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.