The Turning Point
“I ain’t need an application, I was already hired.” - Keem
What happened? I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d gotten into the situation but know I had to find a way out. Being a hustler in the street was never part of the plan. As a child I dreamed of becoming an architect or engineer, something like that. Possibly maybe even a preacher if I hadn’t been so busy running from the calling on my life. Hustling for me just came as a way to clock a little extra bread. It wasn’t like I was lazy or something because I was never that. As if I didn’t know anything better or how to do anything else; there were several other things I could have done other than picked up a drug sack. Hard work is what I was used to, what I’d always know to do but somewhere in the mist of watching the crowd, I got caught in the shuffle of the game.
Before I knew it I was somewhere way of from the roots of what I’d observed in life and been taught. My first job opportunity came in the summer of 2000, when I was only14 years old. Back then, Ms. Bartlett had been one of my longtime lawn customers who told me about a possible work opportunity for local youth. A work training program was being introduced at a nature preservation park that offered students the opportunity to learn keen landscaping skills as managers of horticulture.
News of the possibility that I could get a job was a huge thrill for me. Although I’d always been known as the kid in the neighborhood with either a snow shovel or a lawn mower and gas can, I’d never had a real job before. For me, it was something new and Ms. Bartlett’s idea for me to apply for a summer position at the park fell right in line with what I already loved to do and to get paid for it.
Since age 9, I‘d been maintaining a small group of customer over the years, so I figured that to be my opportunity to double dip? With the job, I could work during the day and keep up with my customer’s lawns before dark. Initially, my chances of getting the job were uncertain but I pressed on never giving up on my dream. One of the requirements of employment was that all applicants needed to be at least 15 years old to apply. The problem was that I was 14 and my birthday was still 7 months away.
Despite my age, I went into both interviews with full confidence and determination of my goal. Even though I was already making money and could’ve gone with or without the job seeing that I was still a kid, I pushed forward regardless. With my drive and positive attitude, plus the reference from Ms. Bartlett, a master gardener at the nature preserve, I got the job. One thing you must know is that there will always be obstacles that stand between you and your goals. The thing you must remember is that your goals and achievements must remain at the forefront and be large enough to overshadow the difficulties ahead of you.
Shortly after starting my position with the student internship program, my work ethic became overwhelmingly evident while being clearly noticed. The fact that I was only 14 years old and practically working circles around my counterparts took me a long way and was quickly recognized by the park’s management. For the following 3 summers, I re-applied and was a shoe in for one of the internship positions. From 2000 to 2003 I worked my butt off every summer as I’d done from the beginning making myself more experienced at landscaping; a skill that would shape my entire future while positively impacting the lives of many others throughout my lifetime.
Man was I having fun! To work outside all day, learn how to operate bobcat and eventually even drive the company trucks. It at the time was like a dream come true and a boost of motivation originally designed to fast track me towards one of my many purposes in life. Although my summers were filled with landscaping, over the next few years I always seemed to keep a job during the school year as well. Throughout my high school years I was always busy as I juggled my jobs with the extracurricular activities I was involved in. I’ll tell you, I did everything from working in stores to pyramid schemes, and over the years I’d seemed to have tried it all.
At the end of the summer of my 2nd year in the work program, I nailed a job at a detail shop around the corner from the nature preserve. One that I’d worked all that summer to retain by begging the owner for just one chance to prove what I could do. With all that, I still possessed a hunger for something more, something of my own; a way to be my own man. The thought of someone else controlling me, their hand on the throttle of my destiny never seemed just (fair) to me. It wasn’t that I had a problem submitting to authority but more that I needed the opportunity to expand the ideas that were in my own mind.
On the 9th of June 2004 one of the greatest days of my life, I became the first of four siblings to receive a high school diploma. My graduation overwhelmed my mom because she, my older sister and brother all went to night schools and only had their G.E.D.'s. My accomplishment probably meant more to my mom that night than it did to any of the graduates who marched across the arena stage that celebrated evening. Finally finishing high school put me on cloud nine, but my life had just begun and I fooled to believe the struggle was over.
When the graduation hype died down, in reality I was lost and didn’t have a clue where I was headed. All I knew was that I was on my way. As the summer began to run its course, one thing became evident; my part time job at the parts store just wasn’t going to cut it. You see, by graduation day I had been roommates with my older cousin Big E for over five months. Our monthly rent was $500, and my half was due to my Aunt (his mom) on the first of each month. Now out of school, I’d set pretty high expectations for myself. The problem was that my funds were low and I wasn’t about to get another job.
Within a couple days, my contemplations had ended and I was on. See to me, it never made sense to just hustle, hustling without a plan was dumb, and to me hustling without a job was even dumber. So I started grinding but kept my day job to stay off the radar. Before then, I never hustled, and jumping off the porch was a real shot in the dark. Later that day after I made my decision and went out, spent my last on a digital scale, a box of baggies and a ½ ounce of trees.
Grabbing such a small amount of green made my grind difficult and almost insurmountable, but it was me. This was the road I had chosen and even though petty, I planned to be the best monkey hustler there was. Even though selling dope was never a part of the plan, the drug game was a quick fix, giving me a small taste of the lifestyle. Back then, and many times to come I had a dream without the means, and rode with the tide. Booming was the thing to do and everybody was doing it; doing it with hopes of a big pay off one day. My homeboys were already getting money, so I ain’t need an application, I was already hired.
Summer 2004 I was just doing me, living my life without a real purpose. My days were filled with pure excitement; from street racing in my ‘75 Malibu to chasing skirts with my homeboys. Basically, just doing what we considered at the time to be fun. None of what I was doing had any real substance, so by the time fall had come around and I decided to take another route. As July was ending and August beginning, I heard about some openings at a warehouse with hefty pay and great benefits. Informed about the job opportunity, I got right on it. Wasting no time, I filled out an application and went to the company’s mass interview process. The favor and presence of God was right there and I got the job on the spot.
With good health and the right attitude, the warehouse position was the perfect fit. As shipping workers, all the employees in my department were required to load each and every semi-trailer by hand before the merchandise was shipped to stores. That meant each and every box that reached each stores in the state were loaded by us. Starting out, the job was a great. We made $12 bucks an hour and only had to work either three or four days a week. There were only two shifts, 3-12 hour days or 4-10’s. That was good for me because no matter which shift I worked, I was guaranteed $400 a week and still had half my week to myself.
September of that year was when I actually started working the seasonal position that offered a full time job to only its best employees. That alone kept me motivated and working hard since I was working towards a permanent position, blinding me to the fact that I hated my job. I mean, I was miserable as the job soon became both agonizing and grueling. My body ached and the days in the warehouse started to get longer and longer each day. Contrary to the way I felt, I stuck it out because there was one thing I knew how to do for sure and that was how to work.
From 2000 to then in 2004, if I had to say a number, I’d worked at probably anywhere between 6 and 8 different jobs just while in high school. So the warehousing job hadn’t been my first bad experience by far and although the money was good I had to find a way out. After my 1st year, I had been hired in and had full benefits too. That wasn’t enough for me considering the odds. By September of 2005, I was fed-up and thought I had finally had gotten a clue.
All my so called pain, anguish and stress seemed to be weighing me down and eventually showed up in my work. Frustrated I engaged in repeated arguments with co-workers, which led to continual write ups from supervisors and their overwhelming production requirements, I knew my time in the warehouse was just about up. Too much extra bull came with the position for me to continue on showing up! The company thought they could just fire me but they had another thing coming. Soon enough, my cocky, sarcastic attitude started wearing on the wrong people. Either I was gonna get fired or they were gonna be stuck with me.
By the end of October that year, I had come up with a plan and was ready to put it in motion. Drenched in sweat, I walked out the barely loaded semi trailer back into the warehouse. The way we were trained in the shipping dept., was to build these tetras type walls with boxes of merchandise as building blocks to pack the load in the semi-trailers tight. Coming out of one of the semi-trailers, I walked alongside the large conveyor belt. These conveyors stretched through the entire warehouse from the ceiling into each individual trailer which was called lanes and that night I had 7 lanes total.
If I lost you, there was an enormous conveyor system that ran throughout the entire building. In our department, the system ran along the ceiling and extended a long slide type conveyor on wheels into each individual trailer. There were times when 10 to 20 boxes would fall per minute in each lane. When a lane was jammed or backed up, orange emergency lights would flash so everyone in the wing could see your dismay. Our quota was to load 500 boxes per hour, so just imagine, running lane to lane clearing orange lights. A lot of times the boxes would get jammed or so many boxes where your lane is filled up. So many boxes where can’t no more drop and they be up there just waiting to drop.
How discouraging was that? Imagine, running back and forth from trailer to trailer with a 5-foot metal rod, un-jamming boxes that were stuck on the massive system. On top of all that, we still had to make sure to build our boxed walls on the inside of each trailers. Now looking back I despised how we were tricked into the money cycle. As employees, we were trained to out work our teammates, be helpful, but out do the next man. They expected us to load the trailers as quick as possible, so once caught up; we could help those who were behind.
If that wasn’t bad enough, on each break, our supervisors posted productivity reports for the percentage each person hit on the break room door. It showed how close each person was to the 500 box an hour rate. Also showing how hard each person was working between each break. Their methods benefited the company but really hurt our co-worker relations. All that back breaking work with only got 2-20 minute breaks on each 12-hour shift. Constantly causing tension and arguments between co-workers, and that night I’d had enough. So I chose to act a fool.