James Glover was a product of a very different New York. In the early 1970s, his preoccupation was hustling, or selling, heroin, in Harlem. Raised in Morningside Heights, the youngest of three, he skipped classes to smoke marijuana in Morningside Park. He also frequented an arcade on 42nd Street in Times Square.
“It’s like Disneyland now,” Mr. Glover, 52, said one Sunday afternoon in his wife’s 13th-floor apartment in a housing project on 135th Street, where the living room and bedroom windows offer a commanding view of the East River and the Bronx. He lives here only on the weekends, however; after serving a 12-year prison sentence for attempted robbery, he is required to reside in transitional housing during the week. He reflected on the tumultuous track that took him from street hustler to family man.
“I dropped out because I wanted to hang out with the guys on the streets — the wrong crowd,” he acknowledged, explaining why he never made it past the ninth grade. He could barely read because of dyslexia. His one and only job, at age 15, was working with children at a neighborhood swimming pool.
His first arrest came when he was accused of joy riding in a car that was given to him in exchange for drugs; Mr. Glover’s client had neglected to tell his wife about the trade. From then on, Mr. Glover surrounded himself with fellow drug addicts, making him a frequent arrest target. His drug of choice was freebase cocaine.
He spent the 1980s and ’90s in and out of prison, and it was during one of these sentences that his mother died. Incarcerated in upstate New York, he was the last person she spoke to before she had a fatal heart attack.
When a prison guard broke the news, he said, “I couldn’t even talk.” His drug use intensified after her death, compounding the grief he had never dealt with when his brother died in 1981.
“I was still in denial,” he said. “I couldn’t feel my feelings.”
Mr. Glover did not realize it at the time, but he was “hurting people,” he said, with all the drugging and hustling.
Afraid of being poisoned by jailhouse drugs, he quit for good in 1997. As a result, “I found me,” he said. “I didn’t have narcotics to numb me.”
While in prison, Mr. Glover decided to take classes, and tackled his education with gusto. Whereas he had been afraid to admit when he needed help, seeing it as a sign of weakness, now he began asking his fellow prisoners for help learning to read — some of the same men he had known from the neighborhood.
“You get more respect for asking than acting like you know,” he said he finally realized.
After he was paroled, in 2010, Mr. Glover was reconnecting with an old friend when the friend’s sister drove up. Enchanted, he asked her for a ride to a halfway house in East Harlem so he could make curfew.
“We’ve been together ever since,” he said, smiling at his wife, Jennifer, 37. He is stepfather to her children Mikyal, 16, and Mysyla, 12. “Usually I’m in and out of jail,” he said. “I saw her and saw my life change.”
Eager to secure employment, Mr. Glover was referred to the Community Service Society, one of the beneficiary agencies of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. The society helps ex-convicts gain employment skills, and through the agency Mr. Glover was awarded a culinary arts internship at the Brandon Residence for Women on the Upper West Side.
The society also drew $263 from the fund for MetroCards so he could travel between home and work. Mr. Glover receives about $90 a month in public assistance and $200 in food stamps, with a rental subsidy for the halfway house.
A love for cooking runs in his family: Mr. Glover’s son from another relationship, Jermaine, is a pastry cook at Red Rooster in Harlem. Mr. Glover is now seeking a permanent cooking position. “I love it,” he said of his newly chosen profession.
It is a long way from where he began on the streets of Harlem. He said he could never see himself inside a prison now.
“I’m a different person,” he said. “This is my drug of choice: my wife and kids.”
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