Carlos Jackson is a graduate of the REAL Program at the Richmond City Justice Center. Since December 2015, he has worked at Haley Buick GMC. We interviewed Haley Buick GMC General Manager Barry Moore last month, and first explored the REAL Program with Sarah Scarbrough in June.
I was born in Miami. When I was young, my mother passed away and I had to move to South Boston, Virginia. My grandmother raised me there, and she gave me all of the love she could. She raised me up to be the man that I am today.
After high school, I attended Virginia State University and graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration. After school, I had a daughter. I worked in hospitality and enjoyed helping people. I always had a job.
I veered off-track at a certain point. I hung around people who sold drugs, and got into the drug lifestyle myself. I still had a real job, but sold drugs for a long time without getting caught.
My grandmother got sick, so I moved her from South Boston to live with me in Richmond. Then I lost my job. It was overwhelming trying to take care of her and myself. So I went full-time into drug dealing. And then I began using drugs, which I never thought I would do in a million years. I regret that I went down that road. But I needed to take care of my grandmother. We needed to eat.
I finally got caught selling drugs and they put me in a twelve-month recovery program. I was three months away from completing the program when my grandmother passed away. You have to understand: She was my everything. I lost hope. I lost my home. I started sleeping at different people’s places—on couches, on floors. I felt myself falling and didn't know where to reach for help.
I took a leave of absence from the recovery program to bury my grandmother and to grieve. You can’t measure how much time you need to grieve someone’s death. But the way the district attorney saw it, I took too long and "absconded" from the program. In January 2015, I was arrested and sentenced to a year in jail.
In jail, I heard about another drug rehab program. I was reluctant to go, but saw people I knew from the streets who were in the program—and they had become different people. The program—the REAL Program—changed them. I decided to take a chance.
In the REAL Program, we talked a lot about behaviors and how you have to change bad behaviors so that drugs don't enter your life. People who had recovered came in from the outside to share their stories. I had a lot of time to reflect. I shared my experiences with the other guys in the program and with the staff. I took some VCU classes and earned college credit. In time, I became the leader on the pod and an assistant to the program. I’ve always been an optimistic person; I’ve always believed that things would get better. And I was released early.
But things weren't easy. When I was released, I needed food, shelter, clothes. Through the REAL Program, I was blessed to receive a housing scholarship that paid for two months of my rent. That's unusual; most guys are not that lucky. If I hadn’t had a roof over my head, if I hadn’t received donated clothing and food, then I would have been in a desperate situation again. I got a second chance.
Two weeks after I was released, I met Barry Moore. I discussed my interests with him and explained that I had a college degree and wanted to try something new. He gave me a shot servicing cars. I love the challenge. They trained me well and I’ve learned a lot. I now work two jobs: I work full-time at Haley Buick GMC, and on-call at the Marriott setting up banquets and functions.
I still have a long way to go to get my life back. It took a while to get a phone. I have to pay court fines, including fees that piled up while I was in jail. I have to get my driver's license back. Right now, I spend about an hour on the bus to get to work—and one of my co-workers has to pick me up because the closest bus stop is three miles away.
Sometimes it feels like when you’re doing good, you’re a target. Two Saturdays ago, I took the day off so I could move to a new apartment. That morning I walked to the ATM and got money out for the deposit. As I walking down Old Brook Road, three guys approached me in a car. They robbed me at gunpoint. They took the cash for my deposit. They took my phone.
That made me sit back and thing about things. I could have easily reacted in a different way, and then I probably wouldn’t be here today. It’s real out there. It’s very real.
Fortunately, I had enough money on my card to get more cash for the deposit. I was angry about what happened. But it could have been worse. By the grace of God, I’m still here. And I have a roof over my head. I’m not a religious person, but I do pray every day that I can make it through. I pray for my daughter.
I wish there were more people out here who believe in second chances. Sarah Scarbrough and her staff believe in second chances. Barry believes in second chances. He understands that if you can give someone just a little confidence, you can change their whole perspective on life. But we need more Barrys. If there were 200 Barrys, we might be alright. But there aren’t. And people don’t understand that there aren’t enough resources for people coming out of jail. We're not given a fair shake.
I’m still in touch with a man I met in jail who’s now at Deep Meadows Correctional Center. He tells me, "Hang in there. A lot of people are expecting you to do good. Focus on yourself and do the best you can." The REAL Program staff are behind me one hundred percent. If I fail, if I go out and commit a crime, then that’s going to make it harder for the next person trying to succeed after jail. People might think, "We put all this energy into this guy, and look what happened. Why should we try with the next person?" I don’t feel pressured, but I do feel there’s a need to move forward. That’s one reason why I reacted the way that I did last Saturday. I want to make it to the next day. I want to make a difference somehow. Right now, I take it one day at a time.
— interviewed August 9, 2016