Pete Haywood And Studs Terkel On Forgiveness

Pete Haywood sitting in front of the window and staring out contemplatively in his apartment.

As we reported in “Forced Relocation and Democratic Representation,” public housing residents convicted of certain felonies and misdemeanors within the last ten years are barred from running in the CHA elections being held today.

Lloyd (“Pete”) Haywood, a lifetime resident of Stateway Gardens, has served for the last three years on the Stateway resident council. He is the only male on the council. And he contributes in a variety of ways to the life of the community. For the last four years, he has been a staff member of the Neighborhood Conservation Corps, and in recent months he has worked for the property management company at Stateway. After he filed his petition as a candidate in the election, he was informed by Citizens Information Service, the organization administering the elections, that he had been disqualified from running because a criminal background check disclosed a felony conviction within the last ten years. According to Haywood, he was convicted of burglary nine years ago after police arrested him for looting following the Bulls championship victory. He denied then—and denies today—that he engaged in looting. He received a suspended sentence. The felony conviction remains indelibly on his record.

Studs Terkel interviewed Pete Haywood for his book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith (The New Press, 2001). The interview focuses on a 1986 incident in which Pete was shot and gravely wounded. When I recently told Terkel that Pete had been judged unworthy to represent his neighbors on the resident council, he was incredulous. He described his interview with Pete as “a story of redemption and transcendence” and expressed amazement that Haywood had been disqualified. “Here’s a guy capable of forgiving the man who shot him. And we can’t forgive him.”

We are grateful to Studs Terkel for permission to reprint his account of his visit to Stateway and his conversation with Pete Haywood.

JK


We’re at Stateway Gardens, a public housing project on Chicago’s South Side. In its public squalor, it is incongruously surrounded by private affluence. On one side is the Illinois Institute of Technology, celebrating Mies van der Rohe’s architecture. On another side is Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. Overlooking the whole scene is the new site of the Chicago Police Headquarters.

Jamie Kalven, a freewheeling journalist, is my docent as we enter the shadowy, dimly lit precincts of the project…

We pause near the elevator. It is astonishingly small for a building so densely populated. We greet Pete, who has been expecting us. He indicates the lift: “Here is where I been shot and left for dead.”

We rattle our way upward, toward one of the higher stories. His tiny apartment, in dramatic contrast to all else around and about, is airy, full of light, and painstakingly neat. There are puffy white pillows on the somewhat tattered couch. On the end table is a well-thumbed paperback: John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. On the wall is a picture that immediate catches your eye. It appears to be a cemetery or some sort of memorial park.

“My family, my great-grandmother and my grandmother, yes, they attend church every Sunday. I used to oftentimes go with them.”

He had been a gangbanger. “We called ourselves the Del Vikings.” He has since abandoned that life and is trying to find himself.

THE NIGHT IT HAPPENED, my grandmother gave me a rather large bill to play the lottery. Somehow I ended up spending the money. So I’d been out shooting dice, trying to get her money back, which I won a few dollars doing. Another guy ended up lending me the rest. But I ran into another friend of mine and we went up to his house to drink some whiskey and smoke a bag of reefer. A girlfriend we grew up with, she was drunk. The guys, they was pulling up her blouse and my friend’s mother, she came out on the porch where we was sitting and said, “Would you all walk her home?” And I said to him, “Come on, man, you know your mother’s right…” We, like, carried her home because she was drunk. And upon doing this, the guys from the other end, they’re know as the G. D.’s—[Kalven interjects: “They’re the Gangster Disciples”]—another gang. They were after us. She lived in a building where we had to go through their territory to get her home. I’d never had any problems until this night. It was about three of the guys from the gang. Something had happened earlier that day where they was like shooting out with somebody they said was from the end we were from. We walked her home and got on the elevator and got stuck. So I was trying to get off the elevator and hollering “Help!” for somebody to call the fire department.

The guys who followed us acted like they was helping us off the elevator. It was stuck on a floor. The door came ajar off the track. It was like six or seven people on the elevator. Could they get the fire department? The dude say, “Hold on, we’re going to help y’all get off.” So it was a lady headed into the hallway at that time, and the lady was asking, “What’s wrong, what’s going on?” She said, “I’ll go up and call the fire department.” The guy told her, “Lady, this is none of your business—we’re going to handle this.” I knew then there would be some trouble. So the guy hollered back through the elevator door, “Who all on the motherfucking elevator?”—excuse my cussing. So we’re prying the door open from the inside, the door got about halfway open and a friend of mine, his name is Andre, he was stepping off, the guy shot him. They had guns out already. He shot him in the stomach. We didn’t have anything. It was like a series of shots. Once one person unloaded his gun, it was like the next person, he would step through the door. And the guy shot him in the stomach and he flew back in such a way which I never seen nobody get thrown back like that. And after the guy shot him, he had the gun at my head, between my eyes. And it was this little dude on the elevator with us, another friend of mine named Howard, he tried to grab the gun from the guy…

I was in, I guess, shock. I couldn’t move—I didn’t move because it didn’t seem real. And the gun went off, but it didn’t hit me in the head. I guess the guy who tried to grab it got the guy’s arm to come down and it hit me in the chest, which the other guy, from later stories I heard, thought he shot me in the head. It was like a scramble amongst my friends. We were trying to get to the bottom of the pile, and I was like, “Well, I’ll just lay here as if I’m dead—maybe they’ll stop…” I was shot in the chest and in the hip, but I didn’t know it at the time. I’m just going to lay here. Once one guy would finish unloading, another guy would step up. It was like they took turns. And through all this, I just laid there. And my friends, they said the elevator was dark. But I argue today that the light was on.

[Kalven interjects: “Your friends say there was no light on in the elevator, but you saw light.”]

I don’t know if it was I was dying, but I remember saying, “God, is it ever going to stop?” I wanted to call for my grandmother’s name but I couldn’t because I was trying to play dead, but with my eyes open so I could see whatever was going on. But the elevator was just brightly lit. Once the guys got through shooting, then it got quiet, and the only thing that you would hear was one of my friends, he was screaming, “My eyes, my eyes!” and the other one was moaning, “My stomach…help me.” The girl that we walked down there, I had asked her to stick her head off the elevator to see was anybody in the hallway. And once she did that and I seen that nobody shoot, I ran over her to get off the elevator and go up in the building.

[Kalven: “We came up in that little tiny elevator, exactly the same elevator where they opened fire on seven or eight people.”]

Thanks to God nobody died. Me and Andre, we was the two serious hit. I didn’t know that I had been shot, so my idea was, I was going to anybody’s house, whoever would open their door. We was going to go into their house and weren’t coming out until the police came. And so upon running up the stairs in this building, knocking on doors boom-boom-boom. People: “Who is it?” And I wouldn’t say a name because sometimes people will open the door if you say “me.” [Laughs] “It’s me—open the door. You hear them shooting out here.” But there wasn’t nobody would open the door. We continued to go up the stairs, going through every floor. And my friend seen the police off the porch, we was on the eleventh floor. And my friend hollered down for the police—I guess they radioed to other police, and they came up in the building. But before they came up, I was feeling funny about my back, like if somebody were to hit you in the arm and put a frog in your arm—I was feeling that way on my back. And I was, like, more tired than I would normally be, and I was, like, “I think I’ve been hit.”

So my friend say, “Let me see.” He raised my shirt up and he seen a hole in my back, a big hole in my back. He’s like, “Pete, oh man, you’re gonna die…” OK, so I’m telling myself remain calm, but something was telling me panic, panic! I started getting weak. [Laughs weakly] I couldn’t move now. I was like, Oh my God, I’m fittin’ to die! And I remember the police coming up there: “Put your hands up and lay on the ground.” I was sitting in the stairway against the wall. I remember telling the police, “How you expecting me to lay down on the ground and I’m shot.” The police patted us and everything, they searched around to see did we have any guns. I was sort of mad and I was saying things, you know, “Do you think if I had a gun I’d be the way I am now?” A couple of my other friends were saying things to the police: “Why don’t y’all just get an ambulance?” The hallway was filled up with a lot of people, people looking. And I felt myself going out, unconsciousness, but I didn’t want to, I was trying to fight it. To keep from doing it, I was telling the people to pray for me, even though the people didn’t know me and probably didn’t care about me anyway. I was saying, “Y’all pray for me,” ’cause I didn’t want to die. At that time, that’s when the paramedics got to me. That was a scary feeling—it’s something I can’t explain. Things were beginning to be blurry to me. Last thing I remember seeing at that time was a little girl, about eleven or twelve years old…

I remember looking down into this little girl’s face, down the stair; when I asked everybody to pray for me. Things was beginning to get blurry to me. Last thing I remember seeing at that time was the little girl. I don’t know if she prayed for me. She looked scared.

The paramedics, they worked with me or whatever they did with the little oxygen, and put me on the gurney and carried me down the stairs. Whey they took me past the little girl, I tried to reach for her, to say it’s going to be OK. Once they got me in the ambulance, the paramedics was asking what happened, could I move, and do I feel certain feelings. I was telling them I could feel everything, but I was in so much pain—I was asking could they give me something for pain. They said, “No,” because I had been drinking. I was like, “Y’all goin’ to let me die.” At the time, I had half a pint of whiskey in my back pocket. I said, “Well, if y’all ain’t gonna give me nothing, can I just take a last drink of alcohol.” I thought, if I’m going to die, I might as well die dead drunk. So they’re like, “No, we can’t do that,” and they threw it away. I think I stayed in the ambulance for about twenty minutes or so before they moved.

Letter from CIS denying Pete Haywood from running in CAC/LAC elections.

They took me to Michael Reese [Hospital]. During all that, I remember the doctors asking me, do I want to call my home, and I didn’t want to call my house—I was afraid that might give my grandmother a heart attack. But one of the nurses did contact her, and I asked the nurse to let me speak to her. And I told my grandmother that I was going to be OK and not to worry. And I asked her to pray for me. Then she had got in touch with my father, and my father and my step-mother came to the hospital. I thought I was dying. The doctor was explaining to them that I should have been dead, or I should have been paralyzed, that they don’t know how I’m alive or what’s keeping me alive. But miraculously I came through—with no surgery performed on me…

[Kalven: “Pete, how long after that…was it when you had the opportunity to get revenge on one of the guys who shot you?”]

I stayed away for about two or three weeks. All this had took place in early August, so now it was like around Labor Day weekend in September—1986 or ’87, one of them years…There was a night where me and a group of friends, some of the guys were about age I am now, thirty-six, but they were guys just trying to gangbang still. The guy that thought he shot me in the head but ended up shooting me in the chest, he had happened to be on the stairs, and I was with a guy who seen him. So it was like, “Pete, remember when you got shot? If you seen one of those thugs, what you would do?” And I was trying to be cool. I said, “I don’t know…” The guy said, “Would you kill ’em. Because I don’t like what they did to you and I think we should get them niggers.” I was under the influence of the drink. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do this and that.” So we had caught the guy that shot me one night, and we had trapped him in this playground. So the guy, he gave me his gun, he say, “Pete, you got him, go on and kill this nigger.” And I looked at the dude—the guy kept saying, “Go on and kill that nigger for what he did to y’all,” and I said, “No…” I said, “I like living and I love my life.”

I said I wanted all that to be over with and forgotten about because my God is forgiving and in order for me to be forgave of my sins, I must forgive—that’s my belief. And I told the guys, I said, “No, I don’t wish nothing to happen to this young brother.” I said I just want to leave everything as it is and go on about my life and let him go on about his life. Hopefully that he would change, you know, in himself, after that night. Then the criticism came from the guys that I was with, “Oh, you’re a pussy motherfucker.” I said, “No, I don’t kill nobody ’cause you want me to kill them.” We got into a little argument and I left it at that. And I let the guy go. A few year later, I had got my apartment, my own apartment in this building in which I had started selling drugs. So the guy who shot me—I didn’t know that I had knew his brother. His brother was coming around to my house.

So it was one day, we was up there, me, him, a few other friends, listening to some music and drinking beers, and I don’t know if he had knew about the situation of his brother and me. He had brought his brother up to my house. I didn’t see him when he came to the door. When I looked up and I see that it was him, the same one I caught in the playground and let go, I found myself apologetic—because it had messed up his understanding. You could look at a person and see the fear—he was trembling. I was assuring him that I was true to what I had said in the playground—that I would like everything to be forgotten about, that I forgave what he did and I’m thankful to be alive. He was relieved, even though I don’t think that he fully trusted it at that time, because now he in the house with me and a whole ‘nother group of people that I’m around. And I was letting him know it wasn’t nothing. We sat down and we drunk some beers together and listened to some music. I still see him. We hold conversations, we talk for a few minutes at a time. But he’s a busy person. He’s a car salesman. He goes on about his business now.

There are things that I may not understand, but God, He’s everything to me. My God is forgiving. He’s jealous, too. My God is very jealous. I haven’t served him right, but I continually ask him for the forgiveness of my sins because I know the things I do is wrong, and then I don’t know things that I’m doing at that time. I ask God for forgiveness.

Forced Relocation and Democratic Representation

Today Chicago public housing residents will select those who will represent them over the next three years. At CHA developments throughout the city, elections will be held for positions on the resident council—the Local Advisory Council (LAC). Those elected LAC president at each development will take seats on the Central Advisory Council (CAC), the city-wide assembly that represents CHA residents in dealings with the housing authority, other city agencies, and the federal government.

The LAC representatives elected today will serve during an era of historic change—a period when their communities face fundamental issues and fateful choices. As the CHA’s “Plan for Transformation” continues to unfold, they will be in positions to exercise considerable influence over its implementation at their developments.

In order to insure the integrity of the electoral process, the CHA contracted with an independent agency, Citizens Information Service (CIS), to administer the elections. CIS describes its organizational mission this way:

CIS believes that all people in a democratic society have the right, obligation, and ability to participate in public policy decisions. Our responsibility is to assist citizens and organizations to help them be part of the decision-making process at every level—national, state, county, city, and community. We do this by providing non-partisan information, training, technical assistance and collaborative efforts.

Letter from Citizens Information Service of Illinois reminding residents of CAC/LAC January elections.

As a third party election contractor, CIS works under the regulations and on the basis of the information provided by the institution that contracts for its services. “We’re at the mercy of the information provided by others,” observed Reggie Winfrey of CIS in response to questions at the monthly Tenant Services meeting at the CAC on January 9.

It is thus possible to have an election that is independently administered and free of fraud, yet yields undemocratic results—because the underlying rules are skewed and/or essential information is inaccurate. In the case of the LAC elections, there are several such concerns:

The accuracy of the rosters of eligible voters. Eligibility to vote is determined by rosters of “lease compliant” residents provided to CIS by the CHA. How accurate are these lists—especially in the cases of developments where significant relocation activity has occurred? There is no way to independently ascertain their accuracy, for the CHA has refused to make the lists public. It argues that the names of CHA residents are protected by federal privacy regulations. Privacy is, of course, an important value, but so is an open political process. And we must be alert to the possibility that invocations of privacy will serve as a cover to insulate the agency from scrutiny.

Exclusion from candidacy of those with convictions for certain felonies and certain misdemeanors within the last ten years. Background checks of LAC candidates are conducted by a firm hired by the CHA. Convictions for certain felonies or misdemeanors are grounds for disqualification. The ten year bar is dictated by the CAC bylaws. It is at once legal and unintended. Recognizing the harshness of the provision, the CAC acted to amend it and to reduce the period of the bar to five years. The legal paperwork, however, was not completed in time for the election. CIS thus had no choice but to impose the ten year bar. The upshot in this era of mass incarceration is that very few male residents of public housing are eligible to run for seats on the LAC. At Stateway Gardens, Lloyd Haywood, the one male currently serving on the LAC, was disqualified by CIS from running in the election because the background check disclosed a felony nine years ago.

Disenfranchisement of those who opt for temporary Section 8 relocations. As CHA high-rises are vacated in preparation for demolition and redevelopment, residents are given a choice. They can relocate to another CHA building or they can take a Section 8 voucher and find housing in the private market. There are two kinds of Section 8 vouchers: permanent and temporary. The only functional difference between them is that if one opts for a temporary Section 8, one retains the right to return if and when redevelopment occurs on the site. At Stateway (and I assume elsewhere) a substantial majority of those choosing to move off site have opted for temporary Section 8 vouchers. In other words, in the context of forced relocation they have chosen to relocate off site temporarily while awaiting redevelopment. In so doing, they are asserting their continuing involvement in the life and fate of their community. The moment they move, however, they are disenfranchised. Under HUD regulations, they cannot vote in LAC elections—the one vehicle of representation open to them as public housing residents. As the relocation process goes forward, more and more residents will be disenfranchised, and power will be concentrated in the hands of a few resident leaders.

Under the Plan for Transformation, it is assumed that as the redevelopment process progresses, the LAC structure of governance will be replaced by other civic forms more suitable to mixed income communities. But little thought appears to have been given to questions of how democratic representation will be guaranteed during the years of transition. Whatever the outcome of today’s elections, these questions will persist.

Off the Lease: Mario Bailey Part II

Portrait of Mario Bailey sitting in a car.

On the evening of October 4th at about 8:00, Mario came down into the lobby of 3542-44 S. State to give someone money to buy him a beer to have with his dinner. He was wearing his work clothes and NCC identification card. He had hoped to work that day, but the continuing gang war had forced the NCC to suspend operations. As he headed back toward the stairs, shots were fired out of the darkness. His body slammed to the ground. There was no blood and only a small entrance wound, but the damage was profound: a bullet had severed his spinal cord.

Mario doesn’t know who shot him. Were they aiming at him or did he step into the line of fire? He doesn’t know for sure. What he does know is that the terms of his existence changed that night.

Mario was treated at Cook County Hospital. After a week, he was transferred to Oak Forest Hospital. When the time came to release him, there was nowhere for him to go but home to Stateway—to his grandmother’s apartment.

The Stateway buildings have ramps leading to the elevator corridor, but nothing else in them is adapted to the needs of the handicapped. Mario’s grandmother lives on the third floor. More often than not the elevator is inoperative. (See Gloria Dickson’s “Dear Mr. Peterson,” documenting the condition of the elevator in 3544 S. State.) So Mario was dependent on friends to carry him up and down the stairs. Often he was stranded on the third floor. He would sit on the porch outside his grandmother’s apartment, looking out at the world through the grates that enclose the exterior hallways at Stateway.

The interiors of the apartments are equally inhospitable for someone in a wheelchair. The bathrooms are difficult to maneuver in. In order to pass from room to room, Mario had to force his chair through doorways. In our office—a five bedroom apartment on the first floor of 3544 S. State—the paint has been stripped off the door frames at the level at which his wheels scraped against them.

When Mario returned to Stateway, a support network formed around him. Rehabilitation treatment was available to him at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, the premier such institution in the city. An anonymous donor gave us the means to purchase a new bed for him. We arranged for a social worker from the Family Institute of Northwestern University, Reginald Richardson, to see him on a regular basis. NCC staff—some of them lifelong friends of Mario’s—looked for ways to be helpful. This was, above all, true of Danielle Walters who has acted as his advocate with outside institutions at every stage of the process.

Yet Mario has, on his own account, lived inside a great isolation since the day he was shot. I don’t presume to know nor to be able to represent what Mario has gone through in the last year. There is a story of turbulent grief and anger yielding by degrees to new ways of being in the world that only he can tell: a story of the terrible knowledge inflicted on him by violence and of the ways he is remapping his world in light of that knowledge. Perhaps some day he will tell that story. I hope so.

What I do know is that some four months ago Mario came to the conclusion that in order to go forward with his life, he had to leave Stateway. He had to find somewhere else to live. His presence strained his grandmother’s household. Daily life was full of frustrations for him, as he tried to navigate through a built environment that didn’t acknowledge the existence of people in chairs. Above all, he didn’t feel safe. He felt vulnerable. On a couple of occasions, in the course of heated arguments, others he thought were his friends tipped him out of his chair on to the ground.

“I’m like a sitting bird,” he said. “A bird in a nest.”

Once he decided that his survival depended on moving out, Mario was relentlessly focused on his goal. He sent out a dozen applications. And he pressed his NCC colleagues to help him. It took me a while to grasp his sense of urgency, but he made sure that I did—he insisted that I hear him.

While Mario went through channels, I pulled strings. I appealed to a wide array of friends and associates for help in finding him an apartment. Among others, I sought the help of resident leadership (Francine Washington of the Stateway resident council), on-site service providers (The CARA Program), CHA senior staff (Isabel Blanco, Chief of Programs, Holly Holzer of her staff, and through them, the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities), and foundation executives (Eleanor Peterson, former director of Donor’s Forum, and Sunny Fischer of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation). Howard Stanback of the Davis Group, a member of the Stateway development team, referred us to Featherfist, a supportive housing organization based in South Shore. Melanie Anewishki and Araina Brown, executive director and assistant director of Featherfist, each came down to Stateway to meet Mario. They in turn put us in touch with Marina Carrott of the Renaissance Companies, a real estate firm with an inventory of subsidized units, who also came to Stateway and met with Mario.

Two men carrying Mario down the steps to the landing of the building.

I mention these names in order to make a point. Everyone we contacted was responsive and sought to help. Some made exceptional efforts. Mario sustained a fierce sense of focus and was highly effective on his own behalf. He made a strong, positive impression on those who came to take his measure. Yet despite these promising ingredients, the process stalled, for we ran up against the issue of Mario’s criminal record. This proved a far greater impediment to finding housing than his handicap.

Consider the question from the perspective of a property manager who, on the basis of limited information, must assess what kind of a tenant an applicant would be. How can he be expected to look past a criminal background check that discloses multiple arrests for drug activity and assault? What kinds of countervailing information would be sufficient to offset such a record? Why should he be the one to take a chance—to gamble on the possibility that the individual has changed?

If this was true for Mario—confined to a wheelchair and supported by a network of well-connected advocates—imagine what other young men face. Semi-nomadic, defined in the minds of others by their criminal records, unable to establish records as tenants, they are a category of homeless we do not see as such because we are so afraid of them. The only stable housing option the society has to offer them is prison.

Happily, Mario’s story does not end here. Eventually, we found our way to an institution, perhaps the only such in the city, created to address the housing needs of this population: St. Andrew’s Court, an SRO facility for ex-offenders developed by St. Leonard’s House, a halfway house on the west side. We connected with St. Andrew’s Court through the independent efforts of Marina Carrott (a board member of St. Leonard’s House) and Sunny Fischer (whose foundation funds St. Leonard’s).

David Davis, the manager of St. Andrew’s Court, came to Stateway and met with Mario. He informed us that he had one handicapped accessible unit and that it was available. A few days later Mario went to St. Andrew’s Court for an interview. When we arrived, David Davis showed us around the facility. Recently constructed, elegantly designed, well maintained, it was a startling contrast to the housing we had just left at Stateway. Walking down the first floor corridor, it was immediately apparent which apartment Mario was applying for: the peephole was located in the middle of the door at the eye level of someone in a chair. Throughout the unit, regard for the person living there was expressed in various design features—in the dimensions of the furniture, in the kitchen sink with no cabinets beneath it so that a wheelchair can easily slide under it, and so on. To me, the most affecting expression of regard was the bathroom mirror that can be adjusted to the optimum angle so that someone in a wheelchair can clearly see his or her reflection.

St. Leonard’s House/St. Andrew’s Court proved to be an institution designed to show the same regard for Mario as an ex-offender as it shows for him as a paraplegic. It provides a setting in which he can clearly see his own reflection: can see the possibilities of life after violence—the violence he has committed, the violence he has suffered.

Follow Mario Bailey as he moves into his new apartment… [more]

As the process unfolded and it became apparent that Mario was going to find a new home at St. Andrew’s Court, his face underwent a subtle change—a lightening of his customary gravity. Leaving St. Andrew’s Court to return to Stateway after the interview, he gestured toward the man sitting at the desk at the entrance to the building.

“Did you hear what he said, when we came in?” Mario asked. “He asked, ‘Can I help you?'” He smiled broadly and repeated the words as if they had never been addressed to him before. “Can I help you?

After the interview, we waited a week for definitive word from St. Andrew’s Court. Several times a day Mario checked in at the NCC office. Any word yet? Finally, the call came: he had been accepted. On November 2nd, he moved. His boxes had been packed for weeks. With the help of some of the young men up under the building, we loaded his belongings into the NCC pickup truck. He embraced his grandmother. We carried him down the stairs. And he set out for his new place. Mario had, at last, found the door.

Off the Lease: Mario Bailey Part I

Mario Bailey travelling on the sidewalk in his wheelchair along State Street

From The Chicago Sun-Times, March 26, 2001:

Some may already be lost

In the dying days of winter, Mario is in bed at his grandmother’s third-floor Stateway Gardens apartment. The steady pounding of a wrecking ball can be heard in his bedroom as the first of eight high-rises is demolished.

At 25, Mario is a hardened veteran of the gang and drug activity that has a viselike grip on many CHA projects. A convicted drug user, he is in violation of his grandmother’s lease.

But she can’t throw him out. In October, bullets from the gun of a rival gang member ripped through his spinal cord. . . .

the shooting, Mario would have been a challenge for those pledging to turn tenants’ lives around. . . .

Though he is still recuperating, Mario would move out before putting his grandmother, aunt and brother, who also live there, at risk of eviction.

But where would he go?

Kate N. Grossman and Curtis Lawrence “CHA Must Change Minds Before Changing Lives”

Mario Bailey is a child of Stateway Gardens. His grandmother, Sarah Bailey, brought him there to live when he was ten years old. (Five years earlier, the Department of Children and Family Services had placed him with his grandmother, because there was no one else to care for him.) Today he is twenty-six. Stateway has been the setting for almost everything memorable and meaningful, lovely and terrible, that has happened in his life, including the shooting incident in the autumn of 2000 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Yet it is illegal for Mario to be at Stateway. To come home is to trespass. And his presence endangers his family. By embracing her grandson within her household, Sarah Bailey risks eviction.

Mario belongs to a large population of men who have, in effect, been banished from their communities because they have been arrestedtypically on drug chargeson CHA property. Their presence on the grounds of CHA developments not only exposes them to criminal trespass charges, it may also jeopardize the housing status of their families and friends. Under the “One Strike and You’re Out” policy, a family may be evicted if anyone on the lease or a guest is arrested on CHA property. Often the only way parents can settle One Strike cases and avoid eviction is by taking their child off the lease and agreeing that he will not live at home. That is what Sarah Bailey did in 1994 after Mario was first arrested on drug charges.

Much of the criminal activity at Stateway takes place in the open air lobbies and elevator corridors that residents refer to as “up under the building.” This is where the drug trade operates. It is also the village square. The commons. The public forum. And for the young men endlessly cycled and recycled through the criminal justice system and back into the community, it is the purgatory to which they return to hang out with friends, to get the news, and to wait for a door to open. In my experience, most do not return from periods of incarceration eager to resume laboring in the sweatshop working conditions of the street corner drug trade. As they emerge from prison, there is often an extended moment when they are ripe to move in a new directionto shift their weight, to realign their muscles, to alter the trajectory of their lives.

It was at such a moment in his life that I first met Mario Bailey in the autumn of 1998. Because my colleagues in the Neighborhood Conservation Corps (NCC) and I have generated a handful of employment opportunities at Stateway over the years, I am often approached by men recently released from prison looking for jobs. Mario had returned home 48 hours earlier, after spending two years and two months in Cook County Jail on a murder charge. A jury had just found him not guilty. We stood in the lobby of 3542-44 S. State, the building where his grandmother lives, and talked.

“I used to see you around Stateway,” he told me, “but I was too shy to say anything to you.”

He inquired about a job. I told him we didn’t have any openings. Keep in touch, I said, perhaps something will come up.

“Sometime I’ll show you a scrapbook I made in jail,” Mario said.

I wasn’t sure what he meant.

He explained that he had clipped newspaper stories, including a Chicago Sun-Times article on NCC members working on the interior demolition of the Overton Building across the street—an article that mentioned men with whom he had grown up at Stateway. (See “Up on the Roof.”)

I was moved by the thought of Mario, in jail on a murder charge, clipping a story about our “grassroots public works” at Stateway and imagining himself joining in that work. I did not, however, have a job to offer him.

Apart from our program, the odds were heavily against Mario finding a job. He had never worked outside the criminal economy. Rather than a resume, he had a rap sheet that included multiple arrests for drug dealing and assault. Volatile and quick with his fists, he was, by his own account, a man of violence. As the chief of security for the Gangster Disciples in 3542-44 S. State, violence was, in a sense, his vocation.

As is often the case when ex-offenders can’t find a jobwhen the world they are trying to reenter seems a wall without a doorMario drifted back into the criminal economy and resumed laboring in the drug trade.

There was another factor as well. Mario had been arrested in connection with the murder of a Black Disciple leader. “I’ve been acquitted of murder by a jury,” he once remarked, “but I haven’t been acquitted by the neighborhood.” He found a measure of security within the fold of the Gangster Disciples.

We remained in intermittent contact. When he saw me, Mario renewed his request for a job. Then in the summer of 2000, several NCC members mounted a campaign on his behalf. Mario began to “volunteer.” He would show up at an apartment at Stateway that several NCC members were helping to rehab and look for ways to pitch in. He wanted, he said, “to get out from under the building.” He told me that he had stopped selling drugs and had imposed a curfew on himself.

At the time, the NCC was engaged in “trashing out” and securing vacant units throughout Stateway under a contract with the management company. As a matter of policy, we make no concessions to gang geography. We work in buildings “controlled” by the Gangster Disciples, and we work in buildings “controlled” by the Black Disciples. The NCC crew included veterans of both gang “nations” (giving rise to wisecracks about the NCC as a “multinational force”). It included men who used to shoot at each other, and now, working side by side, have become colleagues and friends. But Mario presented a special case. Would we put him at risk, if we assigned him to work in Black Disciple buildings? Would his presence put other NCC members at risk?

We discussed these questions among ourselves. We talked with a Black Disciple leader, who assured us, “As long as he comes as a working man, he’ll be okay.” And we decided to hire Mario.

There was one quiet dissent. Danielle Walters, the only other middle class member of the NCC besides myself, came into my office and closed the door.

“I just want you to know that there is one person I don’t want to have to work with directly,” she said. “Mario. He scares me.”

In August of 2000, Mario began to work as a member of the NCC. He worked hard. The transition to daily employment was not, however, without its bumps and stresses. There were occasional flaps with co-workers. In one instance, the foreman sent him home for the day. He phoned me. It took me a while to understand what he was saying, because he was weeping.

On Saturday, September 29th, I brought NCC members their pay checks. Mario was standing outside 3542-44 S. State. He did a little dance and displayed his check to the young men at their posts in the drug marketplace.

“Legitimate money,” he exulted. And he headed off to the bank.

The next week war broke out between the Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples. There was regular gunfire between the buildings at night and occasional gunfire during the day. It shut down our trashing out operation and was a source of great frustration to NCC members.

I had a conversation at the time with an NCC colleague about how important it was that we embody for the young men with guns a different way of being a man in the world.

“That’s right,” he said. “We’re not GD’s or BD’s. Each of us has his own name.”