From Hardship to Hope is a series of stories about our program graduates told through their eyes. From childhood to now, we will learn about their journeys and try and understand the impact Uplift has had on their lives. Our first story Is about Wayne Garretta 2019 graduate who has already received multiple promotions in the professional world and is now Assistant Manager at Wyncote Fresh grocer. This is his journey: 

Wayne was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania and moved to Southwest Philadelphia at the age of 11. Germantown was a friendly area at the time, conducive to a healthy childhood, but Southwest Philly was quite the opposite. In speaking to Wayne, we asked if there were any moments that stick with him today about his transition. He had this story to share: “I remember when I first moved to the neighborhood this guy came up to me, I was about 11 he was about 15 or 16, and he said, ‘what school you going to?’ and I said I’m going to Shaw, and everybody started looking at each other and he asked me if I could fight. I didn’t understand why he was asking me, but he said I would find out very soon, and I definitely found out very soon. Wayne described his move as a culture shock. It hardened him as a person. Shaw, which was rated the worst school in Philadelphia at the time, exposed him to a large variety of negative things at a young, developmental age. This included things like drugs, violence between both students and teachers, and even gun exposure. Wayne specifically cited a time where a 12-year dropped a pistol in the middle of class. After asking how these factors affected him, he said it made him “turn off from being in school.” The environment he was raised in was not like this and being at Shaw forced him to acclimate to his new surroundings

Wayne at 14 years old

Being disinterested in school, Wayne began to play hooky with his friends, and it reached the point where they missed more days than they went. They started stealing peoples mail, looking in cars for loose change, and other things like that to pass the time. In describing why they did this, Wayne said “we were all trying to make sense of the nonsense we were surrounded byhurt people hurt people.” He and his friends were going through the same experiences together, and because of this, became negative influences on each other.  

While school was failing to provide a healthy environment for Wayne, that was not the only factor in pushing him the wrong direction. The reason they moved to Southwest Philly in the first place was for his new stepfather, and Wayne hated him. After moving in together, Wayne never wanted to be home. He described it like this: felt at the time that everywhere I turned was problematic. I go to school I got into a fight, I’m home I gotta deal with this guy.” He hated being at school and he hated being at home, which means he had nowhere to go and no one to turn to.  

As a result of this, Wayne spent more time in the street than anywhere else. The small mischievous things he and his friends would do began to grow into more serious incidents. The first time they got into major trouble was for robbing an elderly man. His punishment for that was house arrest, and because he hated his home environment so much, the situation worsened. Wayne explained: “Now the system was forcing me to be somewhere I did not want to be…people don’t know what kids are going through at home…so that didn’t work, every time I had a chance to get out of the house I got out. The probation officer caught wind of it, and they sent me away to a Juvenile facility. Not because I committed a crime, it was just because I wouldn’t stay home. “ He ended up getting more and more time served because he refused to stay home, and this started his cycle in and out of the system. 

While in juvey, Wayne was exposed to more negative influences. He ended up making a friend who later became his connection to drug dealing. Wayne was out of the system for about 4 months before his parole officer came looking for him, and again, he was not home. For these reasons, his mother and parole officer sent him to a different juvenile rehab center in Erie Pennsylvania.  

Wayne’s time in Erie was short lived. While there, he experienced an incredible amount of racism. People would continuously make him fear for his life by telling detailed stories about the Klan, their presence in Erie, and what exactly would happen to him if they saw himSo, he ran. He tried going to Philly, but his mom would not allow him to stay. Hended up circling back to Erie and lived there for 10 months. During that time, Wayne got himself a gun and started robbing stores. He got caught for 4 robberies but estimates there were around 10. This landed him up-state for almost 5 years, from when he was 19 until he was 24.  

After doing his time, Wayne was placed in a halfway house. The environment there was the worse than he had ever experienced, being exposed to more drugs, guns, violence, and even prostitutes. It made no sense to Wayne that you could send someone to jail to try to change their way of thinking, and then send them to a halfway house that had all of the bad influences they were supposed to avoid. While in the halfway house, Wayne stopped going to work but continued to leave during designated work hours to see his girlfriendEventually, he came clean about this and it was decided he would be put on a blackout. This is where your contact with the outside world is restricted. After hearing this, Wayne was reminded of his time in Erie and decided to go on the run again. 

Wayne’s first jail stint, age 20

This time he was on the run for about a year until he got caught with the possession of a firearm: a violation of his parole. He was sent to Greene county jail, a super-maximum-security prison that also housed death row inmates. Hcontinued going back and forth between prison and parole until he maxed out his sentence in 2003After he was released, he went back to Erie, put himself through the Erie School of Business for computer technology, and got a job doing bank transfers. Unfortunately, he continued to surround himself with the wrong people. He started selling weed cocaine, crack, and ecstasy while still working because he thought it would make him more viable. Then one day he got pulled over mistakenly, and the police found drugs in his car. He tried appealing this charge, noting that the drugs were found illegally, but to no avail. Wayne believed the hearing was biased and unjust, saying that “for a black person in America it is very rare that you are being judged by your peers. You’re not judged by your peersyou’re judged by other people’s peers.” Once he came to terms with his fate, he ran again; this time for 3 years. When he was caught, he was brought back to Erie where his sentence was already determined to be six and a half years.  

This prison stint was different. Wayne stopped smoking cigarettes, converted to Christianity, studied the bible, and started choosing his friends carefully. He avoided anyone like his friends from the past and started gravitating toward more positive people. He began reading and educating himself in any way he could, and eventually became the model inmate. Whenever there was a need for someone to represent the prison, he was the one to do it. Despite still being exposed to a plethora of negative things, Wayne says he shined while away because of the structured environment, and he was going to make sure that this was his last time in prison. 

Upon his final return home, Wayne put his best foot forward and fully committed to bettering himself. Of course, as it seems to be a theme throughout his life, there were several obstacles along the way. Wayne constantly had misunderstandings with his parle officer. This included things like Wayne’s love life, gym habitsand church attendance. The last of these ended up being the instance that had him sent to another halfway house, as the church Wayne attended was outside of Philadelphia county and counted as a violation. While he was doing all of this in order to better himself, it seemed as though another hurdle was created from each attempt.    

The halfway house Wayne was sent to had a notoriously bad reputation. It had people taking harder drugs than he had experienced in the past. This included K2, assorted pills, and even heroin. Wayne’s reaction to that was this: Why would you put me in this environment because you felt I violated parole? You took me from a healthy environment I had built for myself, FINALLY, to remove me for something like that?” Despite being put there, the foundation that Wayne built for himself did not allow him to conform back to old habits. On top of this, for the first time in his life, Wayne’s parents had his back. They recognized how much he improved and were not going to let him be taken advantage of. So, they hired a lawyer. After 60 days he reported back to his parole officer, and this is where he was handed a flyer for Uplift.  

The rest is history. Wayne began our Workforce program and excelledWhen he started at Uplift, he decided to dress up. Not because it was required or because he was trying to impress, but because he was dressing for the job he eventually wanted. In explaining this, Wayne said:  “When I was coming up you didn’t have much influence to see around you, anything I saw I would try to mimic in a way that was already naturally in me. I’m not trying to be anyone, but the best version of myself using snapshots of life to help me.” The influence he was speaking of here was that of Uplift Workforce Program Director Barry JohnsonWayne wanted to be more than just an employee or a participant, he was striving to be the best, and seeing someone like Barry helped him see a concrete example of success. In addition to this, there was one piece of advice from the program that still resonates with Wayne today, and that was from our very own Monique Oakman-Robinson. She said, “show them something different,” and those words have been with Wayne at every step of the way. At the end of the program, he decided to go to Island Avenue ShopRite because it was recently renovated, and it would provide the best opportunity to quickly rise in the company.

Wayne now, at his church

Wayne continued to dress the part and strive for more. It was noticed. He started by working the cash registers, and then quickly began helping within several grocery departments. He worked almost every department in the store while still working the registers, and it got to the point where he was spread thin. What set him apart was that he was one of the hardest workers there and had no more baggage. No substance abuse, alcohol usage, or any extracurricular issues. He quickly got promoted to working in both the frozen and dairy departments. This whipped him into shape for a managerial position and resulted in a lot of praise from coworkers. To this he said that “after hearing so much negativity about yourself over the years, it was great to hear something positive.” His next promotion was to night crew chief, where he would run the entire grocery store overnight. He believes that his experiences in life help him with this job, as the night shift is a harder environment. Finally, his most recent promotion, Wayne was made the second in command of the grocery department. In the span of less than two years, he went from running the registers to the entire store, all with no setbacks

The only place for Wayne to go after this would be manager of the entire store, which he someday hopes to be. Otherwise, Wayne has a plethora of personal goals which he no doubt will achieve. He wants to be an entrepreneur and create a situation where he can work for himself. He just finished writing and editing his own crime novel and aims to self-publish it soon. He also wants to create a movie that will include video he filmed while he was on the run. We cannot wait to see what else Wayne has to offer the world. 

To end our conversation, we asked Wayne if there was anything he wanted to say about Uplift. He responded:  “I think the Uplift program is one of the best things in Philadelphia…I have never seen something like Uplift where what they talk, they walk…Uplift is awesome. Everybody…Barry, is a walking testimonyLauren will always call you and check up on you, make sure you’re good, and the MVP award goes to Monique. The moment Monique talks to the people you know she sincerely likes you. She’s just a good personThere is not one thing bad I have to say about uplift. It’s a very good program, the people sincerely care about you, and people need that because at the end of the day, when times get rough at the store or I have doubts, what gave me confidence was knowing that I could always go to Uplift.”