A decade before he became a homeless crack addict, Jason fell in love with art.“My brother would do these little cartoons, so I started doing little sketches and stuff,” he said. “I had a natural knack for it.”It was an optimistic respite from the drugs and gang violence that permeated Jason's upbringing in 1980s south-central Los Angeles.
"I've seen a lot of bad things happen to people," he said. "It influences your life when you grow up around it."
When Jason was in high school, his mother moved the family from California to Texas in hope of giving them a better life. But the seeds crime and gang affiliation had been planted in young Jason. By the time he was 17, Jason was a high-school dropout serving his first jail sentence in California. Rather than scare him straight, the experience increased his tolerance for incarceration."I got out of jail and wanted to be a drug dealer,” he said.He excelled at the dope game. He sold thousands of dollars’ worth of crack cocaine and heroin each day. But when Jason himself became addicted to crack and heroin, he found himself homeless in the hot Texas sun.
“My life dramatically changed the moment I smoked crack for the first time,” he said. “I went from being the big man on the block to eating out the trash.”
Jason was arrested on drug charges for the second time and did more than a decade in the Texas prison system. But he made the best of it, rekindling his passion for art and learning a new trade as a welder.
“I knew that I couldn’t go back and sell dope,” he said. “I had enough sense to know I needed to change.”When Jason was released in his mid-thirties, life was looking up. He got married and worked as a welder. But his marriage imploded in just two years and Jason relapsed. He was once again homeless.“This relapse was extremely fast,” he said. “I was really down and out.”This time, Jason had some idea of what he should do. He sought help at a local homeless shelter, found a job and met the woman who would eventually become his wife. The two decided their future was elsewhere, and in December 2017 they boarded a bus to Colorado Springs.“We took my last $500, got on a Greyhound and went straight to the Springs,” he said. “We ended up at the Mission.”Their first week at Springs Rescue Mission, the couple began trudging through the snow each day to find work. The second week, Jason found a job a local tire shop.
“I knew I had to have a positive attitude and I knew I needed to get a job,” he said. “The drive was there.”
The two stayed in the shelter for the better part of a year. Jason once again made the best of the cards he was dealt.“We’d stay in the shelter at night, then I’d get up in the morning and give 110 percent at work all day,” he said. “I was determined.”Jason and his wife found support and encouragement at the Mission. His love of art was once again stoked by a woman who taught art classes in the Resource Center. “She was such an instrumental force in my life,” he said. “That’s what started my art career out in Colorado. She encouraged me and believed in me.”Eventually, Jason resumed his career in welding and quickly climbed to a position of leadership. He was dedicated to giving his new bride a better life. He worked hard and eventually moved the two into permanent housing in 2019.
“It all starts with your mentality,” he said. “You have to get to that point where enough is enough, and then you’re ready to make change. I genuinely wanted change.”
Recently, Jason decided to pursue his lifelong passion of art. He is now a full-time artist, working in mixed media and his current show at Orly’s Gallery of Art in downtown Colorado Springs combines paint, canvas and clay to create brightly colored 3D animals. Jason, now 44, smiles when he thinks about his future as an artist and husband — especially given the context of how far he’s come.“I’m pursuing my dreams and the career I want,” he said. The driving force in his life is his faith. He explains that everything he has done or will ever do is thanks to God, and he’s quick to give him credit. “Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for taking me out of the darkness,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot in life, and now I get to use that to give others encouragement.”