Q: What was your home life like growing up?
A: My family is very, very close. I was fortunate enough to have both my mother and father in my life, even though they weren’t together. I lived with my mom until I was about twelve. Then she thought it would be a good idea for me to move in with my father. Around sixteen, I was pretty much doing my own thing.
Q: Are your parents from Poughkeepsie?
A: My mother is. My father is from Beacon, but at this point he’s been living in Poughkeepsie at least 40 years.
Q: Do you have siblings?
A: I have two older sisters, one younger sister, and two younger brothers. I’m the middle child, no matter how you look at it. My relationship with them is great.
Q: Have you had grandparents in your life?
A: I would definitely spend time with my grandparents, and they were an important part of my life. At one time we lived right next to my mother’s mom. So we were definitely close and I remember her vividly. My grandfather on my mother’s side passed the year I was born. My grandfather on my father’s side lived in Middletown, he passed in 2018. My father’s mom is in Beacon, and we’d go down there a lot to see her.
Q: Where in Poughkeepsie did you grow up?
A: In the neighborhood of Winnikee Avenue, Mansion Street, Pershing Avenue, Smith Street, and Thompson Street. The locals call it the hood.
Q: Where do you live now?
A: Not too far from there, on Corlies Avenue.
Q: What have been some of your favorite experiences here in the City of Poughkeepsie, either as an adult or as a child?
A: Growing up. There was a sense of community. Everybody knew each other, and that was very important. We were outside. You would walk down the streets and recognize many different people. You knew your neighbors. Even though I grew up in the 90s when the crime rate was high, that sense of community was really strong.
Q: How do you feel that compares to today?
A: From what I see, a lot more people aren’t home grown. A lot of people who grew up in Poughkeepsie have moved away. That creates a different atmosphere. When you have a lot of people moving into a city like this, which is small and is definitely being gentrified, they don’t really have that sense of community. Also they bring their own ideas of what Poughkeepsie is, and portray it.
Q: Do you know many people who chose to move away?
A: Tons of people. That includes family and close friends. A lot of people I know migrated down south, or maybe to Albany where the rents are a little cheaper.
Q: Would you say that cost of living is a big reason people moved away?
A: Definitely. We have no rent control, and rents have really gone up since Covid began. Families who are from here just can’t afford it. Now we also have more people moving here from New York City because it costs less than living in a one-bedroom down there, even with the commute. And there’s a lot more housing being built for them here. Unfortunately, from what I see, they’re not spending their time and money here on the weekends, and putting back something into our community.
Q: When you were growing up, where did you like to hang out? Where did you have a lot of fun?
A: Usually at a park. Or just outside with my friends. We were everywhere just being out on the streets, pretty much wherever the wind blew. The Smith Street projects, or Charles Street, or Covenant basketball court. We’d go play a football game at King Street Park.
Q: Are people outside as much now as you remember growing up?
A: People are out. But there’s not the togetherness. You walk by people because you don’t know who they are. Something I notice is that people feel less safe because they don’t recognize their neighbors, so they keep to themselves more and don’t open their doors as much to get to know people.
Q: Did you feel safe growing up?
A: I did. Even though I knew that things happened in my neighborhood, and it wasn’t the safest neighborhood all the time. The truth is, this city is so small kids should feel that every neighborhood is theirs, not just the few blocks near where they live. They should be everywhere in Poughkeepsie and feel comfortable and supported.
Q: What helped you feel safe?
A: Having family nearby. When I was growing up, a lot of my family was still alive and living here, and we leaned on each other. You have to lean on that support system, the people who have your best interest in mind. I was fortunate to always have a father in my life. He made me feel safe, no matter where I was at. He is the best man I know. And I still made mistakes growing up, with a great father figure in my life. So imagine what it’s like for a lot of young black men who don’t have that.
Q: Does he still play an important role in your life?
A: Every day.
Q: Were you rare among your friends to have a father very present in your life?
A: Very, very rare.
Q: You work for the SNUG program [“guns” spelled backwards]. You deal with violence and young people here in Poughkeepsie. What do you see them experiencing?
A: Well to begin with, gun violence is plaguing our community. Just like every other community where you’re dealing with poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance. Crime comes with that. And then when you put that on top of people who don’t know how to deal with their trauma, you have a lot of people who feel lost. This isn’t just Poughkeepsie. This is every community across America where there are black and brown people.
Q: How do you address this in your work?
A: I’m out in the streets every day. I work with individuals at the highest risk for shooting somebody or getting shot. I get next to them and try to help them make better decisions and make them aware of the resources out here. At my job we have social workers and case managers who can help them. We reach out to them and get them involved in new things. We try to change their norms. That could just simply be taking them somewhere else, doing things with them in other cities, and showing them other things than they’re used to.
Q: Could you tell me about someone who you’ve seen experience a really positive impact?
A: He was on probation for years, going in and out of the county jail. When he did come out of the county, they had him on house arrest. He just couldn’t get it together. Now he just got vaccinated with his second shot. He’s working in the hospital as a greeter. He just got his ID. He’s about to take GED classes. It’s a complete turnaround. There are many examples. We’re doing great work.
Q: How much time would you say it took for this change to happen, from when he started with SNUG?
A: It takes time, some people change quicker than others. But I’d say in that example, about eighteen months. When you’re dealing with young people and trauma, you’re going to see ambivalence. You just can’t get discouraged by it. You’ve just got to recognize it, and come at them from another way.
You’ve probably heard of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Are you familiar with PTSE? That stands for Persistent Traumatic Stress Environment. We’re talking about adverse childhood experiences. Lots of these kids have experienced so much trauma. They’re seeing their friends dying, and they’re seeing people laughing about it on social media. They go to school and experience all types of pressures. It’s a lot. And if you’re looking from the outside in, and not really in tune with what’s going on, it looks like a whole bunch of savagery. But the truth is that a lot of kids in our community are hurt. When you’re young and you experience certain traumas, you don’t necessarily realize you’re going through it, and you don’t even know how to deal with it. It causes a lot of kids to lash out. They make bad decisions. That happens to anybody, not just children.
Q: Can you relate to their experiences?
A: I definitely experienced trauma growing up. I’ve seen close friends die from violence.
Q: Based upon your upbringing and experience, what knowledge have you been able to pass on?
A: I learned from a lot of different trials and tribulation. I spent thirteen years in prison. That’s when I started learning about my own trauma, my own adverse childhood experiences, and learning how to deal with them. When I got out of prison, I felt it was my job to make people aware of what they didn’t know about their experiences. People can look at me and say he made some mistakes, but he’s learned from them and he’s giving back and doing it the right way. That’s big for me.
Q: How did it go for you when you came back home?
A: My transition was okay. I knew I had to work twice as hard as everybody else because of the position that I was in. Being from here, Poughkeepsie didn’t make it easy for me. If it wasn’t for the SNUG program, I don’t think anybody would’ve hired me.
Q: How soon did you start participating in SNUG?
A: Right away. That was three years ago, and I’ve been working for SNUG for two.
Q: What would you say was a very important thing that you wish you understood better when you were younger, that would’ve made a difference in the direction of your life?
A: I wish I knew how to deal with situations better, as a responsible young adult. If there was a specific tool, it probably would have been a certain level of patience. I was smart enough to know right from wrong, but I didn’t deal with situations well. There were also a lot of circumstances involved. I had certain responsibilities that maybe at 16 I shouldn’t have had. If you’re in Hyde Park or Rhinebeck or Arlington, and you’re that age you might have your first real job. You can just focus on school and saving money. Being 16 in the City of Poughkeepsie is way different for a lot of kids. They may not have stable housing, or may not know where they’re getting their next meal. They’re not working at a job, they’re trying to get the fast money because of their circumstances. That’s why we have to show them there are a lot more resources out here, so they can do things differently. I didn’t know about all of the resources available when I was that age.
Q: You’re a father, right?
A: Yes, my daughter is a senior at Poughkeepsie High School.
Q: What’s your approach?
A: She sees what’s going on, and I talk to her about it. My job is to make sure she doesn’t get caught up in any of the bad stuff. She stays away from it the best she can. But there’s also violence at the school and near there, so I drive her to school in the morning and pick her up when school is over.
Q: Do you do that every day?
Q: Did you graduate from Poughkeepsie High?
A: Yes I did. I had a family that was always big on education, so school never was necessarily a problem for me. Sometimes school was too easy for me and I wasn’t being challenged. When it was time to learn and I didn’t know something, I made sure I got that information.
Q: How do you feel the City of Poughkeepsie is looked upon by people from elsewhere in the area?
A: I feel like many of them look at Poughkeepsie as a cash cow. There’s money to be made here. Same thing about the developers coming from New York. They find ways to get make money here, they get tax breaks, and they don’t put anything back into the city. Maybe they throw in a few apartments that are more affordable.
Q: What’s your advice for city leaders?
A: What we need is people who really care about our community, and pour it back into the community. A lot of people come here and they take so much. What we need here are people who are very committed to being here, and to making sure that the money that’s being made here, the resources that are being spent here, make their way back to the people who are living here now. Right now there’s too much attention on who they want to be living here in the future.