By April Sutherland
A couple of weeks ago I was given the opportunity to hear the story of a man who, in many ways, did not know the meaning of ‘quit.’ His name is Christopher. Orphaned at the tender age of 13, and faced with the challenges of supporting his younger siblings, Christopher has always remained optimistic about his future.
Affectionately dubbed ‘Chris’ by those who know him, he’s always been an inspiring person. Family describe him as a demure; a warmhearted man with a grin that could light a room — if he weren’t too shy to smile, that is.
His front teeth were knocked out during an unfortunate run-in with the local police after he was mistaken for a robbery suspect. Due to this he’s a bit self-conscious in social situations but conversational once you get to know him.
Chris has high hopes for his future, even despite the disadvantages that have plagued his life. Chris never had a privileged beginning. Born into an economically disadvantaged, though hardworking and proud family, Chris was instilled with the importance of determination, modesty, and family. His father worked part-time as a mechanic.
Chris spent much of his time with his now deceased maternal grandmother Zenia, who taught him many of the skills that remain with him today. His passion for gardening and his love for the outdoors can be attributed to Zenia — a woman who was well known for her kindness and dedication to her community.
When Chris was 13, his mother took ill during her eighth and final pregnancy. When later rushed to the hospital she slipped into a coma that she never awoke from. Though the child was delivered healthy, she later succumbed to her sickness, her death ruled “acute toxemia.”
Chris’ father later passed away from liver failure, leaving Chris and his seven siblings orphans. Chris, the eldest of eight and now orphaned, was sent to live with various relatives but was unable to find a steady home.
Chris has done various jobs to support his family, though his passion has always been gardening. Most recently he was incarcerated for a fight that transpired while he was homeless. Chris has been cited as resembling a teenager in stature as he’s just over five feet tall; something that considerably did not work in his favor while homeless.
When he returns, there’s nothing he wants more than to be able to run his own lawn care business. He has always been just as willing to work as the rest of us, but one thing he has never been afforded is the opportunity.
He’s not one for government handouts either, always strongly opposing the receipt of government assistance like disability — even though it’s warranted, considering he walks with a limp; the unfortunate side effect of having never received proper medical attention after being hit by a car in his youth.
A woman who learned of Chris’ story recently launched a GoFundMe Fundraiser in his honor in hopes of raising enough money for him to be able to purchase the tools needed for his own business. To date, the fundraiser has raised 13% of its goal but supporters are hopeful that the full goal of $2000 will be reached on Chris’ behalf.
Besides his enjoyment for gardening, it’s the simple things that matter most to Chris such as sketching, mentoring his fellow inmates, and furthering his relationship to God. When he has free time on hand, he sketches, and mails his finished works in hopes they’ll brighten someone’s day.
He’s always there to encourage other inmates, to help them remain on the correct track to rehabilitation into society. He knows firsthand of the negative connotations associated with those who possess a criminal record, and aims to remind other inmates it doesn’t have to define them. It certainly hasn’t defined Chris.
Perhaps there’s much we all could learn from the story of Chris; a man who, despite the hardships that have plagued his life since birth, never allows a word of bitterness to leave his lips. Chris remains upbeat no matter the hardships he comes across and encourages those around him to be the same.
When asked what he wants most upon his return, his answer speaks of the simplicity of someone who’s learned to live without many of the things we’ve often been conditioned to consider commonplace.
His one wish? To earn a living and be allowed to provide for himself.
*Featured Image Credit: www.gofundme.com/forchris
April Sutherland is a freelance journalist who believes that some of the best stories can be found in the most unlikely of places. Visit her personal blog for in-depth reports and interesting narratives.