Humans of NY (13/13) “In prison there was a pill cart. They’d wheel it out at...

(13/13) “In prison there was a pill cart. They’d wheel it out at 5 PM, and they’d shout: ‘pill line!’ And everyone would get in line for pills. I wouldn’t do it. I told the warden: ‘I’d rather die. Either I keep my pills in my locker, or I’m not taking them.’ It’s been an obsession my whole life, keeping that secret. I gave a draft of this story to my bosses; just to let them know what was coming. Since then it’s been nothing but texts: ‘We love you, John. We’re proud of you.’ I guess it was a much bigger deal to me than everyone else. Last Friday was my birthday. Before the shift I could see everyone sneaking around. I thought: ‘They made me a cake, whatever.’ But it wasn’t just a cake. It was racks and racks of Philly Cheesesteaks. And an entire ice cream bar: hot fudge, sour patch kids, gummy bears. All my favorite stuff. The whole staff sang Happy Birthday, which I fucking hated. I’ve hated that song since the age of two. But then one of my bosses Maya gave a speech. She said: ‘John drives us fucking crazy, but we love him. And when his story comes out, you’ll realize he’s an even better human being than we realized.’ For her to say that: after knowing everything. I never knew. I just never knew people could feel that way about me. I grew up not knowing how to express. Then the HIV put me in a downward spiral of paranoia. Meth made it four levels deeper. And prison, prison threw dirt on the casket to make sure I’d never feel again. They almost got me. When they were singing that fucking song, they almost had me crying. But I said: ‘Listen guys, 5 more minutes to celebrate my birthday. Then it’s time for the show.’ The next day I drove out to New Jersey, to see my 86-year old mother. She can’t hear too well, so I read the story to her slow. She’s always been the one pushing me to get therapy. My whole life, I’ve been begging her: Stop worrying about me, Mom. Stop worrying if I’m ever going to be happy.’ But she’s relentless. It’s an obsession. But as I read the story to her, I could see it all drain out of her. Years and years of obsessive worry: gone. When I finished the last page, she said: ‘Johnny, maybe this can be the end. Maybe now you can let it go.’”

#humansofnewyork #hony #ny #ньюйорк #nyc #newyork #english #люди #истории ]]>
Fri, 05 Aug 2022 09:02:38 +0000
(12/13) “I spent the 4th of July alone in my new place. It’s a...

(12/13) “I spent the 4th of July alone in my new place. It’s a nice one-bedroom, overlooking the river. I cooked my favorite meal. Hard shell crabs, spread over pasta. I sat on the balcony and watched the fireworks. And suddenly I start crying like a baby, thinking about what they symbolize. The next morning I put on my suit, looked in the mirror, and called myself a pussy. My boss tells me I’m too intense. I get it. I’m too intense for myself; but there’s only one right way. One right way to be the best. And until it’s right, it’s not enough. It will never be enough; never, ever. I was supposed to die of AIDS in prison. That was supposed to be my legacy. They counted me out. A lot of people counted this restaurant out too. When we opened 20 years ago: Madonna was here, this star, that star, James Beard Award. But the New York dining culture moves on fast. Maybe some people thought we weren’t relevant anymore. Then the pandemic came. We were supposed to die. But look at us now: setting records, month-over-month. I wasn’t the only one to make it happen. It’s our whole team. It’s the way we make people feel. But it was my responsibility. I found every vendor that was overcharging us. I put an extra banquette on the wall, for thirteen more seats. I’ve got a list of 7,000 birthdays. And every person is getting an email, one week before, inviting them to celebrate at Craft. I’ll do whatever it takes. It will never be enough. Don’t tell me to let it go. Fuck you. That’s what everyone does; they let go of the anger. Don’t you understand? That’s what they want you to do. If they thought everyone was going to come home and be a motivated motherfucker asshole like me, maybe they’d fix the system. So your little brother, or your father, or your son, won’t have to deal with the same shit. How about you, Mr. Politician? When your son develops a drug problem because of your drive for power; maybe then you’ll care about the 2.2 million sons rotting away in prison, too ashamed to speak to their own fathers. You’ll be glad then that 56134066 didn’t let go. Not me, I’m never letting go. Never. Not until every single one of them says: ‘Wow, that motherfucker really did it.’

#humansofnewyork #hony #ny #ньюйорк #nyc #newyork #english #люди #истории ]]>
Fri, 05 Aug 2022 08:15:15 +0000
(11/13) “I’m not going to lie, man. I haven’t been an angel. I...

(11/13) “I’m not going to lie, man. I haven’t been an angel. I slipped. During the pandemic: alone in my room all day, no job, collecting food stamps, another year of my life down the drain. I slipped. But each time I’d think of Obama: how they ridiculed this man, and crucified him, for giving opportunities to people like me. What kind of payback would that be to him? I thought of every brother and sister in prison, waiting for their own Obama moment. What would that do to their chances? I knew it couldn’t just be about me. I’ve been there; I know where that leads. When it’s about me, I lose. After six months the halfway house wanted to discharge me into the NYC shelter system; I didn’t know what to do. It would have broken me. It was another inmate that suggested I meet with Iris. She was a case manager at Mt. Sinai hospital, working out of a 6x6 office. Nothing on the walls. I went there wanting to hate her, but I couldn’t. She was like Oprah: her voice was calm and comforting. We started going over my health questionnaire, and my entire history was in there. She wanted to know everything. No judgement. She just seemed interested; that’s all. Afterward she told me her own story. She’d gone to prison for her boyfriend’s drugs. Sixteen years; almost the exact same time as me. Now she was raising five kids. Youngest daughter died of cancer. Yet here she was: working 80 hours a week, in a 6x6 box, helping other people. She was one of the givers. Iris got me an apartment. She arranged my hip surgeries. She got me into a job training program. In the program they teach you to be up front about your history: tell them before they ask. I had a whole speech memorized. I scheduled six different in-person interviews, and six different times I couldn’t go inside. But the seventh time I made myself do it. I walked in those doors. The manager that day was Raven Peters, that big ole peckerwood. I said: ‘My name is John Gargano. Before we begin, I want you to know there’s a 15-year gap on my resume, and this is why.’ He wouldn’t let me finish. He said: “John, I don’t care about any of that. We care about two things here: how you treat our guests, and how you make them feel.”

#humansofnewyork #hony #ny #ньюйорк #nyc #newyork #english #люди #истории ]]>
Thu, 04 Aug 2022 23:45:32 +0000
(10/13) “I was 48 years old when they let me out. Twelve years...

(10/13) “I was 48 years old when they let me out. Twelve years of incarceration. The HIV medication had decayed my bones so badly, I could barely walk. I needed two full hip replacements. When they were checking me out at Discharge, the guards made a joke. They said: ‘See you when you get back.’ Same joke they make with everyone. It’s what they want. They want you back. Because without inmates, there’s no funding. No free labor, no correction officer picnics, no paid overtime. They need you coming back; 78 percent of inmates are reincarcerated within 3 years. ‘See you when you get back.’ Not me, motherfucker. Not 56134066. You’re never seeing me again. I’ve lost too much time. I decided right then, limping across that parking lot, that I was going to beat these people. And there’s only one way to beat a system incentivized by your failure, and that’s by succeeding. They don’t lift a finger to help you. They let you out with no money, no clothes. No health coverage. Not even a fucking driver’s license. At least someone from the clemency initiative escorted me to a halfway house in the Bronx; most guys just get dumped at the bus stop. The halfway house is just another arm of the criminal justice system. So many rules that it’s nearly impossible to get a full-time job. Most guys just give up, but I tried. I sent out applications to restaurant after restaurant. I’d see the same ‘Help Wanted’ ads in the newspaper for weeks. But the moment they found out about my record, they didn’t want help from me. Not 56134066. I developed a phobia of telling people about my past. I couldn’t hear it one more time. It’s the same message, coming from everywhere: ‘You made your choice. You’ve chosen to belong to this class of people. Now stay there.’ The whole world is saying it: scumbag, scumbag, scumbag. Then somehow, all on your own, living off food stamps, despite all your regret, all your self-loathing, you’ve got to summon the fortitude to not believe them. While the whole time it’s right there. One sniff. One sniff to erase everything: the HIV, every year I spent in prison, every cop, every CO, every judge that made me feel like nothing. One sniff to feel invincible again.”

#humansofnewyork #hony #ny #ньюйорк #nyc #newyork #english #люди #истории ]]>
Thu, 04 Aug 2022 22:55:17 +0000
(9/13) “August 3rd, 2016. There was heat that took the breath...

(9/13) “August 3rd, 2016. There was heat that took the breath out of you: Alabama, 150-degree, muggy, humid, nasty fucking heat. Thankfully I was the landscape clerk, so I had my own desk. I was sitting there when I heard this jive turkey redneck voice over the intercom, asking me to report to the warden’s office at 12:30. It sounded like I was in trouble. I went to lunch, asked a few people what was going on. But nobody knew. When I get to the office there’s like eight guys sitting on the bench outside. Nobody knows each other, nobody’s talking, nobody knows what’s going on. But at some point it hits me, and I ask: ‘Did everyone here apply for clemency?’ And they said yes. And I said: ‘Well guys, this is it.’ They got called in one-by-one. And one-by-one they came out, each one of them cursing and slamming the door. I’m thinking: ‘Fuck, this ain’t good.’ I was the last name called. The phone on the desk started ringing the second I walked in. The associate warden tells me to pick it up. Touching the warden’s phone means six months in the shoe, so I hesitated. He says: ‘That’s a direct order.’ So I pick up the phone, and a female voice says: ‘Is this Mr. Gargano?’ And I’m like, ‘yah.’ And the voice says: ‘We’re calling to let you know that President Obama signed your petition this morning. You’re going home in four days.’ I went completely numb. I don’t think I even gave her a proper thank you. The landscape clerk has a golf cart. So I sleepwalked to my golf cart, and I drove it to a courtyard. I’d planted some flowers there: it was part of my responsibility. I sat down on a bench, and I cried. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to scream. There was a fucking 4th of July firework finale going on in my heart, but I kept it under a blanket. There were other guys around, who might be more deserving than me, and I wanted to be respectful. So I just cried. I cried for an hour. I stayed there until it was getting close to count time, then I walked back to my unit. I called my mom. She said: ‘Johnny, what’s wrong?’ I said: ‘Nothing’s wrong, Mom.’ She said: ‘Johnny, what is it? What’s wrong?’ I said: ‘Nothing’s wrong, Mom. I’m coming home. I’m coming home in four days.’”

#humansofnewyork #hony #ny #ньюйорк #nyc #newyork #english #люди #истории ]]>
Thu, 04 Aug 2022 22:11:48 +0000
(8/13) “I remember the night Obama got elected. Very few times...

(8/13) “I remember the night Obama got elected. Very few times in the history of my stay in prison, would something so earth-shattering happen, that it would lift the spirits of the whole compound. But it was one those nights. 11 o’clock is normally a dead time in prison. But everyone was gathered around the TV in the common area. And when he walked out on that stage in Chicago, and gave that speech, with Michelle and the kids at his side, every last inmate was silent. No dominos were being slammed. There was no hyperness, no activity. It was completely still. It was hope. That’s what his entire campaign had been about: ‘Hope, hope, hope.’ And we felt it. We felt, finally: a guy who understands what’s going on in here. The overcriminalization. The overincarceration. The racial disparities. Were we hoping he’d repeal the mandatory minimum? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that. But the clemency program was something. It was more than anyone else had done. Me and Dino finished that application in record time. I included all my petitions for appeal. I included letters from friends and family who knew me, before the meth. Then I included one final letter, to Obama. I appealed to the man himself, and my belief that he was a decent human being. I explained my diagnosis. I told my entire story, then I sent it off. I knew there wasn’t much of a chance. I was competing against every guy, in every facility, across the country. Every crack offender got sentenced to 100x the weight of cocaine. There were probably one hundred thousand more people deserving than me. And each petition was 100 pages long. They didn’t have time to study each one closely, I knew that. They’d be trying to find one reason to disqualify you. One single reason. A few months later I got a call from a lawyer at the clemency initiative. She said my file was about to be reviewed, but first they’d need an opinion from my sentencing judge: the scumbag with the golf club. They reached out to him, and a few days later they got his response. She read it to me over the phone: ‘Good conduct in prison is no reason for a sentence reduction. I recommend a firm denial.”

#humansofnewyork #hony #ny #ньюйорк #nyc #newyork #english #люди #истории ]]>
Thu, 04 Aug 2022 21:31:00 +0000