"It's Something I've always Wanted"
When you're the oldest of nine children growing up in the South Bronx, you learn to lead and you learn to fight. Joe excelled at both.
"Where ever they (his brothers and sisters) went, it was my responsibility to see that they got where they were going," says Joe. "One time Richard got jumped by a bunch of guys and when he called out my name, they backed off. . . that's just the way it was."
Such was life on the streets. For Buddy, another of Joe's brothers, life on the streets led to a career with the NYC Police Department where he retired as a dectective. "I've always been proud of him for following in our father's footsteps," says Joe.
The streets led Joe in a different direction. He spent much of his life in prison. "Prison . . . It saved my life. I learned that I didn't have to be the type of person that sent me to prison. God showed me that I could become my true self."
Art opened the doors. Joe discovered that he could work in just about any medium. His favorite? "Oils. I felt I could express myself more in oils than in any other medium," he says. "I started with watercolors, studying Wyeth's techniques and what he had to do to make things look so real. After I accomplished that, I went into oils."
Joe was doing time at Greenhaven Correctional Facility when he had his first show. It was at the Department of Corrections in Albany where he won best in show. "I didn't get to go, of course. Only my artwork went." After he won that show three times, he and his teacher, Aletta Vett, decided it was time to go outside the walls. That's how he became the first prisoner-artist to be accepted by Barrett House Art Center in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Then there was the Exodus Program facilitated by Rev. Edward Muller, a Methodist pastor. Exodus was about "a bunch of guys working on their goals and dreams. It
was very inspirational and motivated me to become a better artist. Exodus helped you see the possibilities, things you could do even though you were in prison. There are no walls really around you, just the walls you put up yourself."
Art, Exodus, a work release program, and a good record led to parole.
Parole was a struggle. Joe stumbled. His artwork was stolen or destroyed. He landed in the New York City shelter system where he discovered that if he worked hard enough, he could get a job in the system. After a while, he landed that job, working at Camp Laguardia in Chester New York.
The Camp shut down. Joe lost his job and found himself in Middletown with no way to pay the rent. "So . . . back into the shelter system," he says with a laugh.
The next thing he knew, Joe was in Newburgh walking down Broadway "where I heard a man leading a street service. I stopped to listen and I decided I'd come back to the service and I've been here ever since."
That was nearly six years ago.
In those years, Joe worked hard on his recovery and his faith, taking up a daily practice, taking any opportunity to teach art, and finding other ways to serve others. He sees the Hope Center as one of those opportunities.
"It's a good thing for the community, a good focus spot . . . it can help transform Newburgh," Joe says about the Hope Center.
"Community. It's more or less what I'm accustomed to . . .sort of (robust laughter) . . . It's something I've always wanted. I've always been in a role of serving. I like serving and helping others reach their goals and potential in life. Though I have always fought for others, i think this is a better fight. It's part of my spiritual practice. It's one of the reasons why I'm taking CASAC (Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor) Training. It also helps me. By helping others, it helps me."