Walter Bouiye, 34, spent the better part of a decade in prison for drug-related crimes before being released last summer. Now he's working full time for Kahwa Coffee at the St. Petersburg company's warehouse. How does somebody go from doing wrong to trying to do right? We talked recently in St. Petersburg.
Michael Kruse, Times staff writer
I was born in Bartow, Polk County, 1977.
My dad had five kids with my mom. They couldn't get along. He washed his hands of us.
I remember seeing my mom, in the orange grove, on her knees, with two or three buckets, eight months pregnant, picking oranges, so we can have Christmas.
We couldn't outwork her. She's good and fast and she's got long fingers.
My granddad, what he'd do is he'd go get his car and pull up, and he'd cut the lights on. We picked apples in New York, too, peaches, pears, plums, grapes. We just jumped from one orchard to the next, and he'd bring the car lights out. "Yeah, we've got to have all these, we've got to have this today." That's how it went.
I started working real hard like that, at 8, 9 years old. But I didn't think it was worth it. Got to be an easier way, a better way. Because I see guys in the 'hood. Drug dealers in abundance. They talk loud, they boast, and they got the money, the cars and the women to back it up. That's what I wanted. Not having to go answer to a boss. Not having to be somewhere on time. Not sweating hours.
Drinking alcohol. I liked that. Hanging out late. I liked that.
I was able to supply my habit and the habits of others and buy the things that made me look nice to be respected. Because in the 'hood it's about how you look first.
Really, I was about me. And what's funny is I would call myself a caring and loving person. If somebody I knew got high, too, and needed something, I'd give 'em something, and that was caring and loving. But all I'm doing is feeding the demon that's within 'em.
Being wanted in three different counties at the same time, nobody wanted to be around me. Can't go home. Mom's scared. The police is looking through the window early in the morning. Helicopters flying over the block where I live.
I didn't get it right. It took me three trips to prison. I feel blessed to be able to have been to prison three times. Every time I went to prison my mother sent me newspaper clippings of guys I know that's dead. There's two things that can happen in the streets. You can either get killed or go to jail. That's why I say I'm blessed.
So you can keep raging up against it. Your issues. You can rage against that. But they'll teach you that that ain't always going to get you by. So you're going to have to adjust. See? I had to adjust.
When it came to dealing with officers, it was always, "Yes, sir," "Yes, ma'am." I understand my position, and I understand theirs.
I don't want to go back. It's degrading.
I roast coffee. I grind coffee. Everything in that warehouse, I do. My money don't fall out of the sky. I'm not sitting on the block in blue jeans and my flip-flops. I work hard. Anywhere I go I'm going to work my hardest.
I only have one daughter. She stays with her mother. She's 7 years old.
I think we've got a pretty good relationship. I think it could be better. When I left, she was 1.
I wanted to go back home. But my job with the coffee company was here. And I felt like it was a revelation to me to know what kind of shape I'd be in if I went home. Unemployed. Living with my mom. I stayed because I know I have child support and I knew I had a daughter to take care of.
She calls me now. Every now and then. When I talk to her, I'm able to tell her what I expect, and have her listen to me.
When I look back, today, what I regret most is being ignorant to what was being taught to me by people that loved me. It's kind of like I want to learn how to read and write and do math and stuff like that but I don't want to go to school. And they extended their hand to teach me. That's how I feel I did my mom growing up. I wanted her to feed me, give me my own room, buy me clothes. But the more important thing that I should've been taking advantage of is the knowledge that she was passing on.
If I had listened to half the things my mother tried to instill in me and teach me, I'd have never seen prison. Just half of them. Probably just a quarter of 'em.