It’s unseasonably cold for Memphis when Drew Crowe pulls into his church parking lot. The handful of volunteers who greet him at the door all know him by name; it’s clear he’s no stranger here. He spends extra time at the sink scrubbing grout and drywall mud off his scarred and work-worn hands.The sun won’t rise for another hour or two, but Drew is visibly proud to be helping with the meal prep before the weekly breakfast service.
“Service…” he says, grinning as he sets down a tray of fresh fruit. “You can’t get yourself into any trouble while you’re giving service!”
At first glance, you would probably expect to find Drew in a biker bar rather than volunteering at a church. He’s large, imposing, and covered in tattoos. Spend any time with Drew, however, and you’ll quickly learn that he’s all heart.
“Persevere gives me purpose,” he says, when asked why he took the job as House Manager in Memphis. He even has a “Persevere” tattoo on his wrist. “It’s a constant reminder to push through obstacles and keep my focus.” He remembers the exact date he got the tattoo at an addiction recovery event.
“Sean [the founder of Persevere] was trying to help me get through a really bad place.” Drew takes a breath, then continues to describe how he became part of the Persevere family. “He did his best, but I still landed back in prison. Sean didn’t give up on me, though. He became my mentor while I was behind bars. I remember getting so pumped up hearing about his plans to help guys like me. I’d go back to my cell and my mind would be racing with ideas faster than I could write them down,”
“Did Sean implement any of those ideas?” I asked.
“Some of them, yeah!” (You can actually hear Drew’s smile through the phone.) “I just can’t believe it turned into a reality! When I was sitting in that cell, I never imagined that I’d end up in Memphis with a career and so much responsibility.”
I asked Drew how this home is different from what most people expect when you’re getting out of Prison:
“I’d lived in a halfway house before–I don’t like the word “halfway.” We wanted a transitional house. Sean and I talked a lot about how we would want the house to look and feel. We talked about how we would treat the guys. We didn’t want shabby living conditions. I moved in when we first got the house and started working on the remodeling. The house really feels nice and modern.”
Drew is being modest. He worked 130 to 140-hour weeks to convert the old church into a transitional home. “We wanted this place to be a higher level of living than any other structured-living house they’ve seen before. We’ve added in more computers so that they can keep working on their coding projects from home.”
When Persevere participants are released, they have the opportunity to live at the Transitional Living Home. As the House Manager, Drew wears a lot of hats. You might walk in one day to find him in the middle of a heart-to-heart with one of the guys, pulling in with takeout BBQ before a football game, or covered in sawdust after remodeling another room.
“When these guys get to the house, I just have to be really clear with them on the rules. They know I came from a place that they’re from. I’ve had the same issues and problems that they might have when they get out: Parole Officer, getting your driver’s licence, learning how to deal with the world again, cutting off unhealthy relationships, rebuilding relationships with kids and family… I had to go through all that too.”
It’s inspiring to hear how much empathy, compassion, and solidarity Drew feels for these guys.
“We sit down and just talk. We have house meetings every week. We work together on the food list. We ask each other how we can improve the house and our own communication. We truly care for each other and support each other. This is new for me, new for them, and new to Persevere.”
It seems fitting that some of Persevere’s best ideas would come from a prison cell. Drew is just one of the walking testimonies to the vision behind Persevere. He’s living proof that people who have made bad choices are not bad people at heart.
The participants seem to appreciate the way they’re treated at Persevere. “They’re all about it,” says Drew. “They love Persevere. They don’t care if it’s just coding, they want to be part of Persevere. They’re all about staying focused on the future. We all want to protect what Persevere is building and means to all of us.”