Emanuel, originally from the West End of Richmond, Virginia, was raised in a household with six other kids. Because his parents were not around and therefore unable to care for him and his sister, Emanuel was taken in by his great uncle and his wife. This was difficult, he admits, as Emanuel’s great uncle could not afford to support seven children in one household. Emanuel says that his great uncle’s wife never accepted him or his sister, making his childhood quite difficult. “I had to essentially raise myself,” Emmanuel said.
At the age of 14, Emanuel became homeless and roped into the criminal justice system after being sentenced to prison at age 17 for attempted murder. Living on the streets was quite dangerous, Emanuel said, and in an effort to protect himself after being shot in the face and leg, he returned fire. Without considering Emanuel’s use of force as self-defense after being shot, Emanuel was sentenced to prison. Accepting a plea deal, Emanuel went to the penitentiary at the age of 21 without any next steps.
Over the course of Emanuel’s sentence, he enrolled in many programs and took initiative to have a successful path to re-entry. He earned his GED and also completed programs in HVAC, MoneySmart, and others. Emanuel says he spent extensive time working out and exercising because he “wanted to come out more positively on the other side before re-entering back into society.”
While Emanuel accomplished a great deal while incarcerated, he explained that he never really received the psychological and emotional preparation for re-entering back into society after 5 years. “Life was totally different than when I’d left,” Emanuel said, where the transition from the penitentiary back into society was extremely difficult. After a few years back on the streets and with ongoing mental health struggles that had not been addressed while in prison, Emanuel was arrested again at the beginning of 2020.
During his second time in prison, at the age of 28, Emanuel was determined to make a change in his life. He heard about REAL LIFE while incarcerated and had his lawyer reach out to get him involved. Dr. Scarbrough welcomed Emanuel into the program, for which he says he is eternally grateful. When he finally received a plea deal by December of 2020, Emanuel entered REAL LIFE, where he has been a participant in the program for a little over a month now. Over such a short period of time, Emanuel says that REAL LIFE has already helped him in so many ways. He says, “I feel like I’m doing everything right for the first time in my life,” while living at the REAL house.
In less than a month at REAL LIFE, Emanuel already has gained employment with assistance from Sydney in our Quick Start to Employment Program. He has been working with a moving company in Richmond. Over such a successful month, Sydney has also helped Emanuel find a better job as a floor technician, a position he is beginning at the end of January of 2021.
As a Lifer, Emanuel says that among the most valuable programming to him has been anger management and meditation. He went through a lot in his life but, through anger management, Emanuel has gained a new perspective to get a positive mindset on his life. Emanuel says, “I had a lot of anger and frustration coming from my incarceration, and anger management has helped me reduce that.” Anger management and meditation programming are done as a group in the REAL House, but he’s able to access individual time. Both the bonds he has with the other Lifers, as well as the individual work he’s done, have been immensely helpful, Emmanuel said.
REAL LIFE has “changed my mindset, my priorities, and how I go about my life,” Emanuel says. Through unwavering support from staff members and other Lifers, Emanuel has been able to gain and retain employment, meet new friends, learn how to live well with others and work on his mental health. In his story of change and success, Emanuel says: “I feel like that if anybody needs a future for yourself, you have to go through the obstacles and make it happen to reach your goals. People will help you, but no one can do it for you. You have to learn to fight for yourself, and I have learned a lot through fighting for myself. It is all up to you.”