MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fred Graham is trying to make up for lost time. He hasn’t always been there for his teenage son. But he says he is now, and he plans on being there for his baby boy Ethan too.
The 45-year-old spends more time at home these days after spending way too much time behind bars. The bad memories have to do with bad decisions after turning to a life of crime at the age of 18.
“The first time I ever sold a rock I got caught,” Graham said.
It wouldn’t be his last drug deal or his last run-in with the law.
Now, on the streets of Memphis, Graham sees too many kids repeating the mistakes of his past for the same reasons. “Cars, clothes, the lifestyle,” Graham said.
He says kids are getting hooked on a rush as powerful as the drugs they’re selling.
“I grew up thinking it was alright to sell drugs. Because my uncle and them did it. Everybody around me did it.”
So the end justified the means.
When asked what he would say to the people that he hurt, Graham said, “Let them know who I was. Let them know what I used to be, and let them know who I am today.”
Graham says his turn-around can be traced to a last chance for redemption from the Memphis/Shelby County Crime Commission.
They called in repeat offenders like Fred and dropped the hammer. Officials said they were either going straight, or they were going straight to prison.
Graham has chosen a different path now. He has an honest job as a security guard at a local convenience store. He’ll tell you he’s a changed man.
“What changed me. Well first, I spent a lot of time in jail, missed a lot of funerals, a lot of vacations and I used to blame my father for a lot of stuff. For not being there, not teaching me and not protecting me.”
Graham now wants a different life for his kids and other young Memphians. He hopes they’ll learn what’s taken him 45 years to understand.
He describes a life of crime as a mirage, an illusion in a desert of unfulfilled promises that only leads you to wasted time and years lost.