A Former Inmate And The 'Mother' Who Buoys Him

Jan 9, 2015
Originally published on January 9, 2015 9:37 am

James Taylor says it was almost impossible to find a job after he was released from prison in 1999. He had been serving 7 years for weapons possession and drug charges.

But then he met Darlene Lewis. Darlene runs an organization dedicated to helping former inmates find jobs, preparing them for interviews, placing them with local businesses and advocating for them in court. She's helped thousands of men and women.

"When you first met me, you was almost in tears," Darlene says.

"You sat me down. You found out what it was I was trying to do, and if I couldn't get what I was trying to do, what would I like to do then?" James says.

The first job Darlene sent him to was at McDonald's. "I became a manager, and then I lost the job, but you were right there waiting to pick me up and send me somewhere else — because I know where quick money is, and that's part of what leads you back into the streets," he says. "But you continued to help me and push me when I'd fall."

"You know, you was going to fall off the wagon 'cause we all do," Darlene says. "But I knew you'd come back. I always knew that, 'cause of your heart and because of your sincerity. I knew eventually that you was going to make it."

Today, James works as a videographer and youth mentor. He recently started his own media advertising company.

The biggest misconception people have about him, he says, is that he hasn't changed. "They're still waiting for that guy to come back. They don't think that what I'm doing now is real. Even though I have faults, I look in the mirror and I like what I see," James says.

"Do you ever feel like I've been too hard on you?" Darlene asks.

"Yeah! But during those times that I feel like that, I remember prison," he says. "When you're hard on us, it's love in it. You care. They didn't. You have been a mother to me. You took me in, and I mean, I couldn't replace you in my life. If I tried, I mean, I'd be searching forever."

"We make a good team," Darlene says.

"Yes ma'am, we do."

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is Friday morning, which means it's time for StoryCorps, where everyday people tell the stories that have shaped their lives. Twenty years ago, Darlene Lewis' son was released from prison. But as a convicted felon, he couldn't find work. So Darlene decided to do something. She runs an organization dedicated to helping former inmates find jobs. Darlene prepares them for interviews, places them with local businesses and advocates for them in court. She has helped thousands of men and women, including James Taylor. He served seven years for weapons possession and drug charges. Today, James works as a videographer and youth mentor. Darlene and James sat down for StoryCorps in Little Rock, Arkansas.

JAMES TAYLOR: I got out in '99 - December, right in time to catch a new year.

DARLENE LEWIS: How hard was it for you to find a job?

TAYLOR: Almost impossible. Even though there was a now hiring sticker on the window, they still would find a way to tell me no.

LEWIS: You know, when you first met me, you was almost in tears.

TAYLOR: You sat me down. You'd found out what it was I was trying to do. And if I couldn't get what I was trying to do, what would I like to do then? And the first job that you sent me to was to McDonald's. I became a manager. And then I lost the job, but you were right there waiting to pick me up and send me somewhere else because I know where quick money is. And that's part of what leads you back into the streets. But you continued to help me and push me when I'd fall.

LEWIS: You know, you was going to fall off the wagon 'cause we all do. But I knew you'd come back. I always knew that 'cause of your heart and because of your sincerity. I knew eventually that you was going to make it. Let me ask you - what is the biggest misconception peoples have of you?

TAYLOR: That I haven't changed. They're still waiting for that guy to come back. They don't think that what I'm doing now is real. Even though I have faults, I look in the mirror, and I like what I see.

LEWIS: Do you ever feel like I've been too hard on you?

TAYLOR: Yeah. But during those times that I feel like that, I remember prison. When you're hard on us, it's love in it. You care. They didn't. You have been a mother to me. You took me in. And, I mean, I couldn't replace you in my life. If I tried, I mean, I'd be searching forever.

LEWIS: We make a good team.

TAYLOR: Yes, ma'am, we do.

INSKEEP: James Taylor and Darlene Lewis at StoryCorps in Little Rock. James volunteers at Darlene's organization, helping place other convicted felons in jobs. Their conversation will be archived with all the others at the Library of Congress. And you can get the StoryCorps podcast on iTunes as well as at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.