by Patrick Gibson
I think there’s more to be said for the individual who picks themselves up, persists, and overcomes their adversity than it does for a person who simply falls. We will all fall at some point. I’m more focused on if you got up, how you got up, and what you did after you got up.
Chapter 1: Tough Boy (1-10)
As early as I can remember, I was raised in a home to a mother and a father [Tom and Dorothea] who practiced the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Being raised in a family like that, there’s a lot that comes with it. The thing that stands out in my mind are the restrictions. I think we’re most bothered as children by what we can’t do. You look at what you can’t do, and at some point it begins to bother you. For me, it was the types of people I was allowed to hang out with, birthday parties, Christmas, Halloween, staying after school to join extracurricular activities, having a girlfriend... a lot of things. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a group of people who have very strict regulations according to “The Word of God.” They derive all of their rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, whatever you want to call it - they base all of those things on their interpretation of what the bible says. That would be my first life-defining thing. I say thing as opposed to moment because it wasn’t a moment, it was a lifestyle. The Jehovah’s Witness religion governed everything they did.
I can really remember, we always lived in the worst part of the city, on Bush Court. Horrible, horrible street. Dogs were always loose in our neighborhood. We were deathly afraid of the dogs, especially the one on the corner named Bullet. If Bullet would get out, Bullet would bite people. So you always, if you went outside to play, kids would check to make sure Bullet was behind the fence or he’d have every kid in the neighborhood running and jumping on top of cars, or running into the house.
We lived in a side-by-side next to the Larsons. On any given day, they’d be out there drinking. They got drunk; that’s what they did. Noah, Ray, those are the ones I know. But there was another one, they had a brother who was handicapped. His name was Mathew. One morning, I woke up and I heard a big commotion in the front yard, and Ray was beating up Mathew. I remember blood just all in his mouth, and I felt so bad for him. I wanted to go outside and help him, but I knew I couldn’t. I’d get beat up if I tried.
I was a very rough kid. When people hear the term “tough boy,” I was that. Snotty nosed, always dirty, always outside running around, climbing trees, somewhere in a field chasing small animals, climbing the train tracks. I was a bully in school. If I had a child like me, I’d be very challenged. I was a handful, and I admit that. I was not easy to raise. I would fight, I would lie - oh man, I had such a fear of being caught for what I was doing! I would come to find later on as I grew up, I was abused. The physical punishments I would receive were not spankings, they were beatings. The human mind adapts and adjusts and believes, especially from early on, that these things are normal if no one helps you to redefine what normal is.
There were two teachers for 1st grade. They moved me out of the first one, into the second one, Ms. Ferguson’s room because Ms. Ferguson was a hardass. She blamed me from stealing $10 from her purse, saying I lingered behind in the classroom and stole $10 from her purse. I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t, but I was a liar, so it was hard to people to believe me because I would fight and lie and cheat and all this kind of stuff. Thief, that’s right in the same vein.
I was a serious bully in 2nd grade. It was very difficult for me to see, as a kid, I was victimizing other kids. But I was mimicking my environment.
I moved to Broadway Street, next to “The Three Apartment Buildings.” We used to go outside, play over the train tracks, down into the woods, chase small animals and do all this kind of crazy stuff. I enjoyed living over there because I was a kid who wanted to always be outside and explore. It was a little more open. It wasn’t a small ghetto, it was a bigger ghetto. This was 3rd grade, we moved over there. I remember I was outside playing. Two guys were fighting, and the one guy, the taller, husky guy, was beating up the other guy who was really, really fit, had muscles, and we had a running joke - he used to look like one of the monkeys from Planet of the Apes, we used to call him Planet of the Apes. But we didn’t associate the idea that just because the husky guy’s fat doesn’t mean he’s not strong. He was whoopin’ the shit out the guy that we called Planet of the Apes, like he’s stomping him too. Stomping him. He hit him like three times, let him up, dragged him back into the building. A few seconds later he came running out of the building, ran to his car. First time I ever saw this, the husky guy pulled up a gun as he was trying to pull off. He shot at him three times with his gun. The guy peeled out and took off in his car, and the huskier guy went and jumped in his vehicle and took off in the alley chasing after him. I was just standing there like I was watching TV, clear as day.
My 3rd grade teacher’s name was Ms. Villegas. I wish I would have treated her better. She never mistreated me. I was spitting spitballs in class one day and I spit a spitball and it landed right between her breasts. Right. Between. Her breasts. I could not believe it. I was spitting and oh my God I just knew. She looked- just like “What is wrong with you boy?” Removed me immediately, and then I got a phone call home. I remember standing up on desks, in her room. If she walked out of that room for any reason, I was out of my seat acting a fool. That was the year Tom and Dorothea walked up to the school and said “I don’t care how smart he is, put him back in the 3rd grade. We’re gonna teach him a lesson.” So I did 3rd grade again across the hall in a new teacher’s room. Her name was Ms. Swanson. Not as many issues in Ms. Swanson’s room. Not as many issues in her room, but I was still a knucklehead. Moved on to 4th grade, I had Ms. Oliver. Moved on to 5th grade to a teacher named Ms. Cox, who everybody thought was the meanest teacher there was alive, but the thing that Ms. Cox was, Ms. Cox just wasn’t physically appealing. I think she was a pretty good person.
Then, I moved to 6th grade. I had Ms. Burke. Ms. Burke was extremely loud; she was a fat black lady. She had a bark and a bite to match. Here is where I came to an understanding that I was being abused. We were taking a test one day in class. Ms. Burke would walk around and watch the kids take the test, and she would look over your shoulder and she would pat you on the shoulder and tell you “good job” or tell you whatever correction you needed to make. On this particular day, I was wearing a white polo. Shirts can dry to a wound if it gets moist, so even if it’s healing, if it gets wet, it’ll get sticky and then your shirt’ll stick to it. Well, I used to get beat across the back, across the butt, the legs, and he would make it lap over and slap me in the stomach too, But I had been beaten pretty good a couple of nights before. She decided to walk around and tap me on my shoulder. When she did, I jumped forward, and what happened was my shirt peeled away from the wound. I must have put the shirt on in time for it to stick, and it ripped back, stuck back to the wound, and bled through.
So Ms. Burke tapped me, told me to come out into the hallway. I went into the hallway and she asked me about the wound. She asked me to lift my shirt, and she saw my back, and it was full of busted skin and wounds trying to heal. She asked me what happened, and I said I got a whoopin’ and I looked at her. It was normal to me. When tears started falling from her eyes, I got nervous. She went across the hall and knocked on another teacher’s door, Ms. McCoy. Ms. McCoy was the 7th grade teacher. She instructed me to lift my shirt back up, and Ms. McCoy saw it and she did the exact same thing Ms. Burke did. She’s tearing up now, and I’m just like, “I’m in trouble. I don’t know what I did, but I’m in trouble.” Next thing I remember is Tom and Dorothea questioning me, what I had told the teachers and the principals and the people at school. I don’t remember what I told them, and I also don’t remember getting in more trouble, but they weren’t very happy about it.
I had a good 7th grade year because Ms. McCoy was my teacher. 7th grade year ended, and Tom and Dorothea said “We gonna send you down South to spend some time with your grandparents, they wanna see you.” I didn’t get along very well with my grandfather, and I overheard him having a conversation with my dad. I was there to be whipped into shape because I was a behavior problem. They thought having me work real hard and having somebody treat me real stern would do me some good. He worked the shit outta me. I picked tomatoes, corn. He had me working with a construction worker. I was used to chores, but down South field work is completely different from any house chore you could imagine. I hated it, wanted to go home. It was horrible. Didn't get beat though. That’s one thing I appreciated. Jehovah's Witnesses, they call their church the Kingdom Hall. Down there, I had to go to the Kingdom Hall, they had me knocking on doors. I had to do that my whole life. Never enjoyed it. It was embarrassing is what it was. I remember one day I had to knock on my girlfriend’s door.
We left down South and Tom came to get me. Picked me up, we came back to Illinois and passed [our home] on the Highway. I’m like “Where we goin’?” Then he started explaining to me why we were on the highway. “We don’t live [on Broadway Avenue] anymore.” We pulled up to the house and it wasn’t a nice place. At that point in my life I became very quiet. This was my 8th grade year and all of a sudden I shut down. I’m angry. I believe I have a real resentment toward my parents, so I had to swallow a lot of it and just accept. I didn’t have the time to really process that transition from all my friends to nothing.
Chapter 2: A Behavior Problem (11-20)
Eighth grade may have looked good as far as grades were concerned, but when I got to high school I had to find a way to live a life that didn’t reveal or expose what I’m really doing. I always had a girlfriend. The store that I was working out of, I was stealing 40 oz of beer, sneaking ‘em on the bus, smoking marijuana at school, skipping classes. I used to get in so much trouble, and it would result in Tom trying to fistfight me, punching me in my chest. But I’m growing up now, and I think he thought “now I’m gonna start fucking with him a different way.”
He tried to use the Kingdom hall and the elders at the Kingdom Hall and the Jehovah’s Witness religion to manipulate and control how I thought, how I felt, what I did. That was the thing that really applied the most pressure because it was mental and emotional battering. You can sustain physical wounds much better than you can psychological. The Jehovah’s Witness organization actually did kick me out. They disfellowshipped me. When you are disfellowshipped, no one is to say hi to you, greet you, or have any form of communication with you whatsoever if they are a Jehovah’s Witness. You’ve been ousted completely, and if your family is able to, they should avoid all communication with you as well. So the people I’m living with, my own mother and father, instructed my brothers and sisters, “Limit all of your communication with Patrick, as much as you possibly can.”
One night I got in trouble. It was over a pair of pants. If I remember correctly, Dorothea wanted me to wear a certain pair of pants to work. It was my understanding that she left it to me to choose which ones, but she did not give me a directive to wear these. There was a disagreement because Tom said, “Your mother told you to wear this pair. Why did you wear that pair? That white pair of school pants that you wear, you will wear those to school every day straight for a week as your punishment.” And I’m sitting there thinking in my head like, “You out yo fuckin mind. I ain’t wearing the same pair of pants to no damn school for no week. I get exactly what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to embarrass me.”
Now mind you, this is after years of abuse. Physical, which morphed into a lot of mental emotional abuse because it’s game related. Monday came. School let out. I wore the white pants to school Monday. I get home, pack all my shit, walk down to the second floor, open up the windows, threw out my two cases. I wasn’t about to take suitcases past my little brother and sister cause at this point I still love them. Didn’t say bye, just walked out the door. Went to the greyhound. Got on the bus, left, and went all the way to Memphis, Tennessee.
When I got there, I called my aunt and grandmother. Told ‘em everything and my grandmother put me up. What you’re being handed right now is an angry young boy. In Memphis they gangbang like they’re professionals, like the people in Chicago. They do drugs, use drugs, peddle drugs, everything drugs on a whole other level. My cousin, Marcus, was a drug dealer from day one. His circle? Nothing but thugs.
My attention shifted completely from the suffering. I’m not paying attention to myself much no more; I’m paying attention to the fun. I joined the track team, loved the girls, loved smoking weed. I didn’t really focus on gangbanging but I banged because I was with them. It’s all related by association. Grandmother started getting phone calls from the high school. “He has broken into the concessions here at the school and he robbed the place with two other young men.” Got kicked out of high school.
I was in Memphis for about a year and I thought I was invincible. I wanted to be what my cousin was. My grandmother sat me down one day and said, “I’m sending you back.” I loved my grandmother so much I left, but that may have saved my life. Memphis swallowed me whole. That life was so fast and so hard, man, it stripped me of something. All of my innocence was gone. Tom was gonna meet me at the station, give me a ride to his house. When I saw him, I just kind of stared. I went to the car with him, and what I remember is him and I having a conversation, and him saying “You clearly don’t fit here.” He paid for me to leave. He put me in an efficiency apartment. From the moment I got back after that bus ride, um... there was just a constant decline for the next 7 years of my life.
Chapter 3: The Crazy Years (21-30)
I went to jail in 1989, in 1990, in 1991, in 1992, in 1993, in 1994, and they finally sent me to prison June 24th, 1994. I was released Friday the 13th, 1996 and 89 days later I went back to prison and did not get out until May 10, 2000. 1989 to 1994 was hell. I think a lot of people get to a breaking point and they just begin living without direction, purpose, a real understanding of what’s driving their behavior. I was excited for the idea of being free, to do whatever the fuck I wanted, but you start to come to these realizations. Rent gotta be paid; I’m not as good of a drug dealer as I was expecting to be.
Gang fights are overrated. Gang activity is another symptom of a much bigger problem in a person. You gotta look at it that way. ‘Cause then you’ll treat a person, not a thing. This is a human being we’re talking about. That’s another way to pacify yourself. Alcohol, gangs, and anything else you can think of. Between 1989 and 1994, just going to jail was like the easy out to be quite honest with you. I think it’s much harder to live a street life and deal with the day in and the day out.
In 1994 I committed a crime... it blows my mind when I think about what I did. All those years before, carrying concealed weapons, fighting in the street, robbing people, stealing cars and stealing clothes out of department stores, robbing gas stations, that was one thing. In 1994, there was this gentleman who had been speaking very ill of me. I kidnapped him; I rode him out highway 20. During that ride, I battered him with a pistol and stripped him of all his belongings. I put him out on the highway, and the two gentlemen I was with, we turned around. That was wrong. It was wrong. I tossed all of his belongings in a garbage can. At McDonalds, I took the pistol and I gave it to a friend of mine, and I told him to hold onto it until I came back from wherever I was going. I got with a young lady who went on the run with me, and we went to a place called Egg Harbor. She was a good partner to be on the run with. She was funny, she told really good stories. She was fun. I told her everything I had done, too. She was sad for me. I think I needed that.
We eventually decided that, all right, it’s time to go back. That morning, she pulled up in front of the County Jail. I got out, I went and I sat in front of the jail for about maybe just 20 minutes. I walked in, and I said, “I’m here to turn myself in. I understand y’all are looking for me.” The charges were armed battery, armed robbery, and armed false imprisonment. I forget each one carried, but it was a total of 37 years that I was looking at. He brought me back a final deal for 5 years. I found out I could have beat the entire thing because they had the burden of proving that I was armed. Had I known that, if I woulda went to trial, they wouldn’t have been able to prove it. Paroled me February 13. 89 days later, back to jail for possession of crack cocaine with the intent to deliver and possession of a firearm.
When I was in prison the first time, I was all into my gang stuff. But then, I didn’t learn much. I wasn’t trying to work on the man that I am, trying to become a better person. When I got back to prison the second time though, I started going about my days differently while I was there. I started to think a lot about me, who I was. I’m just looking at how volatile the situation really is, and I’m thinking about me. Why are you here? I ran into a gentleman; his name is Alton Burns. He just helped me to understand so much about life. Alton is deep into the bible now. He wasn’t before, he’s not one of those preachers who do it just to do it. It’s genuine, it’s a real thing for him. It’s amazing how much respect his name commands now for the right reasons. Not because Alton is a fighter or any of that, because Alton can move people with his mind.
I met him through Nicholas Stein, he was - he probably still I s- a social worker at the [city’s] Correctional Institution, and he invited me to sit on a panel. They call it “Inner Vision,” an initiative where they bring children in from the community and sit down and try to have discussions with children that will help them to reform their lives. Don’t go up there and try to scare a kid, speak to them like human beings. From that point on, that is when my transformation went from an idea to actual steps. Because not only am I talking to kids about improving themselves - wait a minute - you’re a hypocrite if you don’t live it now. That helped me leapfrog me into “Mr. Patrick.” I had become so skilled at my craft before I left prison, the gang crime diversion task force, found me and said, “Listen now, I don’t know when you getting out, but if you’re looking to do work, this is where you need to come to.” I took that to heart, and I never forgot that.
Eva, [my daughter]’s, birth, 6/24/2003. Left for prison 7 years before she was born. It took me that long to put my life back together. I’ve been a free man now for 19 years. I have no respect for Thomas or Dorothea. I don’t love them; I don’t hate them. I’ve not spoken to them in 16 years. They’ll walk right past me in Pick n’ Save and not say a word to me because of the rules and regulations of their religion. My siblings feel the exact same way as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do. They don’t speak to me, want nothing to do with me. I would never align my thought processes, my beliefs, my values, with an entity that tells me “you are to shun your blood if they do not live their lifestyle according to what we feel God has said we should.”
You know something I always tell my kids is if you died today, what would you want people to say about you? This was a good man. That’s it. This was a good man. That’s all I need. That’s all I want people to say about me after the dumb shit I have done in my life. I’ve made so many mistakes. Some mistakes so horrible I don’t even wanna repeat them ever again and wish they didn’t exist. I’m glad we’re not snapshots. I think it really says something about an individual who picks themselves up and continues and does well more than it does about a person who falls. We’ll all fall at some point. I’m more focused on how - If you got up and how’d you get up and what’d you do after you did.
1971: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: 1-10
In which Patrick grows up in a household of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He is a rambunctious child, and often gets in trouble with his parents and at school.
Chapter 2: 11-20
In which Patrick discovers he is being abused, gets disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witness religion, runs away to Memphis, and gets caught up in gang-related activity. After this, he is sent back to his hometown, where he is put up in an apartment by his father.
Chapter 3: 21-30 (The Crazy Years)
In which Patrick is arrested every year on different charges. He eventually gets put in prison for six years with only 89 days of freedom in between. During his second time in prison, Patrick begins mentoring children and establishes his sense of purpose.
Chapter 4: 30+
In which Patrick turns his life around, has a daughter, and gets a job as a student mentor.
About Patrick Gibson
Patrick Gibson fell but built himself back up again. He is a good man.
 All names mentioned throughout this chapter have been replaced by pseudonyms