Editor’s Note: Earlier this fall Terencio Safford was included in a Minnesota Public Radio story centering on the Amicus Connections group at Minnesota Correctional Facility – Stillwater.
A couple weeks later, upon release from prison, Terencio wrote a guest post for Inside Change relating to “No Child Left Behind” and the connections between our educational system and our correctional system.
Around the time of the guest post Terencio spent significant time around Amicus and he consented to telling us his compelling and challenging story, touching on relationships and the need to find freedom within oneself. Thanks, Terencio!
Post by Steve Nelson
If he was looking for other people to blame for the missteps in his life, Terencio Safford could make a rather lengthy list. But the thing is, he’s not.
He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a father who had disappeared (Terencio later learned he had died), and a mother who was addicted to cocaine. His mother’s addiction caused her to lose custody of Terencio when he was five years old, sending him into the foster care system for the state of Alabama, where he grew up.
“Foster care wasn’t always fun. I didn’t like it,” Terencio recalls in what turns out to be a large understatement. From age five to age 19, Terencio lived in 12 foster homes, never staying in one place for more than two years. Some foster parents were okay, but others were physically abusive. He said one foster parent’s activities included an illicit firearms smuggling business. Terencio’s own activities got him involved in the juvenile justice system. That and his age made foster families more difficult to find and he spent over a year in a temporary shelter before being sent to Opelika, Alabama to stay in a group home where security measures reminded Terencio of a Juvenile Detention Center.
“I remember sitting back in my room and thinking about my mom and starting to cry. I’m 16 years old. Why am I locked in?” he recalled.
He was eventually placed with another foster family and things got more serious for him when his foster father at the time accused him of setting the family equipment shed on fire. Terencio was convicted of arson and sentenced to a disciplinary “boot camp” for 30 days. By this time he was 18 years old and his guardian at the time convinced him to join the National Guard, where he served two years and gained experience in avionics electronics.
After fulfilling his commitment, he left the service , enrolled in college, found a steady job and got into a relationship. But his success was shortlived. He cut class too often and had to drop out. He then lost his girlfriend, his job and was kicked of his apartment within a period of two weeks. At that point he followed a friend to Minnesota, hoping for a fresh start. His missteps continued though. Searching for friendship, money and a place to stay, he found the wrong friends, drank too much and chose to go along with them on various crimes, ranging from stolen firearms possession to burglary. These resulted in his building a lengthy criminal record and progressively longer jail sentences.
“I knew that the company I was keeping was bad company but I felt like I had no other options.” His last misstep came when he was convicted of domestic assault after a fight with his then-girlfriend.
Terencio takes responsibility for his crimes. His mistakes are his own, but sitting in prison once more, he said he truly began to realize that he couldn’t make a change without first changing himself.
“Something happened this time. Something clicked,” he said. He began learning to manage his own anger, got counseling and he started planning for a new life in which he made his own decisions. He contacted Amicus and participated in the Amicus Connections group at MCF Stillwater. Now that he’s out, he’s been matched with an Amicus One to One friend and has sought job-seeking advice and assistance from Amicus Reconnect and several staff at Amicus, including volunteering to tell his story and build his writing portfolio through guest posts on the Amicus blog, “Inside Change.” Amicus is helping but it’s Terencio’s plan.
“It starts with you – your emotional independence, your financial independence. A lot of times you have to reach out for help, but I’m learning that you’ve got to reach out for the right help,” he said.
It won’t be easy for Terencio to find a second chance. A record with multiple felonies on it is a challenge difficult for anyone to overcome. Still, he has a plan and a dream. He hopes to study screenwriting and cinematography, but first he’s working hard to find a job which can help him sustain what he sees as his new independence.
“I really feel free. I’m not just free FROM the inside. I’m free ON the inside.”