Jose Alicia came to StoryCorps recently to reflect on his past and look forward into his future. In the 1980′s, Jose’s family was living in New York City and times were tough. His parents’ relationship was under strain. Money was short. The crack epidemic was in full swing. In an effort to help his family get by, teen-aged Jose got into the drug game.
A member of the Yellow Top Crew, one of the most violent gangs in their territory, Jose started out small moving drugs. But he eventually started working as hired muscle where the money was better. That’s when trouble really started for Jose. Drugs, killings, kidnappings, shootouts. “It was like a movie, but it was real,” remembered Jose. After a series of arrests and convictions, Jose finally caught a rap that landed him in prison for a 9 year stretch.
When Jose was released from prison in 2007, he barely even recognized New York City. “I thought I was someplace else getting off the bus. I thought 42nd street was Walt Disney. Trains talk, buses talk. It didn’t even smell like New York,” said Jose. Two years later, he’s still adapting to living life as a regular citizen. “It’s still new to me. I still see myself in the [prison] yard. Physically I’m not there, but mentally I’m in prison.”
Jose tries not to dwell on the past. Pointing to the word “Hym” tattooed in script letters on his neck, he explained, “That’s who [I] used to be. Jose is who I am today. Either you can get with it, or you can forget it man.” Glad to be home, glad to be thinking positively, he sandpapered the tear-drop tattoo under his left eye that marked him as a member of the YTC. “I said, ‘To hell with it. Just start from the bottom, work my way up, and start a new slate.’”
Jose currently works in construction as a Project Manager. He has four children. “I wake up for them every day, and say, ‘I’m gonna be here for them.’ I prefer to be in prison certain times because of the pressure of today,” Jose admitted. But towards the end of his interview, he added, “I woke up and said, ‘If you were man enough to stand up in the street and you were man enough to stand up in jail, then you’re man enough to be a father.’ Before, I couldn’t take that.”