Photo courtesy of Kenosha (Wis.) News, photographer Sean Krajacic
My family originates from Alabama. My father’s family had their own land, where they farmed for subsistence and food. As a child, he worked in the cornfields and peanut groves as soon as he was able to walk and talk. He said it would get so hot you could fry an egg on the red clay soil. Growing up in the south in those days was tough for any family, but especially for black people who farmed the land. You had the constant fear of white men taking whatever they wanted from your land. During this time, the religion of choice was the Baptist faith. Most of my family believed in God and prayer. Going to church was the order of the day for most black families. My dad had a strong faith in God and always expressed a need for prayer. My father was 6 foot, 2 inches tall and strong as a bull. He once caught a mule by its hind legs, as he tried to kick him. My mother was beautiful. Her intelligence always impressed me.
My father is supposed to have fathered 26 children, but this may vary by three children. My dad had eight or nine children before he met my mom, and my mom had two before she met my dad. I was the first of the five children my mother and father had together. I was born in Waukegan, Illinois. My parents had moved there in 1958 to have a better life. I have had the pleasure to live with most of my stepbrothers and stepsisters at one time in my life. We shared the same bed and wore each other’s hand-me-downs. We shared food, like butter sandwiches and paper dog sandwiches (newspaper and a piece of meat), just to survive. My mother taught all of us to love each other in spite of our lack of necessities, which helped us become a tight-knit family. We were also taught the value of prayer and going to church as a family. My father and mother were really focused on the spiritual side and, since I can remember, God was always present in our family. My mother handled the discipline and she did a good job of putting the fear of God in us. She also stressed the value of education to us. In Waukegan, my father worked as a waiter, serving food to truckers. My mother worked cleaning for the well-to-do white folks in the suburbs. They would come home so discouraged every evening. When I was five years old, they decided to move with some of their friends to Kenosha because the jobs were supposed to be better there.
I found out early that sports were my way to escape not being heard in my family. I excelled at basketball and other sports. When I played, I could escape the world for some time, and life didn’t seem so hard. At this time, I lived for one thing only. I wanted my father to show me that he loved me. My father loved coon hunting. I learned as much as I could about coon dogs, so my father would tell me I was the best young dog man in the racoon business. He didn’t seem to notice me at all though. And I have since found out that it is a condition that most men from the south had, in that men didn’t show love in the fashion that their children wanted.
Because of wanting attention from the other kids, and to have the things they had, I started shoplifting at a young age. I stole and hid items from my parents. It started with shoplifting and went downhill from there. My earliest recollection of getting caught stealing was nine years old. I made some really bad choices at a young age, which I had to pay a great deal for. I spent a lot of time in jail cells, suffering for the consequences of my foolishness and lack of personal responsibility. I have been through it all, from jail, to prison, to near death. I was enslaved to my own self. I experienced how it felt to lose my soul. In 1995, after 18 years of going in and out of jails, prisons, and treatment facilities, I came to the realization that I was tired of wasting my life. The pain of prison is different only when you realize you are at the end of your rope. Then, and only then, will you fight to change your circumstances.
At the age of 35, beaten and broken, I was sitting in a prison cell facing more time than I ever faced at in my life – 40 years. While I was waiting on my new criminal charges to be completed, I remembered the things my parents had instilled in me. I remembered the importance of getting an education and getting a job. I remembered to get on my knees and pray to God for help and guidance to deal with my soul. I started praying and asking God for forgiveness.
One day, my daughter, and my sister came to visit me in the Racine County Correctional Institute. My 12-year-old daughter asked me a profound question, “Daddy how come you cannot take care of me?” I hadn’t seen her in four years. For the life of me, I had no answer to give her. I could only muster up a pitiful answer of “I’m sorry.” When the visit was over, I went back to my jail cell and I prayed to God to give me the answer to the problem that my daughter had just asked me about. God answered my request.
About three weeks later, I was walking around the prison yard praying to God, “What I am I going to do with this child of mine?” This voice came to me internally and said until I learned to take care of myself, I would never be able to take care of anyone else, especially my child. That prayer made me finally surrender my life and my will to God. I knew if I didn’t change, I was going to spend the rest of my life in jail or die without reaching my full potential as a man. After that, I never used alcohol or committed any crimes. That was my spiritual awakening. At a crossroads of my life, I decided to let God’s will become the driving force behind whatever life I had left. After I had the internal conversation with God in prison, I had people help me that weren’t supposed to help me in prison, such as officers, guards, and church members.
While I was waiting for the criminal charges and facing 40 years, I started going Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I started going to church. I was seeking a change. I got brought back in to court and went before the judge. He was familiar with me. By law, I should had gotten all the 40 years because I had been in trouble all my life. He looked at me and said, “I see something different in you.” I said, “I do plead guilty. I know that I have to do some time but I’m done. This will be the last time you see me.” I don’t know why, but he believed me. He always told me every time he saw me thereafter that he saw something different in me. God had opened his eyes to the change in me. He gave me four years and ran it concurrent with what I was doing. I got sent back to the receiving part of the prison because it was a new sentence. They sent me to a camp and I stayed there for a year. I had to do the three years of probation and had no incidents. I was going to church and finding my way spiritually. I came home, got baptized and continued to journey through church and the things I needed to do to find myself. I had been studying the Bible in jail and was familiar with the Word of God. I went to a Pentecostal church where they preach in Jesus’ name. This is where I got married and became a trustee of the church. My pastor mentored me to develop me and help me use my skills to further the kingdom. He has allowed me to teach classes and speak from the pulpit.
When I was in prison, I was assessed by the Department of Corrections’ social workers with all the assessments and evaluation tools that the Wisconsin prison system can use to measure readiness to change and career development of prison offenders. Over time, these tests helped me to see what I was capable of accomplishing. I had taken enough tests to know that I would be a good counselor if I put my mind to the task of changing my life.
When I got out of prison, I worked at a community center. In 2000, I worked at a treatment facility doing counseling. In 2005, I opened my own facility. In 2012–13 I attended college to get my bachelor’s degree. From 2013–15, I attended school to get a master’s degree in management, organization and leadership; then kept going for the next 16 months to get a master’s degree in mental health and counseling. I have opened an agency called Moore and Associates, a private outpatient clinic focused on helping substance-abuse clients from the Department of Corrections. The other organization I have started is a nonprofit agency that is a full-service facility to address the issues that affect the Kenosha community, such as parenting, maleness and manhood, and domestic violence. I also have been blessed to start a professional basketball club where the mission is for players and staff to get a chance, or a second chance, to build or rebuild their opportunities to be a part of a professional basketball organization. My hope is that I will be able to help young men and women stay positive. I have cried many nights because of the pain I have caused and because I influenced young men to believe in things that appeared to be exciting in this life. What these young men were taught by me, and others like me, was pain and a way to self-oppress, such as jails, drugs, women, and being immature.
I now want to be a voice to motivate and inspire young people to believe in the possibility of hope and to reach for a brighter tomorrow. I want to help them reach their full potential so that they will be able to teach their children a new way of living. I pray the seed of my dreams will help to end the pain of a generation.
I am now married and have two stepchildren whom I raised. My wife has played a major part of my journey. She had been in church all her life. I am thankful for her spiritual mentorship with my daughter. I have a good relationship with my daughter, who has four of her own children now. My going to college, encouraged her to go to college, and she actually challenged me grade-wise. It pushed her to excel.
I have discovered this about God’s nature: In a word it is LOVE. Even the trials are love because they provide education that helps you to be a greater witness. It is possible to live a life of hope and change if you find the seed of God in yourself and allow it to grow.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.
4 thoughts on “#217. Even The Trials Are Love”
Thank you for the opportunity to share my journey
What a wonderful story of the power of redemption! Tony, you are a great example of what love, will, desire and the willingness to overcome can achieve.
Tony Moore this is phenomenal straight forward testimony about your journey. You, and your story inspires me to do greater things in my life.
Amazing journey and story from a God led man