Literacy/ Community Advocate
"I closed my eyes as a juvenile and woke up as an adult."
This is the story of David Charles Garvin, not Charlie Brown. “I don’t associate with that name anymore or that false identity.” David believes that God has given him a second chance to make things right. “If it wasn’t for God, I would be dead or in prison for the rest of my life.” David has been home for thirteen years; he uses his story to encourage and inspire others to continue the path of redemption. He never expected to come home; but now that he’s free, he wants to do all he can to promote change in impoverished communities.
David was diagnosed with diabetes, glaucoma and mental illness, but he still finds time to encourage men and women returning home from prison. He is an active participant of Broad Street Ministry’s “Hope Alive Meeting”, which advocates for citizens returning home from incarceration and promotes a lifestyle of self-reflection and positive change. David also advocates for students in The City of Philadelphia schools to promote literacy in impoverished communities. He is currently in the process of having his first book published, which talks about his experience as a juvenile lifer.
David is working diligently every day to overcome the many traumatic experiences in his life. David grew up in a housing project and witnessed; drugs, violence and poverty in his community daily. "Growing up in the projects was like a war zone," says David. The heroin addiction had taken his community by storm. The older guys in his neighborhood were arguing over street corners, when a shootout ensued. David and his best friend whom he called Blueberry were caught in the crossfire. At the age of eleven, David witnessed his best friend be fatally shot in the head. “All I remember is me screaming; somebody help me, get him to the hospital!” But it was too late Blueberry died in David’s arms. A few days later David’s father walked out on him. “My father wasn’t there for me when I needed him most; he never loved me, he walked out on me and never looked back.”
David lost his father and best friend at the age of eleven and his world was spinning out of control. “I struggled my whole life.” “No one ever told me, ‘David you can be somebody, or David go to school and get an education’.” David was placed in special education classes and was bullied and soon began to rebel. “My mother did the best she could, but she never encouraged me to read books or write my name; she taught me how to shoplift.” It was easy for David to gravitate to the wrong things because he had never been exposed to the right things. He was exposed to “Pyrex Pots and Coat Hangers” used to produce illegal drugs.
David was in and out of detention centers starting at the age of 13. "The detention centers were violent," says David. “My peers and I were dehumanized and made to feel worthless. They didn’t encourage or promote a new way of life but instead fostered a more heinous way of life. I not only suffered from the threats and violence from my peers but also at the hands of the administrators and staff at the detention centers.” The system has failed David, and so many other men and women whom grow up in impoverished conditions with little to no hope for a better future.
“I closed my eyes as a juvenile and woke up an adult.” David spent over twenty-four years in prison, he was sentenced to one-hundred-years at the age of seventeen. “Can you imagine being told at seventeen, you are never coming home and will never live a normal life?” David like many other incarcerated citizens grew up in dysfunctional environments, in neighborhoods plagued by poverty, drugs, violence and lack of resources.
“I never thought I could learn; I always thought the only thing, I would be good at is being a crook. I couldn’t read or write. Everyone around me encouraged me to stay in the streets; they didn’t see who I was becoming.”
When you speak to David, it’s hard to believe, he was illiterate. He learned to read and write in prison at the age of twenty-five; his peers, older juvenile lifers, saw something different in him and spoke life into him. “They taught me how to read and write, they told me I had potential. They saw things in me, I had never seen in myself, or heard from my own father!” David reflects candidly on seeing his father a few years after he was released, “I had a lot of pain, anger and bitterness towards my father but I didn’t want to live in that space any longer.” David forgave his father for walking out on him.
What has helped him to overcome many obstacles is his honest approach and eagerness to make peace with his past. “I could no longer hide; I was honest with what I did and who I once was. I made peace with my past by telling the truth.” “I did some horrible things in my life and terrible things were done to me. I can no longer hold onto the past but must move forward," says David. David reflects on past feelings, “at one point, I saw myself as a piece of crap, not worthy of love or anything good.”
David wants to use his story and platform to inspire other young men and women to abandon the street life and reach for their dreams. “It cost too much, I lost too much in the streets. I use to buy Gucci sneakers but couldn’t read or write and was living in the projects. I sold drugs in my community and exploited my people for my own personal gain. I spent half of my life in prison for money that didn’t even make me happy." I’m grateful that I made it back," says David. "You can’t take for granted that you will make it back! I know people now, who are shooting up dope because they say the pain is unbearable!”
“I want to break the cycle; I want to help rebuild communities.”