Man spent most life in and out of prison. But after this one experience—he’s now unrecognizable

He was introduced to the criminal justice system when he was only 9 years old
May 2, 2018 4:41 pm Last Updated: May 15, 2018 9:21 am

Growing up in an impoverished and abusive environment primes young children for a criminal lifestyle. This man spent the majority of his life in and out of prison, but one experience made him never go back.

Rafael LeBron of Newark, New Jersey, was introduced to the criminal justice system when he was only 9 years old. He was arrested for breaking into cars.

He would go through the juvenile system three times before he became an adult.

LeBron’s circumstances growing up are difficult to imagine.

He had an abusive father, and his home life drove him to find another life on the street.

He’s been beaten with a frying pan, had hot water thrown on him, and has even been beaten with an extension cord.

“I was trained and taught that I was a nobody in this world. So I thought the streets was my friend, but the streets wasn’t my friend,” LeBron told The Epoch Times.

When he was 17 years old, he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and spent another sentence in the juvenile system.

When LeBron was 19, he would get his first experience in adult prison after being convicted of assault and grand theft auto.

(Courtesy of Ariel Dreyfus)

“Family members [were] telling me I’m built for prison and jail. This is where I need to be at. Like I’m an animal,” he said.

“I always walked around with a mask on my face because I didn’t know how to show who I am. Showing who I am made me feel like I was punk or weak or people wouldn’t respect me,” LeBron explained.

The last time LeBron was incarcerated, he was 41 years old and was serving a sentence for assault. It was his last sentence when he decided he was never going back to prison.

A conversation with a corrections officer resonated with LeBron and made him determined to never return to prison.

“Do you like another man telling you to bend over butt naked and cough?” LeBron remembered the officer asking.

“What are you talking about?” LeBron responded. At first he was defensive, but then he began to understand the meaning of the officer’s message.

“You must like it because you keep coming back to the house that tells you to do it,” the officer replied. “If you have any respect for yourself and don’t like anything we tell you to do, then you’ll stay away from us,” LeBron recalled the officer saying.

“You know what? You’re right,” LeBron realized.

“Don’t you hate it when we come tear your room up?” LeBron remembered the officer asking.

“Yeah, I hate all that stuff,” LeBron said.

“Then why do you keep coming back to stuff you hate? Wake up my man. I only tell you that because I see goodness in you,” the officer concluded.

LeBron was released in October 2015. He had served his entire sentence. He was offered parole earlier, but declined because he wanted to be completely done with the prison process.

Rafael LeBron. (Andrew Thomas/The Epoch Times)

LeBron was motivated to turn his life around, and never go back to prison. However, it would be an arduous process.

“I came home, but I came home with no tools though,” LeBron explained. “They don’t prepare you, really, for society.”

LeBron was in school one day studying for his GED when a woman from The HOPE Program came by to promote their employment support program.

A friend of LeBron’s told him more about HOPE, and he became interested.

LeBron dedicated himself to the program, and he learned skills that would help him assimilate back into society and get a job. He was determined to follow through.

“I don’t have another restart button. If I go backwards, I might as well be dead. Six feet under,” LeBron explained.

He learned about and adopted good behaviors like humility and respect. He learned how to be confident and believe in himself.

LeBron also learned practical skills such as time management, how to interview successfully, and how dress for an interview.

He earned an opportunity to work seasonally at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York. He worked hard, showed up on time, and earned a full-time position at Murray’s on April 24, 2018.

The first thing LeBron did was call his HOPE counselor and retention associate Rachel Taylor to let her know the good news.

“It made my day. It was just amazing that I’d seen him go from a point where he wasn’t sure of how everything was going to play out here, and now he’s probably the most optimistic person that walked through this building that I’ve worked with,” Taylor recalled.

LeBron ringing the bell, a tradition at HOPE when a participant earns a job. (Courtesy of Ariel Dreyfus)

LeBron appreciates the structure that employment provides, and enjoys working with his coworkers who see him for who he is, not for what he did in the past.

“I don’t feel like they look at me different from my background, like I’m a different person,” LeBron said.

After talking with Taylor, LeBron called his mother. He cried briefly while taking a moment for himself, and then went back to work.