How our partners are helping our neighbors get a second chance

Maurice grew up in North St. Louis with two loving parents and from the very beginning, he set high expectations for himself. Early on in his childhood, he dreamed of becoming a rocket scientist, astronaut, or stockbroker. As a youngster, his potential and opportunities seemed limitless, but as he got older, the negative influences surrounding his neighborhood began to take hold of him.

“I lived in a neighborhood where in order to survive, sometimes you have to adopt certain qualities and traits so that you won’t get picked on every day,” said Maurice. “That’s when my life began to spiral out of control as far as me selling and using drugs.”

Maurice’s destructive behavior eventually led to his imprisonment. In 2009, he was sentenced to over 12 years in federal prison. After the judge ruled his sentence, the reality of the consequences of his actions began to set in. Maurice knew if he wanted to turn his life around, he had to change his behavior and outlook on life. Ironically, prison became a blessing in disguise.

“I’m absolutely sure that if I had not been incarcerated, I would have died from an overdose, been killed, or even worse – possibly hurt someone,” said Maurice. “I definitely think that me being removed from that direction in life was necessary for me to grow.”

While in prison, Maurice was determined to stay away from drugs, he no longer wanted to be an addict because he realized that was the main source of his problems.

After becoming clean, he began to take a lot of classes that were offered in prison. He eventually completed an apprenticeship in biomedical equipment repair. Maurice used prison as a stepping stone on his journey to realizing his full potential.

“Whatever kept me away from that element that I was so used to, I did it,” said Maurice. “I knew that I didn’t want to be the same, and I basically used prison as college.”

Maurice was released from prison in 2019, he had a new outlook on life and was determined to change his destiny.

A fresh start

Maurice walked out of prison a changed man. He had no desire to return to his old ways. He saw himself as a rehabilitated person ready to pursue his goals, except there was a harsh reality… a lot of society would only judge him by his past.

But he was soon introduced to an organization that didn’t see him as a criminal, but as a young man ready to turn his life around.

“I was really trying to look for a job and it was really hard due to my federal conviction,” said Maurice. “My case worker told me about this place called Mission: St. Louis and that I should give it a try.”

United Way partner agency, Mission: St. Louis aims to empower individuals for social and economic growth through relationships and opportunity. They have programs and services that focus on educational resources, service to the community, housing support and workforce development.

Maurice began to participate in one of their job training programs and soon after, found stable employment. One of the reasons he felt like he could trust Mission: St. Louis is because their very own Senior Vice President of Engagement, Jason Watson, was proof that rehabilitation and recovery was possible.

Jason and Maurice knew each other, grew up in the same neighborhood, and Jason, like Maurice, had spent time in prison. Seeing Jason overcome his past and become an executive of a successful nonprofit organization gave Maurice the encouragement he needed to participate in their programs.

“I’ve known Jason for over 20 years and when I came to Mission: St. Louis, he immediately embraced me and that gave me the affirmation I needed to embrace this organization and trust the process,” Maurice said.

Jason has worked for Mission: St. Louis for eight years and personally knows how hard it can be to reintegrate yourself back into society after being incarcerated. That experience is one of the driving forces behind his passion for wanting to help people obtain the knowledge and resources they need to find gainful employment and lead fulfilling lives.

“I understand that no matter who we are, if we’re faced with the same circumstances, we’re liable to make the same decisions,” said Jason. “When I think about somebody like Maurice or anybody in his situation, I think about some of the difficulties they’re faced with as far as the shame that comes with whatever they’ve done and how a lot of times society doesn’t allow them to move beyond their situation.”

Maurice’s commitment to building a better future for himself along with Mission: St. Louis’ support has allowed him to beat the odds stacked against him. His days of criminality are long behind him and now he is in a position where he can serve as a role model for other people. As a success coach and HomeFirst Liaison for Mission: St. Louis he can relate and empathize with participants and work with them to create a new future for themselves.

His coaching and mentorship help participants with transitional housing, financial coaching, transportation, and more.

“It’s my life’s mission now to give back to a community that I feel like I took a lot from,” said Maurice. “Helping people is a passion of mine, I come to work every day and I love what I do, I never have a bad day at work.”

Jason said he is proud to see his friend succeed in his road to recovery.

“It’s amazing to see what he’s become, but even when he was knee-deep in the streets, he still had in him what you see today, he just didn’t know how to activate it,” said Jason. “Seeing him learn how to use his talents, gifts, discipline and all the qualities that are truly a part of who he is and see him start to put them to action for positive things has really been humbling for me to see.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries