I was young and graduating high school with a lot of promise and opportunity in my life. I had a great GPA, I played soccer and I had a pretty strong work ethic. I was planning to go to college and I saw myself becoming an architect, or maybe even a police officer. I didn’t plan to become a drug dealer. But somewhere along the way I started making bad decisions. At the time, they seemed like small, simple choices I could manage. I began Experimenting with drugs and trying to make some money to get ahead. Within a couple of years I became a major cocaine distributor, everything in my life had changed. I started to realize I wasn’t where I wanted to be, or who I wanted to be.To tell it straight – it was a long road back to myself. In 2001, I was a new father with an eleven year prison sentence in one of America’s toughest penitentiaries. I was full of hurt for the choices I made and for my daughter, who would endure a lot of hardships without ever having a choice. I determined to make these years count for something. From age 24 to 35 — years I might have spent becoming the best version of myself –I dedicated to earning my associates degree and completing a 6,000 hour HVAC apprenticeship Program. Every Christmas I enjoyed participating in the Angel Tree program. I loved knowing that Carina would be getting christmas gifts from me.It was Christmas 2007 that I saw there was a two-fold need I could meet. I knew exactly what it was like to be a decent, trustworthy person on a pretty good path and lose your way. I also knew what that path cost others, especially the children with incarcerated parents. I was living that story. I was determined to use my story to reach others and impact kids that had incarcerated parents with the goal of breaking the intergenerational cycle of incarceration. I saw Christmas trees as the fundraising tool to make the financial difference in these kids lives. For me, it’s become a story of grace. I’m not out here saving children, they’re saving me. I founded EKWIP with the belief that I can make a difference in the lives of kid’s marginalized by parental incarceration and for kids in middle school and high school that may be starting to make choices that have much greater consequences than they understand. I know firsthand, that difference comes from equipping kids with the resources and education to make good, solid decisions with the outcome in focus. – In the big picture, this builds stronger families, better leadership, and safer communities.