After spending his last four days in jail, Gavin Groce reflects on his past and where he wants to go from here.
Joseph Fornicola stands outside his home, shirtless, smoking a cigarette near the corner of South 9th Place and West Dakota Street on Milwaukee’s south side. Fornicola has a tough look about him, a feeling aided by the many tattoos that adorn his upper body. Then again, he’s spent his whole life on the South Side, most of it around gangs and drugs. “It became a part of my daily life,” says Fornicola of the gang life. “Till I grew up and realized that’s childish. Had to [outgrow] it, but, for a while, you know, growin’ up, you’re impressionable.”
Peaches Ellis leans against a railing of her porch in Sherman Park. The 49-year-old wears a wide smile; her bellowing laugh can be heard early and often, in between sentences, up and down a sunny 41st Street. “It was beautiful, it really was,” says Ellis of growing up in Milwaukee. “That was a long time ago. But it was beautiful because it was more peaceful, everybody got along, everybody helped one another.”
Shauratina Velez waits at the corner of 12th and Atkinson with her four-year-old daughter for the Route 19 bus. Velez, 22, was 17 and a junior at North Division High School when her daughter was born, and it’s been a tough road ever since. “I don’t have any help, I don’t have nobody to show me the way — you know what I’m sayin’? I don’t have nobody to teach me … I had to learn [more from sources other than] my family to know how to make a resume, how to talk to people. I’m still learnin’ to this day — I’m teachin’ myself.”
Primitivo Cortes sits on a short brick wall that frames the garden next to his home in Walker’s Point. Cortes, 60, smokes a cigarette in his work uniform, a collared, grey shirt that displays his first name. Primitivo was born in Mexico but came to Milwaukee in 1994. “Better opportunities, better jobs.” he says. “In Mexico the situation is terrible.”
Calvin Young saunters down the steps of a porch near 37th and Roberts in Washington Park. The 55-year-old, distinguished by his fully grey, mid-length beard and two-tone skin color, walks into the empty, sunlit street to ask for a dollar or two. “I’m trying to change my life around. [The] only thing, right now, is I’m just an alcoholic — that’s it, that’s all,” says Young, who admits he was once addicted to crack cocaine, as well.
Michelle Legener stops to ask for a buck near a bus stop at the corner of 22nd and Greenfield. Legener, who grew up near 29th and National, just left the nearby Victory Outreach Christian Recovery Home, a rehabilitation center that takes in drug addicts, about an hour before. “[There are] a lot of good people in this city,” she says, but adds, “a lot of bad stuff happens.”
Preston Jones smokes a cigarette outside the Milwaukee Rescue Mission on W. Wells Street in the Marquette neighborhood. Expelling the smoke seems like a sacred ritual for Jones — he opens his mouth in a long “o” shape, exposing his slender, yellow-stained teeth, before breathing out. Jones was “born and raised right here in Milwaukee” and, for the most part, hasn’t left. “I done been to Chicago before, I done been to Holly Springs, Mississippi, before — only one time to each one of them,” he says, though you wouldn’t know from hearing him talk — his voice is loud with a hint of southern drawl.