Antwann might just be the most genuine and thoughtful person you could ever meet. He’s a father to a beautiful baby girl named Journey, an excellent artist, and this summer he is helping his mother plant jalapeños in her garden.
But he was once a young man growing up on the South Side of Chicago who had trouble with anger, violence, and the law.
“I was raised to think that boys don’t cry. But I’m a human being. I have emotions. I’m supposed to cry. At the time, I wasn’t able to address those emotions and I was just left with the anger.”
This anger, coupled with the stressors of poverty and the influences of an underserved community, resulted in frequent jail time for Antwann. “I was incarcerated three times as an adult, the third time I was sentenced to 40 years,” he shared. He served 20 years between 1995 and 2015.
When Antwann was released from prison in January of 2015, he knew it was time to make a change. “I was trying to get some help, trying to get something started. But every [job training program] made me feel like I was a number in their system,” he says of his transition from prison. Everything changed, however, when his lawyer introduced him to Growing Home. For the first time, something clicked. “At Growing Home I felt welcome. It felt like people cared.”
During his time at Growing Home, Antwann learned valuable goal-setting skills and was able to experience growth both personally, and on the farm. “They told me to put all of my short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals on paper. My first goal was to get my driver’s license back. I did that.” Then Antwann got his Class-A Commercial driver’s license. Now, Antwann works at Local Foods, Chicago’s premier local food hub and one of Growing Home’s employment partners.
“That success encouraged me to set another goal and achieve it,” Antwann says. He now plans to start a shipping company that hires Chicagoans with barriers to employment, puts them through a job-training program, and equips them with the skills to be commercial drivers.
Antwann is also a part-time member of the Growing Home employment training team and a participant in Growing Home’s graduate support group, The Winner’s Circle.
“If I stay away from Growing Home for too long, I feel like I’m on an island by myself. The farm is a physical source of strength for me, it’s my network, it keeps me motivated.”
Of his role at the farm, Emma Tolman, Growing Home’s Employment Training Manager says, “Antwann’s ability to connect to participants and guide them through their self reflection process has been an incredible addition to our program.”
“If I keep everything I’ve been through to myself it will be in vain because someone else will have to repeat the same mistakes to learn the lesson I’ve learned,” Antwann says, “If I can share and it keeps someone from making the same mistakes I made, then my incarceration wasn’t in vain. It had a purpose.”
“I’ve been redeemed, and it’s my responsibility as a man, as a God-fearing man, as a black man, as a caring man, to stay in Chicago and try to be an example. I don’t want to move away from the problems. I want to help Chicago grow in any way that I can.”
Antwann married his long-time girlfriend Tanya in the summer of 2016. The two stayed together through his incarceration and are looking forward to a bright future for their family, and for their community.