Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Guest Post "My Crooked Path to A Straight Life" by Conrad James

My name is Conrad James. I am from Amityville, New York (By way of Panama). I am a 47 years old mechanic who currently resides in Duncanville, Texas. I am married with a 14 year old son.

My Crooked Path to A Straight Life...

“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
~Martin Luther

"Happy Father's Day" is what the young lady said to me as she walked by. Who would have guessed that a simple greeting would be the beginning of the new "ME"? Until I received that simple greeting, I really didn't think anything was wrong with the old me. I knew there was room for improvement but, I wasn't very proactive about it. I was sitting around waiting for something positive to happen AND THEN I was going to ride the wave of change where ever it took me. But there was no wave; just still waters. I did nothing to "upset" the waters either. All I did was float around and went where ever the tide took me. I didn't go very far…
I was living with my grandparents at the time. I was in my early 20's. I had a car, a job, friends, and a close-knit family. I was very grateful for all those things. I knew people on my street that had none of those things and weren’t has blessed as I was. I also knew people that had a lot more than me. I figured I would be like them one day…just waiting for my ship to come in. But in the meantime, I was actually content. I wasn't in a big rush. If there was something I wanted but couldn't afford, I would just save my money until I could or just learn to live without. This is how I figured that the people who "Have" got their things. And now as I look back I realize I was only half right.

The one thing that I did have that most of my friends didn't was a police record. I had been pulled over and arrested many times. During that period of "Comfortable Bliss", I used to drag race repeatedly and drove cars around my neighborhood without the proper registration, plates or insurance. Sometimes when the police would pull behind me and turn their flashing lights on, I would "ready" myself behind the wheel and begin to think "How close are they?  Do I have enough space? Can I outrun them?" and a few of times I did. When I would pull over and get arrested, I would just think to myself' "Aw well, here we go again". Sometimes I just got tickets and they would let me go. As the tickets piled up I used to think to myself "I will take care of them one day… when things get better"

I also used to sell drugs and steal cars. I sold drugs as a way to make a little extra money. I stole cars "Just because" I actually got a kick out of pitting my intelligence against the Police department. I used to take pride in the fact that I never got caught.  Oddly enough, all of my choices in life up to this point were actually somewhat thought out. Thought out in the sense that each time I would weigh the pros and cons of each and every decision I would proceed with calculated caution. I learned early on in life that the police (and most people for that matter) would judge you initially on your overall outward appearance and the way you carried yourself. I was almost always able to succeed in any criminal endeavor merely by looking and acting the part. For example, when I went to buy drugs to sell, I would have to take the train and subway to uptown Manhattan; a 3 hour trip. I would dress in old clothes and act the part of a drug addict or a derelict. I would keep to myself. I would project the overall appearance of someone broke and non-threatening. This way I could blend in without drawing the attention of cops or those who might want to rob me. I even had what I called "contingency plans". I would already have a "script" planned out in my head in case I ever had to explain my actions to law enforcement. Once, I got searched by an undercover after leaving a crack house. They found $764.00 on me (no drugs). They asked me who I robbed this from. I told them I just sold a 1984 Toyota Celica GT for $800.00. My story also included common details like the color, the new parts, and mileage. Turns out the undercover cop was just as crooked as me. He said "Guess what??? I don't like Toyotas. I'm buying it back" and he took the money! Since I didn't get arrested, I chalked it up as "The price of doing business". Close calls like that never deterred me like they should have. As a matter of fact, moments like that (and occasionally outrunning the police) gave me a type of "Street credibility”. The type of respect amongst others that operated on the other side of the law couldn't be purchase if you tried. Not "Famous", just "Commonly Infamous". Unfortunately, I earned this same status in the eyes of people who I wouldn't brag about my fame to.

Despite all what I did in the protection of the night, all of my activities became clear to the eyesight of my fellow church members. I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist by a loving grandmother. Getting arrest didn't bother me but when members of the congregation started to whisper about my activities and my associations, I became genuinely ashamed. My church was like a large extended family. When one of the members pulled me to the side to ask me about rumors she had heard, it was like looking into my grandmother's eyes. I had to put my head down in shame. The guilt I felt that day really bothered me. I went home afterwards and sat one the hood of my car, drank a beer and tried to get the look of disappointment that Sis Thurman had in her eyes out of my head.

I woke up the next morning and found a puddle of antifreeze underneath my car. I started to repair the leaking hose when I heard someone say "Happy Father’s Day" It was a woman, about my age walking down the street with a purposeful stride. She was attractive and I remember thinking 2 things. "Wow, where has SHE been hiding" and” Man, I forgot to get my grandfather a card" I looked at her and said "Thank you, But I don't have kids" At that moment she stopped. She had a surprised look on her face. She turned to face me and put her hand on her hip and said "Aren't you sexually active?" I was curious to the meaning of the question all the while taking in her beauty.  I answered "Yes" and immediately, her expression changed again. She uttered “whatever” while rolling her eyes at me combined with a look of disgust! "LIKE I SAID-HAPPY FATHERS DAY" She then turned away and went back to her same purposeful stride. Completely confused I stopped working on the car altogether and tried to understand this brief and puzzling encounter.
What was she REALLY saying??? I was certain I had never seen her before. At this point in my life, I didn't have any children. After much thought, I came to one conclusion. She must have felt that ANY brother from the neighborhood that was sexually active MUST have children. I felt insulted. Then, almost like a revelation; it hit me." I DON'T HAVE ANY CHILDREN" I am 24 years old and unlike some of my friends, the only person I have to care for is me! I then began to reassess my current situation. Here I am living at my grandparents’ house; I don't have a career… just a job. I am a drug dealer and a car thief with an arrest record 5 sheets long. I don't know why but for the first time in a long while I looked back at my life and I wasn't happy by what I saw. I was actually quite embarrassed. I thought about all my unfulfilled dreams and why I had allowed myself to be content with such a sad existence. I wasn't raised this way. And one thing was sure I couldn't blame the "White Man". I was responsible for every decision made. I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror. Looked at what I was; what I became and I almost didn't recognize the person looking back at me.
I thought about just who I used to be and how I was raised. I used to be a short nerd that went to church, played sports, read lots of books, loved cars and stayed out of trouble. A good day used to consist of riding my bike to the library and finding a new book; or going on a job with my grandfather and listening to the ball game on the radio. I was raised by my mother, aunt and grandparents with great values. I was taught to love God, be independent, hardworking and respectful of others. I listened to my elders and did what I was told. When I got older, I was still a nerd; just a taller one that sought pleasure and thrills by committing crimes. I allowed the opinions of others to cloud my thinking. I allowed myself to be embarrassed of who I was. But (as I looked in the mirror) I realized that a lot of the old me was still there. I still liked reading, still loved cars and I still was a hard worker. This is when I decided to go back to what I knew and turn things around. 

Going back to what I used to be, what I use to know... It was a scary endeavor as it meant a boring life lived by a simple person in a simple existence. As soon as I realized that being a boring nerd never once got me chased by the police or arrested, it was a pretty easy sell.  Almost immediately, I started changing thing that I could. For example, the people I hung out with, the places I hung out at. My Saturday nights still consisted of sitting in the same car that helped cause me so many problems. But now, instead of driving fast, it was parked in the back yard with the radio on and a book propped up on the steering wheel while I ate Chinese food and drank a Coke. No more police in the rear view mirror; Just a view of the back porch.
My crooked path to my straight life had me go through experiences that today I can say I’m not proud of and although they mostly brought challenges that I could’ve done without, they are also the ingredient of what allowed my growth to the wiser man I am now. I was lucky enough to have had a great base of values from the family members whom raised me so when all failed I knew I would be okay starting over at square one.
The big part of my transformation consisted of me changing my environment all together. I always wanted to go back to college. So I applied to Grambling State University and got accepted. I took up Automotive Engineering Technology as a course of study and as extra curriculum project I committed to a really special private course called “How to respect a beautiful Black Women by Jeannette Goodman". I got an "A" in automotive which finally gave me a career. In the other course I only got a "B" however it’s a lifetime class and so far it has been 20 years and even though I STILL don't fully understand the curriculum of her class, I strive daily to achieve a “A”. Her presence alongside me make this straight life I created (from the good through the bad to today) even more worthwhile because I know I am her favorite student and changes got me here…

Picture courtesy of


  1. Great post Conrad!

    It's not so much about all the things we've done in this life; it's really more about what we learn from the experiences and what kind of person we become as a result. You have an amazing story, and you should be thankful to God that although you've made mistakes, you didn't suffer the fate that so many others did (involved in the same path). You can certainly use your knowledge and experience to help others who might be heading down the same path!
    Be blessed Sir!

  2. Thank You very much. I always figured that I was able to be where I am because the "Little Old Ladies" of the church kept me in their prayers.If it wasn't for them, I would be either dead or in jail RIGHT NOW!!! Someone once told me "God protects children and fools" I was over 18... Conrad


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