Michael was born a “military brat” in Smithfield, Tennessee, raised by both parents with an older sister, until his parents divorced when he was 13. They lived with their mother the first year, but “she took the divorce hard and started binge drinking. She woke up drunk and went to bed drunk. She pretended like I never existed. She and my sister fought all the time, so we went to live with my dad in Pennsylvania. He kicked my sister out when she got pregnant at 18, and kicked me out at 18 for getting in trouble with the law.
My dad had married the woman he cheated on my mom with, and she and I never got along. He tried to force me to call her ‘mom,’ but she was a homewrecker and split up my family. I started staying out late, doing drugs, hanging with the wrong people, smoking weed, and popping pills. Then I got set up on the school grounds for intent to manufacture and sell marijuana, when it really wasn’t me. My friend was in trouble doing a bunch of drugs and he was facing jail time, so he set me up along with a bunch of other kids. I got probation, and when I told my dad, he told me I was a ‘Pandora’s box’ and kicked me out thirty days after I graduated from high school. I went to court for about a year on the charges.”
Michael still had somewhat of a relationship with his mom and she had remarried. She and her new husband helped him get a lawyer, but the case kept getting postponed. “I was hopping from couch-to-couch with a bunch of friends, until they got tired of me. I was still doing things I shouldn’t have been doing.”
Michael was put on probation for two years while living with his mom and step-dad in Tennessee. “I worked two jobs, had to do 100 hours of community service, saw my P.O. every week and went to rehab classes for drugs. I didn’t really do drugs, but I needed to do something to change myself. I had no friends … no future.”
Eventually he “got his act together,” got clean, and worked in fast food, then on farms with farm animals. “It was the first time I ever saw the birth of a baby calf. It was very traumatic. I never saw so much blood in my life.”
Michael lived in Tennessee for five years working different jobs until “I found what I really like to do.” He became a construction worker, did roofing, helped frame and build houses from the time he was 18 until he was 24.
“After my probation ended, I met my ex-fiancé. She got pregnant, but miscarried and it destroyed the relationship. She had endometriosis and some other problems. We fell out of love and she snuck around behind my back and told me ‘I don’t love you anymore.’ ”
Michael went to Missouri and lived with his uncles who owned Unified Construction, LLC making $20 an hour for a year. Then he moved back to Pennsylvania, “but not with my dad. I haven’t spoken to him since 2010. I tried to go to school in Pennsylvania, with a friend of mine, to do Mortuary Science, but they wouldn’t accept my finances. I worked other jobs and then moved here and went to TCC, then tried to join the Navy. I had hitchhiked to Tennessee, to my sister’s for two weeks. Then I hitchhiked to Salem, VA and got my sister to wire me some money to get to Virginia Beach. I stayed there for a couple of hours and walked to Norfolk looking for the Mission. I found it online. On the way, I stopped at an Arby’s down the road. A guy was coming in on his bicycle and looked at me like I was trying to steal it. I followed him inside and asked if I could use his phone and told him I was homeless, and was looking for the Mission. He told me he stayed here and walked me the rest of the way.”
That was July – August 2017. After a month, his best friend moved here and they got an apartment in Ocean View. “I was still trying to get into the Navy. When we got a couple of drinks, my friend started fighting with me. He kicked my door in and came at me. I threw him into a wall. It wasn’t my fault. He was just a belligerent drunk, so I packed my stuff and came to the Mission four weeks ago.”
Ms. Confer is his Case Manager, but when he saw Mr. Metcalf, the David Development Program Director, he remembered him from the first time he was at the Mission. “I remembered he used to take people to the gym to work out, so I asked if he would take me. He said I had to be in the David Program, and asked me how old I was. When he found out I was twenty-six, he said he would find out from Ms. Confer if I could join the Program. I just wanted to go work out, so the next day, I went to the free writing class (taught by Virginian Pilot writer, Jesse Scaccia ). I guess I did pretty well, because ever since, I’ve been in the David Program. I did try escaping a couple of times, but Ms. Confer and Mr. Metcalf wanted me to stay in. In order to join the Navy, I needed to pay off my debt and I needed to work, work, work! But Mr. Metcalf said, ‘Be patient, the money will come.’
Ms. Confer asked me to give it two weeks in the program, and if it didn’t work, I could get out. I took my first test and scored 127. Then I went back to Ms. Confer to let me leave. She said, ‘No, now that I see you did so well on the test and are attending all the classes, you have to stay in. I had a complete mental breakdown, because in the Navy, I heard you can’t get into any special programs if you have any debt. Then I found out you can’t even get in the Navy until you pay off your debt and I had to work to do that, but they wouldn’t let me get a job in the Program. Mr. Metcalf said, ‘You passed your first test. If you pass the 2nd test, you can work, so I sat down during Chapel and studied. I didn’t even pay attention to the pastor, I just studied for the test and got another 127. I was just studying, studying, studying.”
Note: the tests are scored for 100 points, but you can earn extra credit for doing more than what was asked—thus the 127 score. “I wrote about every character—Samuel, David, Jesse, Saul, and I added scripture. After I took that test, I was convinced to stay in the Program. I could now work and was working three jobs, but I didn’t get paid right away. Twenty-three days later, Mr. Metcalf brought a gentleman to me who offered me more money and would give me 45-50 hours a week. Two days later I was working at the recycling plant in Chesapeake.
God had faith in me, I had faith in God and He gave it back to me. Now I’m going to keep my head down and keep working. When I came here a year ago, I had no faith. Then something clicked. I reached out to God and asked Him to please let me get through this Program. I broke down and cried and sat down in front of the cross (outside the Men’s Shelter) and prayed and prayed, and it worked. I took that as a sign of faith.
After everything that happened in my life, everything just fell apart, and I said I can’t do this anymore. I don’t really know how to explain it or describe it. I’m still shocked that everything is going in the right direction. I get my first paycheck tomorrow. I’m going to MEPS in two weeks and then basic training in September.
If it wasn’t for the Mission, I’d be dead or back on the street doing drugs. All I have is my sister. I don’t have anyone who cares about me or loves me except my sister, and she’s 1,800 miles away with a husband, and she has her own kids to look after. I can rely on her for advice, but I can’t rely on her for anything else. I’m a grown man, 26 years old, with nothing to show for it; no home, no job, a crappy high school diploma with a C+ average GPA. I don’t have book skills and I have a felony background, so everyone is going to judge me, but not for who I am today.
But it’s definitely changing. I do know before I got here, my life was always full of disappointment. Now I wake up every day: I have clothes on my back, and food in my stomach. It might not be the best life, but it’s a good life. I have to remind myself every day. It’s a struggle, but I have to focus on what I can have. I want a family one day, to be a dad, and a grandfather, have a career that I work hard for, but it’s taking time. I’m working really hard at work to make new friends. I hurt a lot of people that I need to say ‘I’m sorry’ to, but I’m trying to be a better person. I can’t wait to join the Navy and see the world. I can’t wait!”
Kaylie Jennifer Miller 30, born and raised with one sister by both parents until she was six when her parents divorced. She dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and has been taking G.E.D. classes on and off. “I babysat other people’s children and tried to get a profitable job,” she says. She …
“If not for The Union Mission I’d be on the street. I was destitute, not knowing where to turn and heavily doubting God every day. I’m extremely grateful to be here.” Martin was born in the Philippines. His family moved to Saipan and then to Guam where they obtained U.S. citizenship. He attended college, moved …
Sarah’s mother died when she was 6 and her father raised her and her siblings. She dropped out of school, but later got a G.E.D. She got certified as a CNA and spent many years as a caregiver. “When my health started failing and arthritis spread all through my body, I couldn’t stand for long …