Dwayne Johnson was raised by a single mother in West Baltimore. His father was killed when he was three. “I couldn’t even tell you what he looked like,” Johnson says.
Johnson had dreams of finishing high school and joining the Air Force. But he got into a fight and was put on probation, and as a result, was no longer qualified to enlist.
Instead, he attended Baltimore City Community College, where he studied telecommunications for one year. During college, he learned he was going to become a father.
“I remember thinking, ‘I need to make some money. It’s not about me anymore,’” he says. “I needed money for my books. I needed to get things for my child on the way. I turned to the fastest thing.”
When Johnson was 22, he was sentenced to prison for three years on drug charges.
“I wanted to earn money honestly, but you need to eat that day, you need clothes on your back and transportation,” Johnson said.
After his release from prison, with no access to services that would help him transition productively back into the community, he says, “I hit the streets. It led me back on a cycle.”
“Almost all my friends have gone through similar struggles,” Johnson says. “If you have a criminal record, your salary is already capped. You may get a job at McDonald’s, but then you have to pay child support, so you get a second job. If you find a second job, that’s time away from your kids. You’re making $500 every two weeks and you have to pay for gas, electric, rent, food and clothes. No one can survive like that.”
Johnson was arrested and incarcerated again, for nearly six months.
This time, when Johnson was released, he was motivated to find structure and discipline. He wanted to be there for his family. He enrolled and graduated from the program at the Center for Urban Families, where he learned a set of skills that would allow him to successfully find employment and build a productive future for himself.
Johnson teamed up with 2012 Community Fellow Lawrence Brown to start their own men’s program, “You’re the Quarterback: Game Plan for Life.” The program works with men in group sessions and in one-on-one meetings with “coaches” to address barriers to success in work and family life. The program gives each man a “playbook,” or plan for success. Plans may include GED-program enrollment, rectifying child support payments or finding affordable health insurance.
Johnson and Brown realized men wanted the space and ability to talk about their three main stressors: jobs, child support and relationships. You’re the Quarterback also started a basketball league, promoted health and well-being and helped men find jobs.
However, Johnson realized that one piece of the program was missing.
“When they cut me loose from jail, I didn’t have anything to do,” he says. “I was sent home with nothing. I had nowhere to go.”
Johnson recognized that when men leave prison, they often have nowhere to live because of restrictions in local and federal law. For example, if they have family members who live in subsidized housing, they cannot live with them.
Johnson’s fellowship will expand on “You’re the Quarterback” with a related program: “From Prison to Man of the House,” a transitional housing project. Johnson plans to find and open a residence that can be used as transitional housing for men leaving prison. When the men first arrive in the house, they will be assigned a mentor, who will accompany them to appointments, trainings or substance abuse treatments—accountability that will help prevent them from “sliding back into the cycle.”
The fellowship also will encourage entrepreneurial interests and skills-training in trades, so that the 75-150 men he plans to serve can one day open small businesses or enterprises, as opposed to simply “finding a job.”
“This OSI fellowship is crucial and very helpful because it would’ve been a long shot on my own. I’ve never had anyone give me an opportunity like this,” he says. “This is needed in the community. Forums and lectures don’t solve anything. The only thing that will solve this is action.”