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Demell Glenn says ultimatum changed his life

July 14, 2018

Although raised by his mother and stepfather in a neighborhood pocked by abandoned houses and stricken by poverty, Demell Glenn looks back fondly on his early years with his three siblings in Milwaukee.

In 1980, when he was 8, Glenn’s parents followed an aunt and moved to Madison’s North Side looking for a cleaner, safer place with a better school system.

The family found those things, but in time, Glenn became attracted to street life, hanging out with a mix of ages, partying and selling drugs. “I veered off into a darker place,” he said. “There was part of me that found it exciting, the money, the partying.

“My mother didn’t know,” he said. “She worked third shift. It was easy for me to be out late at night. She eventually found out what was going on. She was sad. She had to quit her job to be more focused on her children. By then, it was too late.”

In 1987, at 15, Glenn was arrested for robbing a taxi and sent to a group home. In 1996, when he was 24 and by then a cocaine dealer, he was hanging around outside the Northport apartments on the North Side when a car pulled up, four men got out, and jumped him over drugs. Later that evening, he took a gun to Vera Court and fired at them.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” he said. “I didn’t want to hit anybody. I just wanted them to back off.”

Glenn was convicted of first-degree recklessly endangering safety and served four years of his nine-year sentence.

After release, he said, “Some things changed, some things didn’t.” He stopped dealing cocaine but sold marijuana.

In 2006, when the youngest of his four children was just 2 months old, he was busted for selling THC, arrested at home in front of his wife, Carmella, and two of his children. He was incarcerated for 26 months. Carmella, now program coordinator for Madison-area Urban Ministry’s Just Bakery program for inmates re-entering the community, visited him at Stanley Correctional Institution and gave an ultimatum: Change your life and put family first, or she would leave.

“I had to evaluate what I would and would not do,” he said. “I decided my wife and kids deserve better than this, and I changed.”

Glenn, who loves motorcycles, returned to school, earning an associate degree in culinary arts at Madison Area Technical College. He got jobs and has driven trucks for 10 years, and is now a driver for Dr. Pepper. After release he also began offering informal peer support to others incarcerated and re-entering the community. He was hired by MUM as a peer support specialist in January.

“It’s easier for a person to relate to someone who’s been through it,” he said. “They’re more receptive to what a person has to say. I’m willing to go through it with them. It can be done. I’m proof of that.”

“My mother didn’t know (about my street life). She worked third shift. It was easy for me to be out late at night. She eventually found out what was going on. She was sad. She had to quit her job to be more focused on her children. By then, it was too late.”

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