From Addiction To Redemption: Former Lorton Inmate Reflects On Turning Life Around (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From Addiction To Redemption: Former Lorton Inmate Reflects on Turning Life Around

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
Last month, we brought you a story about plans to transform Virginia's Lorton's Prison into a housing and retail complex. In that story we met a D.C. man named Kevin Petty, who spent years behind bars at Lorton.

MR. KEVIN PETTY

00:00:15
I grew up there, you know. I came in uneducated, immature, addicted to everything and a wreck.

SHEIR

00:00:23
We only heard briefly from Petty then, but his account of drug addiction and eventual redemption was definitely worth a second look. Lauren Landau brings us his story.

MS. LAUREN LANDAU

00:00:42
It's Tuesday night and the Amazing Gospel Souls are practicing at Hughes Memorial United Methodist Church in Northeast D.C. The men shuffle and sway from side to side, their voices and instruments filling the church with flowing harmony. The band members have known each other for years and they've been through a lot together. Every member is a former inmate of Lorton Prison.

MS. LAUREN LANDAU

00:01:07
Kevin Petty is the president and founder of the Amazing Gospel Souls. He says he always wanted to sing, starting when he was five years old watching performances on the "Ed Sullivan Show."

PETTY

00:01:17
And one day I heard a group that was singing in the back alley of our apartment building. And the lead singer's name was Barry Gibson. And he was just a cool guy. When he comes in the neighborhood people would call out his name, Barry, Barry, Barry.

LANDAU

00:01:31
Kevin started hanging around at rehearsals and Barry took a liking to the little guy from the neighborhood. He started teaching Kevin how to sing and perform the different dance steps, but Kevin's role models had a secret.

PETTY

00:01:42
They were very talented singers. They were very cool teenagers, but they were also addicts and people didn't know that.

LANDAU

00:01:49
Kevin was a talented singer, but his gift led him to trouble before it brought him salvation.

PETTY

00:01:55
My hero that taught me how to sing or actually introduced me to heroin when I was eight years old.

LANDAU

00:02:00
One day, Kevin was on his way to school when he paused to see if Barry was in the basement of his apartment building where his band often practiced. His hero was there, sitting in the dark by the boiler and doing something to his arm.

PETTY

00:02:13
He had shot himself up. And he was a different Barry. He said, you know what this is? And I said, no. He said, it's dugi. He said you want to try some of it and see? Yeah. He said, okay. Just wait a minute and I'll fix you some and you can do it just like me. Then we are going to work on some songs. I said, okay.

LANDAU

00:02:26
By the time Kevin was nine years old, he was addicted. He says Barry taught him everything, from shooting heroin to sniffing glue in a bag. No one suspected a thing, but it wasn't long before people found out. When Kevin was 10, Barry entrusted him with a whole bag of heroin capsules.

PETTY

00:02:43
He said, listen, I have to go someplace. I need you to hold onto this form me until tomorrow. Don't let anybody see it. If you need to use some, just use a little bit of it and I'll see you tomorrow. And I said, okay.

LANDAU

00:02:55
Ten-year-old Kevin happily accepted the responsibility and stashed the drugs in his pocket, but the kid didn't exactly lie low that day.

PETTY

00:03:02
Me and my crew went out and I got this dugi in my pocket. And we went out and stole a car. And we were riding through the streets of Newark, N.J. We're going everywhere. And the police get behind us and chase us.

LANDAU

00:03:13
The boys crashed the car, cutting their joy ride short and sending Kevin to juvenile hall. The officers searched Kevin's pockets and were shocked by the contents, but they were even more surprised by the child's admission that he used the drugs.

PETTY

00:03:29
I was going to chase that addiction. I was going to do whatever it took to satisfy my addiction, no matter who got hurt by it or whatever.

LANDAU

00:03:37
Kevin chased his addiction all the way to D.C.

PETTY

00:03:40
In 1978, you know, in height of my addiction, I robbed a guy for his drugs. And in the course of the robbery, I took his life.

LANDAU

00:03:50
Kevin was charged with murder and robbery and went to jail for 30 years. He continued to struggle with his addiction from inside the prison walls. He overdosed eight times at Lorton and says it's a miracle he's still alive.

PETTY

00:04:03
Most of the people, including Barry Gibson, that started out the way I started out are not here today, that I know. They didn't make it.

LANDAU

00:04:12
But through it all, Kevin never stopped singing. He and a few other inmates even formed an R and B group. One day a friend asked if they would sing in his gospel band. His singers had quit and he had a concert coming up.

PETTY

00:04:23
First we said, go to church? Well, now, we don't do that. We go over in church God may strike me dead if I walk up in there.

LANDAU

00:04:29
But he went and says that performance changed his life. He says God used the people in that church to wake up something inside of him.

PETTY

00:04:37
He saved me for a reason, to be a blessing to others and that's the way I live my life. Because he helped me realize that my life had purpose, his purpose and he brought me back. Divine intervention, created a miracle.

LANDAU

00:04:49
Today, Kevin is a free man and he still sings with the Amazing Gospel Souls. He says he and the other members try to be more than just a band. many of the guys are mentors, including Kevin, who has 17 mentees that he calls and checks on every day. It's a big part of Kevin's job at the Salvation Army Harbor Lights Center in Northeast, where he works as a counselor and aid giving guidance to people struggling with addiction. He says the biggest reward is reaching out to people who are down and out like he once was.

PETTY

00:05:17
You have to trust God. He never, ever fails. He hasn't failed me yet.

LANDAU

00:05:22
I'm Lauren Landau.

SHEIR

00:05:26
You can learn more about the Amazing Gospel Souls and about "Lost in My Dreams," Kevin Petty's forthcoming e-book about his life on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:05:39
Time for a break, but when we get back, how kids struggling with obesity back in 2011 are faring now.

MR. SAQUONTE WILKINSON

00:05:46
Yeah, I'm the kind of person who was raised to never give up.

SHEIR

00:05:49
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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