My Story: Dammond Devon Steen, Jr.

I grew up in the ‘hood – where if you reach the age of 30, you’re labeled “OG” -old guy. That’s the top – if you survived for that long. The future seemed like something foolish to plan for. I think if my path had been any different, I’d still be there in the hood, acting out to get attention, getting in trouble.

Back then, I questioned everyone and everything. I felt like nobody paid attention or cared. So I started acting out, especially at school. They’d throw me in detention and load me up with schoolwork – and I loved it. I loved the attention, I loved the work, because I knew I could prove that I was smart and I could prove that I was worth it. I know that’s not the way to go about it, but I was young and impatient for life…it was my attempt at reaching out for help.

Eventually, raising four kids became too much for my 19-year-old mom, and I landed in foster care. Even then, I did okay in school. I was on track to graduate, but that never happened. I got into a fight at school with a police officer. I was arrested. If I would have stopped for one second to think about it, I wouldn’t have gone to jail, but I didn’t think. I acted. The result was a year in prison; adult prison, not ‘juvie’.

When I got out, I got an amazing parole officer. At our first meeting, she had a list of things I had to do: get a GED, get a job, take anger management classes. She picked me up from the halfway house and took me to Goodwill®, and even to the orientation. She was one of the first people that actually cared about me.

Things really started turning around when I met Erica, my Goodwill case manager. She said, “I’m here for you, no matter what.” My attitude went from “I have to” to “I want to.”

For me, a GED was the best option. I passed all four tests in only a month and a half. I sent out multiple applications every week and landed a great job at an attorney’s office – where I still work.

The harder I worked, the better I became. The more I gave back, the more I received. Both my parole officer and Erica taught me something that you never learn coming from the ‘hood: look forward. Not just a GED, make it a college degree. Not only a job, make it a career.

Now I’m in college, going for a degree in business management and social work. All of my work is creating a much better future for myself – and my family. My job is giving me valuable skills, and the education I’m getting is hard work, but it will lead to my dream career. I’ve been empowered, transformed by work!