MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A man who's had more than his share of trouble with the law, but was trying to turn his life around, found himself in a tough spot when he became the victim of a crime.
Fred Graham said he was robbed Wednesday morning of the money he was going to use to pay his bills. Now, he's facing a difficult choice that many other people in the area face daily.
Graham said he wants to get on a straight path, but the robbery has tempted him to go back to the streets and make his money by committing various crimes just like he used to do.
But he said he is determined not to give into that temptation and to make his living honestly. After all, he spent most of his life behind bars, constantly in trouble for stealing and dealing drugs.
"I never knew there were so many penitentiaries in Tennessee," Graham said of his past life.
The 46-year-old is currently on probation after serving six months in jail for a theft charge in 2015.
"I broke down in jail," Graham said.
He realized his bad choices weren't just hurting him.
"The most important thing I learned is that I wouldn't be able to raise my kids, and that's a no-no," Graham said.
He said he's been on a straight path for four years, working odd jobs and scraping enough money together to put food on the table. He's even enrolled in a county program that helps ex-cons find a career.
But Graham has learned you can't erase the past, and sadly, he was reminded of this when he got robbed Wednesday morning.
"I do believe in Karma," he said. "You reap what you sow."
Karma came calling with a handgun and left Fred with some nasty battle wounds.
Graham said he met a man in the parking lot of a New Chicago store to sell him an amplifier and a sub-woofer that he advertised online.
"So I can make ends meet, pay the rent on time," he said.
Graham said the man took the items and paid him $250, but the transaction turned violent when the man allegedly pistol-whipped Graham, took the money back and drove off.
"It really kind of dazed me," Graham said.
So did reality. Like many, he doesn't have insurance and can't borrow money from a bank or family. Now, he has a stack of bills he can't pay.
"I can easily change that just like that," Graham said, snapping his fingers.
His easy solution: if he went back to selling drugs. But he said he won't do it because, just like that, he could end up in prison again and away from his kids.
"I still got the streets in me, but I don't just think about one day, two days, I think about months and years to come, and I stay focused on kids, and that's how I've been making it," Graham said.
He said he's committed to staying the course.
"A real man don't just go sell drugs or rob or steal to pay your bills," Graham said.
He's learning even the straight and narrow road has a few bumps along the way. He said he'll simply find another way to pay his bills because, as he said, his children are his priority now, and he can't take care of them if he's not in their lives.