Maurice describes himself as “a rolling stone.” Originally from Oklahoma City, Okla., he says that he lived all over the state, moving around with his mother whenever they needed to find a new place to live. By the time he was 17, Maurice was gang affiliated, hustling, and selling and using drugs.
“I was living a rough lifestyle,” Maurice said. “I decided to turn into the black sheep of the family.”
According to Maurice, he was attracted to this way of living in part due to the fact that he did not grow up with a constant male role model in the house. His mom worked hard to provide for her children, but in Maurice’s view, she was not able to teach a young boy what he needed to know in order to become a man.
“That’s when I turned to the streets,” Maurice said. “I detoured away from trying to do what was right.”
Eventually, Maurice decided to leave Oklahoma. He purchased his first car – a 1974 Chevrolet Impala – and he moved with a few friends to Texas, the Fort Worth area. He thought that there were hustles and money to make. He also remained affiliated with a gang, and continued to use and sell drugs. His life was spiraling out of control and the cycle finally turned into a mere struggle for survival. He wasn’t improving, and said that, instead. He remained in a toxic environment.
“When I was doing these things,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything positive. Never.”
After a while, Maurice found himself in the penitentiary. Stretch after stretch after stretch of incarceration, that began in the early 1990s and lasted through part of 2016. The longest period of time that Maurice spent incarcerated was five years. Otherwise, the bids were two years, three years, one year and so on. In the end, Maurice spent a total of roughly 15 years behind bars. After his last term in prison, which ended in February 2016, Maurice knew that he needed to make some changes
“I was doing the same thing every time I got out, and expecting different results,” Maurice said. “My family reached out to grab me. They said that the cavalry was coming in.”
One of those family members is a sister who lives in Nashville. Maurice said that she encouraged him to move to Nashville for a change of environment and spoke some hard but necessary truth to him.
“I was just existing in life; I wasn’t really living,” Maurice said.
Now in the free world, Maurice decided to hold on for the first time to the instructions and wisdom he had earned and received while incarcerated. Instead of turning to the same traps of gangs and drugs and hustling, Maurice chose to rebuild his life from the bottom up.
He could have chosen to live with his sister, but he instead chose to make his own way in the world, leaving his old life and possessions behind, and settling in at the local mission in Nashville.
“I needed to learn how to stand on my own 10 toes,” Maurice said.
It wasn’t easy. He had never really held a job before, but he knew that he wanted to earn every inch and build up his own life without relying on his sister and her husband.
Not long after arriving at the mission, Maurice met another man named Harry who was staying there as well. Harry had noticed Maurice and could tell that he was ready to work and that he was serious-minded.
Maurice recounts: “He said, ‘Let me show you how to get some money, legally, here in Tennessee.’ And he introduced me to The Contributor.”
He started selling the paper in spring of last year, and began to see money come in to the point where he was providing for his basic needs. He had an encounter with another vendor – one who’d earned a map badge, giving him exclusive rights to a the corner on which Maurice was selling – who asked Maurice to sell elsewhere.
“In Texas, we do things big,” Maurice said. “That was big to me – that he could tell me to sell somewhere else. I wanted that.”
He got it. And he earned a map badge after only about a month of selling. Maurice then began writing regularly for the paper to earn some additional income on top of sales. To this day, he is one of The Contributor’s most consistent vendor writers.
“Let me get some Texas swag in here,” he said.
Maurice is moving forward with determination and pride, and there are exciting things on the horizon. Not only is he continuing to put his own life together, he would like to help other young men with similar stories to put their lives back together too. To that end, he is working with a friend to start a nonprofit that will help people stay off drugs and find and keep good jobs.
“I don’t exist anymore,” Maurice said. “I’m living.”