Delbert was leaning back in his chair, glowing with warmth and happiness. I couldn’t figure it out. I was hearing his story and I felt a weight come over my body as he described his challenges. His metaphor for his life as an “uphill roller coaster” seemed apt. Yet there was deep joy inside. I want to introduce you to my friend, Delbert, and his 12-year relationship with the Maybelle Center. He’s a walking contradiction and an amazing inspiration.
The interview is longer than our typical blogs and you can skip down to any of our interview questions below. But I think you’ll want to hear his whole story.
- Can you tell me a little about your life story?
- What does it feel like when you walk into Maybelle Center?
- It sounds like there was a break in your relationship with Maybelle Center. Can you tell me about that?
- Why did you come back to Maybelle Center?
- What did you miss most when you couldn’t come to Maybelle Center?
- What’s been the biggest challenge since getting out of incarceration?
- Is there a time in your life where you wish there were “do-overs?”
- What does it feel like when you walk into the Maybelle Center?
- What keeps you going?
- What are you proud of right now?
- What are your goals this year?
- What do you want to do differently this time at Maybelle Center?
- What do you think is your unique contribution to the world?
I’ve got a rocky road story. My story goes back to about 12 years ago when I first met my girlfriend. She stayed at the corner apartment [MacDonald Residence at Maybelle Center for Community]. We had a good bond. Those years that we had together, I can never take back you know. I used to go there faithfully everyday. I had a lot of good memories playing bingo, being in men’s groups, and coming to gatherings they had over here. The main thing, it’s the quality of people I like being around.
When I walk into Maybelle Center, it’s a unique place where I shut down all the world out there and mainly I just am a respectable person. I come in and I try to talk to people. I try to get input. I’m looking for new ways, new ideas for me to live my life. Because I tried it many times my way and it hasn’t been working. So I’m going to spread my horizon and go and put my trust in somebody. Find somebody who has walked in my shoes – I want to carry that with me.
Q3: It sounds like there was a break in your relationship with Maybelle Center. Can you tell me about that?
It was a break because I tried to do it my way and violence came in the picture. I didn’t hurt nobody but I came really close to hurting somebody…I started at Deer Ridge and was transferred to Columbia River at 33rd & Sutherland [correctional facilities]…So that kind of woke me up.
My life is an uphill roller coaster. I’m just trying to show a little respect first, keep my hands to myself. Now when people are negative to me, I say “brother I’ll pray for you.” Something positive so I don’t get nobody upset. I’m working with my tools. But I also got to show respect to others. Mainly having respect for this place makes me want to have respect for myself.
I try to keep it in the boundaries man. I’m still trying to work on it. In here you’re going to find people that are more loving than people out in the world. People out there don’t care. People bump into you, they don’t want to say nothing. They want you to get into trouble. I got to follow the rules I say in here, out there. You can’t make a person say sorry.
The world is the world. The world is tough. This isn’t my first rodeo being downtown. I see it different this time. I know it and I talk it so much so now I have to show it.
I came back because of the services. The service speaks for itself. The service is good. It’s the best. I’m not going to brag but it’s better than what I had in the past. That’s why I came back. That’s why I keep coming back. I always hear something good when I come in these buildings, always hear something good I can take with me. And that’s why I’ve been surviving so long.
The fact is that they teach you boundaries, they teach you respect for others. They teach you no threats here. And the confidentiality I like – what we say here stays here. And I feel comfortable here. And if anyone was to jeopardize that, you know I’d be hurting.
Because I’ve invested a lot of years through here and I’ve got a lot of help through here. Maegann is super…I’ve been doing it a long time and it’s something that I just can’t throw away. That’s why I keep coming back because I come back to show my friendly face and say “hello” to the staff. I believe in what you’all are doing. You’all are doing a good thing. And I wouldn’t want anyone to jeopardize this place or put this service in jeopardy.
I just missed the smile on people’s faces. People being happy. People having fun. It’s just a smile on your face and you can talk to them. And they give you feedback. I like that. That one on one feedback – that was good. You know what they’re thinking. Where they’re at. The main thing is that we’re all Gods’ children playing the same game in a small room. That’s love within itself.
Everybody in the room just having fun. One person talks after another…I just like happiness in the room. And I miss that. Cause when I was in high school, grade school I had that classroom setting. And I miss that.
Having the pride to ask for something. I know you’all will give it to me but it’s hard. But sometimes when your back is up against a wall, you need it. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for Maybelle Center.
I think my life got out of hand when I didn’t stay in school – when I didn’t get my education when I had the chance to. I had to pick back up on it. Now that I have it, I’m glad that I have the parents I have. They were hard on me but it was for my own good. I felt myself derailing. But I got back on course…
If I would have obeyed my family, I wouldn’t be sitting here. When you step out of bounds with your family, it tends to stray away. I had to get away from my family for a while. I wish I would have stayed. I was rebellious about going to church even when I was 5. In the end, I think he did that because he wanted me to have a better life. He was just showing love with me. I had a good family. They were in my corner. They’re still in my corner. I want to show my family with my actions. I’m patching up things with my brother. They want me to be happy too. They want me to live a good life. I know Delbert’s going to be happy if I practice what I preach and show them, I’ll be ok.
My mother’s church is over on Fremont. That’s mainly my backbone. My brother and sister run the church. Our pastor is Irene Tyson. The main thing is that family love and church love is keeping me going. I went to church when I was like 5 years old. I sang in the choir from like 5-12. That’s where I got my good singing at, through my family [he laughs]…
I feel my mother’s presence when I go up in the church. I feel her watching over me, “don’t forget what we taught you” (Mom passed in 2002. Dad passed in 1997). I hang with it. Sometimes I make wrong decision, sometime I make good ones. It’s time for me to start doing and stop talking. It comes with time. I’m glad to be out. Glad to be around good people…
My father, he’s a piano tuner and player. He could take a piano apart and put it back within an hour. He speaks 17 different languages. He was an interpreter before he came home from Mexico. There’s a lot of history with my family. But my family loves me and they want nothing but the best for me. My brothers got a bad hip and my sister is on dialysis. I’m going to be losing her soon. But life has to go on. I’m just hoping I can get myself together, get me a nice place, get me a job – one I like doing. Living life on my terms.
There’s a lot of love here. I feel that. Because these people [at Maybelle Center] are lucky to have you’all working with them. Because if they didn’t have you’all, they wouldn’t know what to do. It’s a special place. It’s a special place where I come in, I sit down, make myself known, I get to talking to people. I leave with a good feeling. Maegann’s like a mother to me. [he laughs] “Ok Delbert, put one feet before the other.” What she says – I know she’s right. She does it out of love. There’s a lot of love here.
I got letters from her [his girlfriend]. Got about 37 or 42. I think what kept me going was my love for her. I stayed in touch. I wrote. Mainly when I was incarcerated I wrote a lot. And I went to church a lot. I had like 6 classes a week I was going to. It was a good thing. I learned a lot. I learned to not so much trust myself. And try to put other people in my shoes and me be in their shoes and that’s not easy. But I try every day. It’s a work in process. You got to do it one day at a time.
I pour out my joy to people so I can get that feedback. We need somebody. We need people we can talk to. We need people when we’re down. We’re God’s children but we got different emotions and what I try to do, is not use the aggressive emotion. You know I’m a big guy. But I try to work on that. But it aint easy. Sometimes I run into people who are good, sometimes I run into people who are not so good. But you know, you have to remember where you came from. Cause my mother’s a pastor. She’s done that for 57 years. And she taught me it’s better to love than hate. I go through my day. I stick in my bible, Jeremiah, Genesis, Leviticus, Matthew, John. I think mainly if it wasn’t for me having that religious side of me, I wouldn’t have made it this long…
Right now I’m just trying to find my space. Where do I fit in? What steps do I need to take? By me coming here [Maybelle Center] and talking to people, it’s helps a little bit. But I need to get in more group involvements. I like that.
I’m proud I’ve got four certificates: “Working with your PO,” “Family and Friends,” “Pathfinders Certificate.” I got skills. But I want to take my skills and get my food handlers card. They aren’t going to hire me until I get an ID. I’m going to work on doing that. They wanted to send me to school at PAC. They pay $9.75 an hour just to train you. I’m going to try to pick up where I left off. If you don’t see me here [at Maybelle Center] it’s because I went back to school to pick up some skills.
I want to try to get work. If I can get a house, I want to spend the rest of my life cooking. I like to cook. I’ve been to Le Cordon Bleu back in the 90’s for 3 years. And I got janitorial experience like buffing floors and shampooing carpets. The main thing is that I just need to sit down and figure out what I want to do.
I’d like to be a janitor and a spokesman. Going around talking to people who have been through what I’ve been through. People who lose hope. They don’t want to live life no more. I would talk to little kids about the drug scene. A lot of good folks went to prison. I would tell them stay in your books, mind your mother, stay on a straight road, believe in your dreams. If you got a dream to be what you want to be, accomplish it. You just got to go out and get it man. It takes work to be what you want to be.
It’s just like me. If I want to be a cook again I might have to go out and pick up some skills again. And keep the ball rolling. I’m thinking about housing first though because I got 2 ½ months before I get kicked out down there. But if I was to get housing, I would go to work and go to meetings. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep surviving. Because as long as I keep my torch lit, I got something to offer. By summertime I want to be working. Just to give back. Even if it is just cleaning up rooms or something until a cooking program comes up.
It’s a spiral. It’s time for me to start using the programs. Start making it work. A person can say anything coming out of your mouth but action is what people is looking for. And they’ll see it too. You stop and brace yourself and you say, oh, I’ve fallen down. “I better go back and clean that up.” My mom used to teach me that long time ago. That’s what I miss.
My family always told me it was better to talk out a situation than put your hands up on people. I know my family roots. It’s time for me to stop talking and start doing. Time’s getting short man [he laughs]. I have that love in me. I know where I came from as far as family. I know that helps me stay strong. That church background helps me feel strong.
I got to start letting people see the different Delbert in me. ‘Cause I’m a Gemini – split personality [laugh]. I got to let the bad stay in the badland and bring that goodness out. I’ll make it. I know I will. I got determination to treat people with respect. That’s part of my background. I think that church background helps me out…
I’m going to get back going to the men’s group. I want to get reincarnated, as far as get rejuvenated in my body to start loving more. I want to get started in more events to bring out the person in me and let me see it. If I can see it, I can live better. Because I got something to offer [the world] and I’d rather give and not expect anything back. Just give it out of my heart.
I can change my ways. Because I want to change. I really do. But I know it starts with the love. It starts with yourself first. I go through everyday – I go through good things and bad things. I want to pray on my knees because I think it helps me to stop, take that time out, and really just understand myself. To look where I’m taking myself into and remove myself from the scene.
I’m a good person but you know I’ve made some mistakes, I have. And I’m willing to pay my debt. I’m willing to give back to America. Because I know that’s the thing to do. Because I know that’s the only way it’s going to keep me living.
Being part of this community is a way for me to give back. Being there for people, big or small. I’m talking about just being there for a hug. A person might need a hug. A person might need another ear to talk to. You know just encouraging words. People might need to hear it. Because they don’t hear it enough…I like to see them leave with a smile on their face…
We got new people coming in. And the new people can carry on the same job as the old people, it’s going to keep going and it’s going to grow.
(This interview was a group effort. Thanks to Neal Chaudhuri and Jon Ulsh for their collaboration.)