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Where Are They Now? Not Half Empty… or Half Full, but Overflowing!

June 16, 2011

Cornell, outside the Amicus office in Minneapolis

Cornell is fresh from errand running when I meet him—he carries bags full of kitchen supplies, baby gear and sundry other household items.  Right off, you can tell that this guy is high-energy; I shortly discover that he’s been up since 6 a.m. on his errand running mission and that Amicus is just another stop on his to-do list—he visited Reconnect to pick up a reduced fare bus pass (which will come in handy later in the day when he takes the bus to work).  We catch him off guard when we request some time to sit down and chat with him about his life.  Despite his full schedule, he graciously agrees to share his story—and he does so with humility, benevolence and honesty.

Cornell grew up in Illinois, and he grew up quick.  He describes his family as a dysfunctional one, saying that he started experimenting with drugs and alcohol at the age of 13.  Shortly thereafter, Cornell joined a gang and from then on out he lived a life plagued with bad choices—some of which landed him in jail or prison for varying amounts of time.  Cornel said he has probably spent close to 20 years of his life behind bars;  remarking that he was “on the installment plan,” doing multiple two, three or four-year sentences for offenses such as auto theft, robbery, petty shoplifting, and others. All in all, he served six full sentences.

After his last time being released, Cornell completed his parole with no violations and decided that he had to get out of Illinois.

“I wanted to try it somewhere else—I knew I needed to get away from everything, from the people, the lifestyle, the habits.”

The Salvation Army: Cornell's first stop in Minneapolis.

So he did. Cornell got on a Greyhound headed for Minneapolis with $25 in his pocket and landed in a city where he knew no one and nothing. As luck would have it, The Salvation Army’s Hope Harbor Facility is just across from the bus station in downtown Minneapolis, so Cornell headed right over there after he got off the bus.  “Once I got a bed, I got the newspapers, and then I hit the pavement.  I saw so much potential in this city—in the way I was accepted by the citizens of Minnesota—it was overwhelming that people actually said hello back!”  Soon, Cornell had a part-time job that turned into a full-time position, then he got an apartment and then a second job.

That’s when things “short circuited.”  He started using drugs again, lost his jobs and his apartment and found himself starting all over.  This time around, Cornell found himself at Amicus’ Reconnect program and though he says he “never really got a job” out of coming to Amicus, the fact  that the program existed and was a place he could come to to feel welcomed and supported was enough.

“There were times when it was freezing cold out and I needed a hat and gloves or when I needed a bus token to get to an interview—stuff that other people would take for granted—those things kept me alive; they kept me motivated and hopeful.”

Today, Cornell has a great job—he works as a cook and enjoys the work along with his co-workers: “I say hello to everybody to let them know it’s a good day… I’m glad people look forward to me showing up to work and displaying good work ethic and being the best person I can be, when before people would worry about me hurting them or stealing or doing the wrong thing.”

He and his girlfriend live in a nice two bedroom apartment with their brand new baby girl and life is good.

“I’m happy. We’ve got two air mattresses, our apartment isn’t furnished and we don’t have a lot, but we’re happy.”

It’s been six years since Cornell first stopped in at Amicus. Since  that time he has worked hard to make a good life for himself.  When asked about how his life is different now and how he has changed, tears well up in his eyes—he feels so lucky to be where he is but still wonders if he deserves it after all the bad he has done in his life.  Cornell’s story exemplifies the potential for great change and transformation that exists in all of us. His feelings of hesitancy and continued guilt provide a lesson in the importance of forgiveness—of self and others.

When it comes to advice for other people in his situation, Cornell says the most important thing is to “First, be true to yourself.  If you want to get high, you will.  If you don’t want to get a job, you won’t.  And you’ve got to go at it like you were when you were hustling in the streets.”

Cornell’s smile says it all.  He is happy.  Life is good:  “Is your cup half empty or half full?” he asks,  “Mine over runneth—cause there was a time when I didn’t even have a cup!”

Here’s to having a cup—and to filling it with all the right things.  Thanks, Cornell—from everyone at Amicus. Thank you for your life, for your story and for your continued striving.  We are proud to know you.

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