Parrish speaks in a humble and low-key way. This understatement belies the power of his insights. He takes the opportunities and finds his best self in the process. At the age of 27, prison set him down. But the plans he made in prison kept him on the path to where he is today, defining the legacy he wants to leave.
When I got out of jail I became homeless. Man, that was like the most humbling experience I’ve ever been through because growing up I never even knew about these kinds of shelters. Never knew homeless shelters existed. I went through the City Mission, then in 8 months I transitioned over to Railton House, (a shelter that’s part of Salvation Army). I didn’t have an addiction, but I needed housing. I was so focused on housing and employment. That’s when I started working here. Haven’t gone back to jail. Started a family. I got my health in order. Along my journey I became diabetic…prison food didn’t help. Ever since, I’ve been working out and trying to eat halfway right. Haven’t done any drugs since 2006. Now, by having a clear mind and having the experience of being homeless, I can help these guys at 2100.
I’m more reserved when I talk with them. I don’t judge them. I don’t treat them like they’re less than human. I know what it’s like. We deal with a lot of residents with a host of issues…gotta have patience working with them. If it wasn’t for the people who had patience with me, where would I be?
Patience, letting me bring out the person inside
People showed patience with me…even here. When I do a bone headed thing, Dave Blunt, (Operations Director) has patience with me – instructing at the same time. All of that patience let me bring out the person I was inside. Even back in prison, people showed me patience like they knew I wasn’t all bad.
Even when I was in City Mission, the men showed patience with me and taught me that I don’t have to go the same path they went. A lot of the guys had very traumatic experiences that I’d never lived through. They showed me even though you’re homeless, it can get worse. You can go from homeless to worse…death or life in prison. A lot of people showed patience when I didn’t want to listen. I thought I knew it all. They saw something in me I didn’t see in myself.
I never really talk about this stuff with anyone. In my family, we don’t talk about things like this. I don’t know why. Maybe we just expect each other to be strong, especially the men where the expectation is to be strong at all times. It feels good to actually get it out. It feels like when you cry and release all this stuff.
To be honest, I don’t have the most crazy story, compared to what I’ve heard in shelters. Hearing some of those stories motivated me. Like, if they can make it through, I can definitely make it through. I don’t have the most extreme story, but I’ve been through some things that might help others.
Being Set Down
You made it through prison and homelessness and you didn’t become hardened by all this.
You want to know what? That was never me. The things I went through on the streets – that was never me. The man who I am today is who I always have been – I just went off the tracks.
I told somebody the other day: you know how Jesus went to the desert to fast and pray? I believe that’s what prison was for me.
While I was running the streets, I never paused to rest, to think. I was just ripping and running. For me I feel like prison set me down to meditate. To clear my mind of everything. To give me time to think about my life. Before that, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was living on a day-to-day basis…just existing. Prison set me down to think. I didn’t have a home. I didn’t have a family. I didn’t have anything. So that kind of made me think: I don’t want to die like this. I don’t have a legacy being just in the streets… to prison… to dying.
I want to leave a legacy so when someone does speak at my funeral, it’s not a lie- but all truth and honest. Being set down that year in prison was a blessing; it wasn’t all bad.
What was the part of prison that made you realize you don’t want this again?
Oh my God, just the noise!
I mean, people screaming and yelling in the nighttime when you’re trying to rest. Fighting…
and lack of freedom. It’s the little things: not being able to choose if you shower or just soak your bones in a bath. Not being able to turn your light off and on. Not being able just to go sit outside on your front porch to read the newspaper. Prison makes you appreciate the little things even more. It took me until age 27 to go to prison – that’s kind of late. I never did any time in the Juvenile system. For me, I just thank God the light switched on so that I can be where I’m at now. I really think if I didn’t go to prison, I’d still be living the same life, and I’m thankful for that.
So where does 2100 enter this picture?
The average employer is not going to hire a person whose been in prison – not only hire them but allow them to move up. I’m thankful for that too.
This is one of the only places that gives people who’ve been in prison a second chance. That’s more than an incentive, for me, to do right. When you’re being given a second chance, and you want to do right, you don’t just lay back on that. You take advantage of everything offered.
Materializing my thoughts
When you were running out on the streets, you said “That wasn’t the person I am at heart.” Now, it seems, you have this sense of who you are.
When I was in prison I wrote down everything I wanted to do. There’s power in speaking things, writing things into existence. Materializing my thoughts. Some of the things I wrote down were 1) I wanted a family 2) I wanted a wife 3) I wanted to work with youth who are at-risk 4) I wanted to coach football 5) I wanted a truck. Everything I wrote down came to be when I got out – I even have a truck!
Before I worked here I was working at the VOA, and I saw a few of my clients come back. They were showing me pictures of their kids – they showed me their home – they showed me their truck driving license; they got their life together. They had been those youth who made a turn around. That’s how I want to help inside of here too.
There’s a lot of youth here, 18-24. Not only do I monitor them, I try to share certain things with them. I try to motivate them when I have a little one-on-one time. I’m not at the point where I can’t speak their language. A lot of youth, they don’t like to be preached to, or talked down to. I feel like I can understand them and speak their language. A lot of them draw closer to me for that reason. They’re not afraid to open up. Instead of me just saying, “Hey, go over there. Sit down.” No one likes to be talked to like that. We have rapport, but one thing I learned, I don’t want any resident to think we’re friends. We need boundaries, this is my job. But we definitely need rapport.
My ceiling is not limited
You were the Coordinator at The Hostel, right? (LMM operates a seasonal shelter during the winter months).
That was an experience! I’ve never run a whole place by myself. I believe that made me stronger. I can’t say I ran it because a lot of the staff helped me get through it over there. I wouldn’t change that for anything. I feel like, if I can run the Hostel, I can run anything that LMM places in my hands.
How did you get the assignment? Parrish speaks with a lot of energy now.
You know what? I actually went and sat in with Dave. I asked him to place more responsibility in my hands. I wanted to do more than security…more than just wanding (metal detector) and searching bags when people come in. And he placed it in my hands. If something came up he said, “Hey, what you going to do with it?” I wasn’t going to let him down. Not only that, but I had my experience at VOA where I started off as a monitor, then I started doing outreach, then I was a coordinator overseeing some of the clients. Then an employment specialist. I knew I could do more; I could be the Coordinator at The Hostel.
What makes you want to come to work?
I can be political, but I’m going to be honest! I got bills, and I have a family to take care of. But not only that, I actually enjoy working here. It can be stressful, when you’re dealing with a lot of different personalities. A lot of time, if you don’t have the experience, you won’t see that the client is really just looking for somebody to talk with. If you can’t see the person is just acting out because they just need a cup of coffee and someone to talk with- you won’t be helpful. Instead of going back and forth with him you need to ascertain the real problem. In that situation, I might say “Hey, come and talk with me. Come and have a cigarette.” Anything I can do to diffuse the tension. That’s pretty much why I like to come here. Besides that, this place helps me stay grounded. I know that at any point, I can become homeless again if I’m not doing the right thing. My life could change tremendously if I’m not doing the right thing.
You really do envision things ahead of time.
I have to because at one point I didn’t have no goals, no plans. The legacy- I want to leave a legacy instead of just: “Parrish was some fake gangster on the street. He was in and out of jail. He was homeless.” I want to leave a wholesome family and a positive legacy. I don’t want to die before that legacy happens. Now I have new goals. Now I want to own a house in a certain place. I’m more specific in what I’m trying to manifest. Working here is a part of that realization.
Just Doing My Job
It is humbling for me to still be coming in every day, but not easy. I still got to remain professional, no matter what I bring from home. And then I’ve got clients 6’5” and 350 pounds. Who wants to wrestle with a person like that? My goal is to put nobody out the building or ban anyone. That can be stressful in itself. You have a client who has nowhere else to go and they still break the rules. That situation is hard on me because I know it is cold outside. But if exceptions are made for people who break the rules, that can be toxic for this place. Everyone would think they can do whatever they want without consequences. You’ve got to be built for this! It’s hard just dealing with so many people, a guy who’s 18 and a guy who’s 75 years old. Different personalities. You got to be built for this.
What’s it like de-escalating a situation?
There’s an art to it. Sometimes in the halls I’ll just start a conversation, just get to know a lot of these guys. Maybe play a quick game of cards. Just get to know them on a name-to-name basis. Let them see I’m not the enemy…because a lot of times these guys think it’s us against them.
Exactly. Once they see that I’m human it’s easier for me to de-escalate. “Hey, come here and talk with me before you do anything crazy.” It works tremendously, just building rapport – but honest rapport.
Honesty? Talk about that.
A person doesn’t want to feel you have a motive behind being nice. One thing I learned in prison is a lot of people have trust issues. So, when you can get a person who can be violent, can be aggressive…when you can get that person calm down, to go walk and take some air…I’d rather do that than apply physical restraint. I’ve been here three years. I’ve probably had to do physical restraint on one person, that’s it. I’d say I’m fair, not quick to judge. They know I’m honest in my respect toward them. I make that my business. I don’t treat no one with bias.
Then, Now, and Going Forward
Growing up, I didn’t have the best of the best, but nothing to complain about besides not getting what I wanted for Christmas (laughing). Now, I still got so much catching up to do. Even with these changes I’ve been though. Like I still haven’t traveled much, traveling with my family instead of just be concerned with bills. Like I said, I wrote down everything I wanted to do so I could materialize all of it. There is power in speaking things…writing things into existence. Maybe it is time for me to make another list.