“God often gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers.” I feel as if this quote is the best way to describe my journey. On June 16th, 1990 at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas my mother Sharon McDaniel gave birth to a son. She named him Jamichael McDaniel. That’s me. I was born a crack baby. I was premature due to my mother being addicted to drugs. I stayed in the hospital hooked up to machines for months. I was always sickly as a child and to this very day, there is still cocaine running through my veins. That is a part of me that I used to hate. But now I have learned to embrace it. It’s who I am, and I will not be embarrassed because of it. My life has always been hard. I have no memories of my mother before the age of six besides visiting her in a rehabilitation center. This was the first thing that begins to shape me into what society would consider “a troubled youth.” I was angry and I didn’t understand why I didn’t know my mother. She had five kids, and out of those five, I was the youngest. My older sister and I, who shared the same dad, lived with him and 13 other people in a one bedroom apartment. My dad always did the best he could to provide for us financially but didn’t know how to be there for us emotionally. He didn’t know how to express love because he was never shown it. This is the second thing that played into my anger.
One outlet for me has always been football. My dad never came to my games, but I kept playing because it was the only thing that made me feel happy. I had multiple scholarship offers my junior year of high school and I wanted to go to the NFL one day. That dream quickly ended because I was soon arrested for burglary of a building. I did 13 months on a 5-year sentence. This was my first time going to jail and it seems as if trouble began to follow me ever since. When I got out of jail I had the opportunity to continue playing football and I chose not to. That is a decision that I still regret to this day. Mainly because I didn’t stop playing football because I wasn’t capable. It was simply because I was too big headed and prideful to knock my ego down and put in the extra work my coach was requesting from me. Due to my background, it became extremely hard for me to find a job. When I finally found one, the pay was very low, but I’ve always been a hard worker and I knew some money was better than no money, I traveled back and forth to work using public transportation for $7.50 an hour. After two years of this, I was fired because my tyrant of a boss called me a racist for helping an African American woman who was about to make a mistake and I told her what not to do. This began a series of me working different temp jobs for little pay.
In June 2015, I began a job through a temp service making $10.00 an hour and throughout the course of two years, I managed to receive four raises working my way all the way up to $18.25 an hour. I began to feel as though my life had finally begun to turnover and head in a positive direction. I had gotten engaged, a new condo, a new car and I was able to help my family out financially. Even my mother had turned her life around and gotten clean. She became an inspiration to me because she was able to get herself together and become a paralegal. This made me extremely proud of her. It amazed me that someone who had been addicted to drugs and had been in and out of jail was not only able to clean her life up but also get a job working for the government. As the years passed I had two daughters and I was granted custody of my youngest daughter due to CPS protocol. Life was good. I hadn’t been in any trouble in about 5 years, I had an excellent job, and a beautiful woman by my side. Whenever anyone close to me needed anything I was always there to help. I started to become prideful. Although I loved helping others I felt as though I didn’t need anyone. Not even God. At the time I didn’t understand the concept of being humble and that if He blessed you with something He can take it away just as easily.
It seemed as if I became a magnet for trouble as I found myself in jail cell once again on January 1st, 2017. This time my charge was injury to an elderly. It was my uncle. I had been out celebrating the new year with my family when everything began to fall apart. We were drinking a lot and we’re getting pretty intoxicated. This lead to a physical altercation between my uncle and I who called the police on me. When I went to jail it seemed as if my life began to have a domino effect of unpleasant events. My job had a point system where you had up to six points until the managers can fire you at their own discretion. Before I went to jail I had 2 ½ points. I acquired 3 points while being incarcerated and two weeks after I had returned to work I received my last point because my fiancé and I had a bad argument and we separated. My youngest daughter and I moved out of our family condo and back in with my mom. In February of 2017, I allowed my daughters’ mother to convince me to let my daughter come visit her. Although I knew this wasn’t a good idea, I didn’t want to keep my daughter from her mom because it made me feel guilty. I felt like a bad father for keeping them apart regardless of what the courts said. This was another decision that I deeply regret because it was the last time I saw my daughter. I’ve had various phone conversations with her but there is always an excuse every time I am supposed to come see her or pick her up. This was the third and last thing that fueled my anger and pushed me to a point where I didn’t have regard for my life or anyone else’s.
I had gone back to the streets to sell drugs to provide for my family. Then in March 2017, I was robbed at gunpoint in Oak Cliff, Texas. The robbery was the last event that I allowed to deeply affect me before I transformed into something I didn’t recognize. I felt as though my heart was black, I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot red, and I had veins appearing on my forehead. I had no purpose, no motivating force, or positivity in my life. I went back to jail again in June of 2017 for unpaid tickets. As I sat waiting to the see the judge, I questioned God and wondered why he always let people who were far worse people than me be happy yet I was always miserable. I had lost everything and I blamed God. While sitting in that cell on the hard floor I began to realize that I could not be angry at God because everything I was going through was my fault. I had been so arrogant that I felt I didn’t need God. And when I was alone in that cell I finally understood that this was my problem. I had stopped praying, and I stopped having faith. He had to break me down so low so that I could understand that I needed to always remain humble and to never let my pride make me feel like I could do everything on my own. At this point, all I could do was lean on him for strength.
Things didn’t get much better when I got out of jail. My brother and I got into a really bad fight over $15 that he owed me. It took months to repair our relationship. In September 2017 I felt like I couldn’t catch a break because I still hadn’t found a job and didn’t have money to pay my car note and my car got repossessed. Within a 9 month span, I had lost my job, custody of my daughter, my fiancé, my brother, my best friend, my condo, my car and I got robbed at gunpoint. But I still had a sane mind and for that, I was grateful. I knew that I was a good man at heart but I was a product of my environment. I was never shown that there can be a better way of life – that there was an upside to all this pain and misery.
One day my sister told me about a program called Cornbread Hustle. It is a second chance program that promotes self-improvement in a judge-free environment. I knew that this program was exactly what I needed to push my life in a positive direction. My fiancé and I got back together and we now have a 1-year old son. My son has brought a new meaning to my life because although I have two other children that I love with all my heart my son is my first child who I am able to be hands-on with. My kids and my support system were my motivation to join Cornbread Hustle and make a positive change in my life. On New Years 2018, instead of going out and partying I brought the new year in on my knees praying to God for forgiveness and vowing to him and myself that I would put my all into becoming the best version of myself. This was my form of surrendering to God and allowing him to take control of my life.
A few weeks later Thursday, January 25th, 2018 I attended my first Cornbread Hustle class. Cornbread Hustle has impacted my life in a tremendous way because it gives me a positive outlet and has pushed me to want to not only be a better person but to take charge of my future. I have learned from my mistakes and I am determined not to let my past define my future. Every day I am working to be a better version of myself and Cornbread Hustle has now given me the courage to follow my dream and open my own trucking company. I want to put myself in a position to be a positive role model for people like me. I want to be able to live comfortably and provide for my family and be an asset to my community. If there is anything I want to you to learn from my story it is to never give up.
Through every obstacle I have faced I have found a way to persevere. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, whatever comes easy will go easy. I feel as though the struggle is the only way to separate the weak from the strong. Whenever things get hard, put your best foot forward and continue marching on. Stay connected to the people around you such as mentors, and higher powers. But most importantly stay connected to yourself and always remain humble. I am still a work in progress, but my worst days are behind me. I am thankful for the struggles that I went through because I now have a story of triumph to tell. Remember those dark roads often lead to beautiful destinations. And trouble doesn’t always last.
As told to and written by Ariel Lucas