“I owned six cars but never drove them. I would walk around with two Gs in cash on me at all times. I could get whatever I wanted, and tell anyone what to do.”
I took another bite of my smothered chicken burrito as Los slurped on menudo, recounting the days that he had spent in Denver after he had been banned from the state of California after being convicted of four felonies. We had sat down for a Sunday afternoon lunch at La Abeja, a small, authentic Mexican bakery and restaurant on the 500 block of Colfax.
“That was my spot,” he said as he pointed to a small table against the window. “These people are my homies. I would hide in here when I was running from the cops.”
For the past 22 years, Los had spent his life in prison. He would be released and would survive only long enough to add a few weeks or months to his sense of freedom before being sent back. Now, he said, he hoped he would be out for good.
Several months later, we hired him on as an intern at Sox Place to provide him with temporary employment. We would have him help out around the drop-in center, doing small chores throughout the day. Later on he found a job working as part of the cleanup crew at Coors Field, but he quickly resigned because he didn’t enjoy the work. A few weeks later he landed another job working at a tiny kiosk across the street from Civic Center Park selling sunglasses, but that didn’t work out either.
After I helped launch Sox Place Screen Printing, the staff decided to hire Carlos back on as a Streets2Stability intern for Sox Place Screen Printing. We began the long, arduous work of training and personally mentoring Carlos. He was an extremely slow learner, and the next several months proved to be extremely challenging for both of us.
Carlos had never learned to manage his emotions, and he would often storm out of the room and then disappear for weeks at a time, putting himself at risk of violating his parole many times. He would frequently consider just going back to prison, since it was easier for him to do time than to embark on this terrifying journey of a “normal” life. He had never held a job before in his life (other than his extensive experience of drug dealing), so showing up to work on time and doing what we was told was a completely foreign concept to him. My patience was being tested, and I had a hard time understanding why it was so difficult for him to understand the most elementary concepts. To most people, showing up to work on time and completing the tasks assigned is not a difficult accomplishment. If Carlos had been working at any other job, he would have been fired countless times.
But as time progressed and I began to learn more about Carlos and his background, I started to truly understand the difficulties of being raised in such a tumultuous setting. I began to realize why he acted the way he did, and we had many conversations that addressed those difficulties.
Now, eighteen months after his release, Carlos has a new baby boy, an apartment with his girlfriend, and an entirely different outlook on life. He has shown up to work on time every day for the past several months and has been working harder than ever. It took more than a year and a half of continuous, loving support to even put a dent in his self-destructive behavior, but we are finally beginning to see the fruits of our labor. Homelessness and the scars that it produces is not a problem that can be easily fixed. Even though Carlos was never truly “homeless” at any point in his life, the challenges that he faced on a daily basis would have prevented him from ever being a healthy, contributing member of society without the constant, loving support of people who truly cared for him.
Here at Sox Place Screen Printing, our job is not to have the most effective employees or post the most impressive earnings. We are here to provide homeless and troubled youth with the resources they need, both financially and emotionally, to fully remove themselves from a life of poverty and abuse, and to immerse themselves into the life they were meant to live, a life in which they can realize their true potential and be loved for who they really are.