A young Nancy Kay Shults had three sons with Joe Parsee. From the oldest to the youngest, the order is: myself, Jerry, and Jeffrey. When I was four, my mother was killed by gunfire, which forced my father to step up. We moved in with his girlfriend Mary, my oldest stepbrother Jo-Jo, and my grandmother. As the year went by, my father wasn’t capable of taking care of his four sons. He gave custody of Jo-Jo to my grandma and custody of my baby brother Jeffrey to an uncle. That left Jerry and I with him and Mary. Dad believed he was capable of taking care of at least two boys.
We lived at grandma’s house, in the garage. For many years, I didn’t understand why Jerry and I lived in a garage with Dad and Mary while Jo-Jo stayed in the house with grandma. At the age of 7, I started to recognize a lot of things. My father and Mary were strung out on drugs. Mary and I never saw eye to eye; in fact, I hated her because she always told me and Jerry that we weren’t my father’s sons. We were forced to call her “Mom”, and since I was against it, I would get my butt whooped. Mary would like to embarrass me any way she could, but she wouldn’t do it around my dad. Sometimes, when I would tell my father what Mary was saying, he would beat her, which made me cry. Even though I didn’t like her, I still knew that my father beating on her was wrong.
At five years old, I was running track with Jo-Jo, his friends, and some girls. There were about a dozen kids there I normally played with. While we were running, Mary came out and yelled, “James! COME HERE!” When I walked over, she had a pair of underwear in her hands. As I got closer, she threw them in my face and shouted for all to hear, “Didn’t I tell you about wiping your ass the right way? Now put them drawers on your head.” I was crying and embarrassed because all the other kids started laughing at me. This traumatic situation led me to start fighting. Whenever somebody brought that situation up, I automatically fought them. I was ready to fight whoever dared to laugh at me.
I started running the streets to prove I was strong and worthy of respect. When I got home late, I would get locked out and end up sleeping outside in a chair with my dog. In the seventh grade, I said inappropriate things to my teacher. The school wanted to kick me out, but they didn’t because the coach who knew my situation at home and my potential with sports vouched for me and requested a suspension instead. Before I could return to school, I had to attend a parent’s conference meeting. Unfortunately, Mary took me because my father was too high. Mary made sure to let the school know she was late for work when we walked into the office, but they told us to wait for five minutes. After the five minutes was up, Mary got up yelling that the school wasn’t a good school and for them to check me out. A lady tried to calm Mary down, but she had made up her mind and we went to her job. Later that night, I experienced the worst beating of my life from my father. A broken finger and my head was busted open by a tennis racket. All because Mary claimed I got kicked out of school. In the morning, I confronted them about Mary’s half-truth while they were in my grandmother’s kitchen. Mary went off, verbally attacking me. I ran outside and started yelling back and forth with her. Mary then threw a kitchen knife at me. It missed and hit the gate instead. A man from the neighborhood tried to intervene, but Mary continued yelling at me to leave and never come back.
I was twelve years old and homeless. I found acceptance from a gang in the neighborhood. Every time I saw my father looking for me, I would hide or run because I didn’t want to go back. I preferred to be homeless than to be beaten. I was either living in different, dope spots or standing outside with the homies in the cold. I became desperate and made all kinds of poor choices to get money to buy food, clothes, and weed. The first time I went to jail was for a robbery I did after being homeless for three months. When I was given my phone call, I didn’t know who to call except for my father. Later, I was released on probation to my father, but as soon as I was out of his sight, I went back to the streets.
In 2002, I was fourteen years old and was arrested for a shooting. I ended up beating that charge just to face another attempted murder charge. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders; I was fighting for my life against crimes I had no knowledge of. I was given a life sentence at the age of fifteen and was sent to Tehachapi Prison. I had to become a man quickly because I didn’t want anyone to see how scared I was. Within nine days of me being in that prison, I witnessed a man lose his life violently, which made me realize how easily that could be me. I promised myself that I wouldn’t end up like that. I became the animal the courts claimed I was.
In 2014, laws were changing and I was getting sick of the cycle I’d put myself through. I had a hard time trying to change until I found something I never had: love. I met this woman Nisha through my homeboy. Nisha and I corresponded through letters, and she taught me how to open up to God again. Now, I live my life for my Creator and vow to be a better man. I also show my wife how thankful I am for her giving me hope, strength, a second chance at life, and love.