“I had 6 felonies and 40 misdemeanors by the time I was 13...
I knew I needed help but nothing happened.”
Giff had his first puff of marijuana at age 8, which seemed pretty normal to a kid whose dad was addicted to heroin and whose mother was addicted to “Benzos,” a catch-all for benzodiazepines. He had four siblings. His father left in a haze when Giff was only two. Growing up he recalls his mother spending most of the day nodded out on the couch.
They were homeless a lot, too... usually in the winter months. The longest they lived in one place was a year. So they grew accustomed to living in hotels, cars, campers, the occasional friend’s living room, and even tents.
“When I was homeless living in a car at age two I can remember we were always cold and it was really uncomfortable sharing the backseat of a car with my brother.” When he wasn’t in school, he’d walk around town with his brothers. Since they couldn’t afford toys, they stole them.
By the time he turned 13, he was on his fifth trip down the roads that lead to Maine’s juvenile detention centers in Charleston and Portland. What put him there the first time was breaking into a couple houses, not to steal valuables but more to destroy the insides, which they accomplished pretty thoroughly. It was enough to qualify for two Class B Felony charges.
“The cops tried to get inside my head with what a scary place prison would be, but it didn’t sink in until I finally went. There were lots of fights.”
But it wasn’t the prison that scared Giff straight. It was the news of his mother’s stomach cancer, which has a 25-percent survival rate.
“She made me promise to get out and help her, since there was only my little brother at home now. Just thinking about my mother dying made me want to keep that promise.”
Lucky for him, Giff had been introduced to the Restorative Justice program two prison stints earlier. But nothing stuck until that news hit him heart on. He sought them out. Working through the program, he went to work repairing the damages and then some on those two homes for their owners. In fact, he ended up becoming best of friends with the very people he had offended. They’re mentors for Giff now.
“Knowing that I can make amends... eventually hearing from the victims that there’s no harm done... well, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Giff recently learned that the court reduced all six of his felony charges to misdemeanors, even though he’s still on probation until age 18. His mother has been clean for three years; his father is back and going on five. Best of all, Giff has found a surprising outlet for his anger by writing rap music. So much so that these days he appears monthly on stage in Portland under the rapper-approved name of “Gee Swizzz.” While most of his lyrics are laced with some pretty harsh language describing the rough life he’s had, there’s one song that he wrote for his mother that holds a special place in his heart. The first time he read its chorus to her, he couldn’t stop the tears:
“Ever since the very beginning... Now his focus is on taking care of his mom, finishing high school and getting a record deal.
when we were losing with no chance of winning.
You were there for me and my brothers...
just know that you’re the best-ever mother.”
Thanks to Restorative Justice, the rap on Giff is of his own making.
UMCC Powers Restorative Justice... since 2007.
I regret to inform you that I was recently incarcerated.
For my freedom I couldn’t tell you how hard I prayed for it.
I would give anything to finally be with my family,
and to be around people that actually understand me.
And then, the time came to walk out them doors,
free as a bird and as a bird I would soar.
I thought it would be easy... yeah, a straight piece of cake.
Finally, for once in my life God has granted me a break.
I didn’t realize how hard it was gonna be for me.
Even though I was released, I still wasn’t free.
And now I’m the talk of the school, but not in a good way.
“You know he just got outta jail” I hear that like every day.
Another struggle of reintegration is the constant anxiety,
ready to fight the person that’s beside me
Getting released surely has its up and downs.
I’m constantly smiling but I sometimes frown.
I’ve done my time just like a clock.
Now let me tell you about the aftershock.