It was a Monday as I walked along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Anacostia, part of DC’s Southeast quadrant. My neck turning red as the sun’s heavy rays beat down on me. The bricks of many of the houses and buildings along my path no longer hold the rich red color they once did.
Isaac walked by me as he headed toward the Metro which was about five blocks away. Something about him struck me and I doubled back and caught up with him and asked him to accept my $10. He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me as if I had just spoken to him in a foreign language. I sometimes forget how unusual this year-long commitment is. Sharing that he has heard of my project either in the Washington Post or on the local news, he agrees to be my 182nd recipient.
The 32-year-old was on his way home from a trade school where he is learning the fundamentals of carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. With less than a month left of schooling he still is unsure of what he will do when he finishes.
Our conversation takes us back in time to when Isaac was a high school student at Chamberlain High School in Southeast. As a young adult Isaac got involved in some things he shouldn’t have which culminated with him receiving a three-year sentence at the McKean Federal Correctional Institution for cocaine distribution related charges. Released in February of this year, Isaac is trying to pull his life together. “Things happen in prison you know, but you just mind your own business and try not to get in the middle of nothing,” Isaac says of his time in the Pennsylvania penitentiary. While an inmate, he tried to improve himself by completing his GED and taking computer courses. “I would like to get a job working with medical records or something like that.” He goes on to say that he has been thinking about enrolling in the University of Phoenix to further his education.
My conversation with Isaac covers the whole spectrum of life. He shares with me that he might be a father. There is a DNA test in progress to determine whether he is the father of a soon to be three-year-old girl. I did the math and determined that if he did father the child then it must have been right before he was incarcerated. “I don’t know. The test will tell,” he says.
As the weight of the world settles on his shoulders, Isaac is also faced with finding a job. Areas which he says that he would be interested in working are: food service, home or office cleaning, building maintenance, handyman and inventory restocking.
My heart literally hurt when he told me that he was going to buy cigarettes with my money. I try not to judge people on their decisions of what to do with my $10, but to buy cigarettes is a painful reminder of the heart disease that took my mother’s life. I felt the same way when Matt from Day 10 told me he was going to get some Marlboros. I have been against smoking ever since I can remember, but I have to accept his choice. I hope some day you are able to quit Isaac.
I finished asking questions and took a few photos. I walked with Isaac all the way to the Metro station. I really enjoyed talking with him. He is smart and easy to relate to. As we entered the Metro station I asked him where he was heading. “I’m gonna stop by my mother’s house.” The thundering sound of the Metro train coming into the station erased all other sounds. He shook my hand and disappeared into the crowded Green Line train headed for Branch Avenue.