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On a recent Thursday evening in mid-October, Albert grabbed his notebook and sat down to write. The 43-year-old Phoenix resident turns to his journal when he feels overwhelmed and misses his mother.

Albert has always had a passion for writing. But he lost sight of that when he fell on hard times. Nevertheless, his mother, Gloria, was always in his corner. She encouraged Albert never to lose faith in himself. Her love is what kept him going.

“My mom was the only person I was able to trust,” Albert said. “I wasn’t afraid to tell my mother nothing. She never judged me at all. She showed me how to love. She showed me it was okay to be emotional. That it was okay to have tears.”

Life hadn’t been easy for them, but the pair helped bring out the best in each other.

As a young child, Albert remembers his mother telling him that when a person has a gift, or natural talent for doing something, they should share it with others. It’s one of many life lessons his mother taught him.

Albert stopped writing, however, after his mother died in 2016. It nearly broke him. Grief led to depression, and depression exacerbated his life-long struggle with drug addiction and low self-esteem.

He picked up a pen and started writing.

 

Phoenix client Albert reading a book outside by a brick wall

 

Hello Momma, 

Well, it’s about time I write you this letter…it’s hard on earth being here without you calling me…and be loved by you. See, thing is, knowing when I want to do dumb stuff it’s like you pop up and show me that you right here with me, saying’ baby we better than dumb shit.’And just then I look up and I say ‘thank you for being my angel.’ You know momma, I have truly found my purpose in this world today. Helping people to live a better life. The crazy thing is you told me time and time again to be me but I didn’t know how to be Albert. I wanted to be everything but him. Yes you’re right. So today it’s about doing better because you was the one to show me better for that alone is my purpose. It’s doing better. I said before you went to heaven that I’ll help get the family back together. Well it’s work, but i’ll never stop until we are under one roof having dinner like old times. Momma, knowing you right here with me makes things just that much better for me to do right. I once asked God why did you take her from us like that? He said: She aint gone. I have her with everybody. So if you close your eyes and think of all the memories you shared with her you will see her clearly. So now I find myself seeing you sitting on my shoulders smiling, laughing and having the most fun of all just that makes my heart sing songs of joy. I was just outside and saw a beautiful hummingbird. Was that you speaking to me momma?? Well, I’ll let you go. I love you and miss you always and forever 

Your son, 

Albert. 

Born in St Louis, Albert is the third oldest of several children. Albert’s grandmother thought he’d make a good minister, but he grew up dreaming of opening a family restaurant. His mother and sister were amazing cooks. He was known for his great BBQ. But life was tough. While Albert enjoyed spending time with family, he often felt like he had to walk on eggshells around them.

“I used to get beat up by my dad for no reason. I saw him beat my mom too,” he said. “I honestly thought that was love. I had to figure out what love is.”

In high school, Albert started getting in trouble and using drugs. He left St. Louis when he was 22 years old in search of a better life. A few years later, however, Albert discovered a lump in his chest. It was cancer. He made a full recovery but grew addicted to painkillers. His dependence on drugs grew worse. But throughout it all, Albert was able to turn to his mother for love, advice, and support. She was his rock.

 

Phoenix client Albert reading a book outside by a brick wall

 

“My mother means everything to me,” he said. “She was my best friend.”

On August 5, 2016, Albert was reminded of the power of unconditional love when he witnessed the birth of his first daughter.

“She came out crying,” Albert recalled. “I was telling her it was all going to be okay and she just reached out for my finger.”

But that renewed hope was short-lived. Albert’s mother died a few months later. It devastated him.

“I didn’t want to live,” he said. “I just wanted to be with my mother so bad to the point where I lost track and was messing with hardcore drugs. I was on the verge of killing myself.”

Albert spiraled further and, in 2018, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and drug paraphernalia. A judge sentenced him to 36 months in prison. Separated from his daughter and reeling from the death of his mother, Albert was alone in a prison cell when he discovered what he had to do to turn his life around.

“When I was in prison, I learned that the people that I loved, where my loyalties stood, were something where I saw no loyalty back,” he said. “I started reading books and memorizing different words that I never took time to learn.”

Three years later, when Albert was released from prison, he longed to find a community where he felt accepted. Guided by his dream of reuniting with his family and the memory of the unconditional love his mother showed him, Albert understood that he would need to work on bettering himself first. But he worried he had already missed out on opportunities because of judgemental first impressions.

Albert had been approved for a program that helps individuals released from prison re-enter society, but he never made it. Still grieving the loss of his mother, he continued using drugs to cope and was eventually arrested on suspicion of “dangerous drug possession use.” A judge set his bail at $5,000.

“I am tired of them putting us in a cage, and they don’t feed us proper food, don’t give us proper medical help,” Albert said of his time in jail while his case was pending. “If you have ever been in Maricopa County’s jailhouse… I would not wish that on my worst enemy.”

 

Phoenix client Albert shaking hands with another person outside by a brick wall

 

When Bo from The Bail Project’s Phoenix team learned of Albert’s situation, he reached out to Albert and spoke to him to see whether we could help. Albert had been behind bars in pretrial detention for more than four months at that point. Luckily, a week later, we paid Albert’s bail, and he was released.

Albert took Bo up on his offer to continue speaking and working on his recovery. Albert called Bo twice a week. Knowing that Bo had his back gave Albert the motivation he needed and the feeling of acceptance he had been yearning. Not long after, Albert was able to move into a recovery home so that he could get the assistance he needed to get his life back on track.

“I call Bo a guardian angel. When I didn’t have anybody and nobody to help me, he was the one who showed up,” he said. “He was the one that had faith in me.”

In the six months since his release, Albert has remained sober, gained employment, and has a new outlook on life. He currently works at the sober living facility as a Certified Peer Support Specialist helping facilitate group therapy sessions and as a mentor for others. He is also in culinary school and will be graduating soon.

 

“My purpose is to give back. Bo believed in me. My mom believed in me. If you have faith, it will work out,” Albert said. “That’s my purpose. It’s being a member of society and helping others.”

 

Although his case is still pending, Albert hopes that he’ll be able to continue devoting his career to supporting people who are working on their sobriety. His end goal is to reunite with his daughter and family. And, of course, in his free time, Albert writes. He is thankful to have finally rediscovered the special gift his mother told him to treasure.

The World of the New Albert 

Well, well. I haven’t done this part in a long while. The last time I was here I wrote I smile to keep from crying. Look here. That was a lot of tears. When I say a lot, I could have filled an ocean with all the hurt and pain I went through. For real, for real. I’m here just to say I really miss y’all as well. First of all, I love who I am and I want y’all to love y’all self as well because you are beautiful as well. Just know where I came from to where I would love to be, I’m making changes right now because I don’t need to be in a prison cell or jail cell crying an ocean. And that’s fact. I’m just saying I’m my own man. I make my own choices. I’m not looking for someone to tell me what they think I should hear. I’m amazing at doing all of these things by myself. That’s big facts….

I hope you were as moved by reading this story as I was while interviewing our client and writing it. We at The Bail Project are honored to provide a platform for our clients to share their experiences – but we are only able to do so because of the support of readers like you. If you found value in this story, please consider donating today. Every little bit helps.

Storytelling Associate

Melissa Etehad

Melissa grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of California, San Diego where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Religion. She later moved to New York and Washington D.C., where she worked as a researcher and a reporter before going to Columbia University School of Journalism for her Master’s degree. She moved back to Los Angeles in 2016 where she continued working as a reporter for several years. In her free time, you’ll likely catch Melissa petting dogs, drinking wine or watching Seinfeld.