Better days ahead
Jesus Marcellus, 27, is making a new life for himself in northwest Iowa, working as a prep cook in hopes of saving the money he needs to learn to be a chef. He is also working on repairing the torn relationships in his life.
Coming of age in Fort Worth, Texas, there was a time when no such hope was on the horizon.
"My friends and I were part of a gang - well we called ourselves a gang but we were really just thugs," Marcellus said. "I think I joined because I wanted to belong to something, a family, because I didn't have one at home."
Marcellus' father was killed in an accident when he was 12. His mother had to work all the time to pay the bills. He slowly found a home on the streets.
"It's still something that is hard to talk about. my dad and I were not close but he was my dad, you only get one of those and my mom threw herself into work which left me at home a lot," Marcellus said. "Would life have been different if my dad hadn't died? I don't know. I have learned that if you focus on that aspect you won't get anywhere."
At 16, Marcellus ran with a street gang that controlled a six-city-block-radius territory.
"I was welcomed with open arms, sort of speaking, but it was nothing like they show in the movies," Marcellus said. "In Hollywood, they show a group just sitting around all day doing nothing or driving around, but there was more, we had responsibilities."
They were not pretty, and he is not proud.
The news can sensationlize gangs as well, he says.
"We didn't beat each other up like some gangs did but we had out test," Marcellus said. He refused to go into detail.
Marcellus was an "enforcer" and would go out and collect some payments, money owed to the group or payments for extortion.
"At first I had a bat but one day I was given a gun and it went down hill from there," Marcellus said. "I've never shot a gun before, didn't know anything about it but I was told that it was for display to scare people, I think I was more scared carrying it then people were seeing it."
By the time Marcellus was 18 he had suffered some "turf wars" with rival gangs and had be shot at, beaten and stabbed once. Marcellus' Mother was so upset with her son that she kicked him out of the house and told him never to come back.
"At the time I didn't understand what the problem was; I was providing money for food and getting her nice gifts," Marcellus said. "I now realize that she worked so hard so that I could have a meal and she did it the right way and I went and stole the money from people. I didn't finish high school and just didn't care about anything but myself."
By the time he was 20, Marcellus was in jail. In his case, it may have saved his life.
"That's when I started to enjoy cooking and being in a kitchen," Marcellus said. "Through a program at the correction facility as able to work in the kitchens, started out as a dishwasher and supply and worked my way up to helping prepare food," Marcellus said.
After serving three years of his sentence, Marcellus was granted early parole and after a yeas was able to move out of Texas.
"My mother came and saw me after getting out and gave me a bus ticket to Sioux City where a cousin of hers owned a restaurant and was going to hire me to wash dishes," Marcellus said. " I took it because people looked at me like a thug at home. I deserve it because it was who I was. It seemed like the break I was looking for."
Marcellus has been working on this relationship with his mother but it going slowly.
"There are times she still gets upset with me and cries into the phone but at least we are talking," Marcellus said.
Even though his story would make a perfect movie, his life has been anything but glamorous.
"Sure it may seem nice that I'm no longer with gangs, threatening people and everything but life isn't easy either," Marcellus said. "Life wasn't always easy being in a gang but it was different. My former lifestyle didn't prepare me for anything so I am struggling more than others.
"I do count myself lucky though - so many of my friends have been in and out and it's really sickening to see that people that are no longer a cute poster child not able to get help."
Marcellus is expecting a child of his own in February and hopes that his son or daughter's future is brighter then his.
"It's odd to think that I'm going to be a father. I hope that I can show my kid my errors so they can do better than myself," Marcellus said. "I did some stupid things in my life, I can't change them, I can only hope to make things better. I hope that my son or daughter makes better choices."