For Jeff Lebron, family always comes first. Reflecting on the way that he was raised and the way the kids in his neighborhood are being raised today, Lebron considers how a culture of violence is linked to the presence of an adult figure in a kid's life. After serving time in prison, Lebron realized that there was nothing more gratifying for him than supporting his family and giving back to his community.
Money is not everything
“I went to prison. It was really hard, but I changed my life... [Now] I work 32 hours every week. It’s hard, but it’s honest living and I enjoy it. When I come home I have no stress, I kick my feet up, I have a cup of coffee, I get my kids and grandkids around me.
“My wife once told me, ‘I was happy when we were poor. When you started making all this money, we were like this [insert hand gesture], but when we were poor we were always like this [insert hand gesture]. I don’t want to be rich no more, I just want to be poor and happy with you. The best time of my life was when we were poor.’ … Money is not everything.”
“Out of all the people that you consider as friends, a lot of them are not friends. They are just there because they’re making money with you. Once the fan hits and you’re in jail, all those friends are going to disappear… The people supporting me were my wife, my kids and my family.”
“My father was so strict, because he tried to save us from the streets. He saw my older two brothers doing what they were doing, so he was trying to save us from that lifestyle. I was not allowed to go outside … My father being so strict, it made me rebellious. He was always giving me ultimatums, ‘my way or the high way.’ So one day, when I was twelve or thirteen, I left.
“Sometimes you need that tough love because you live in a tough city. Either that or you lose your job; you can’t have both … [You have to] show them some tough love so these streets don’t eat them up alive. It’s real out there.
“[Kids don’t listen to their parents] because the parents aren’t educated. How can you teach a kid when you are a kid yourself? They are doing everything other than being a parent.”
“When I came home from prison, I had some community service to do. So I contacted Quinzel [Tomoney], and he said, ‘I have this program, Jeff, come down and see how you like it.’ So we did it one day. We started knocking on doors and trying to educate the community about gun violence. I really enjoyed this, because we were doing something really positive.
“For the first time I was helping somebody. And it feels good being on the other side of the line. When you speak to the kids, and they know who you are, and the status you had at one time [as someone who’s been to prison], you have some truth to it. “
“The silence has to cease. Somebody has to take initiative and do something now. If we don’t do it, who else is going to do it?
“With us growing up in the area that we did, and the kids knowing who we are, our status in the street would help us speak to them … ‘I did what you did. I spent twenty three years in prison.’ By you talking to them and them knowing who you are as a person, hopefully it would help them listen. And if I could save one, I’d be pretty happy.”
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Interview and Photography by Wing So | Text by Janne Hu