I’d seen him out on the Philly networking and event scene quite a few times before this moment. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned just from observing him, he’s often the life of the party–the one who, even when dressed professionally, exudes…life.
I believe that when you look a person into their eyes, I mean really look them in their eyes, you can sense their story–whether they’ve been through some things and truly lived, or whether they’re just existing in whatever state they’ve found most comforting.
So when I found myself seated across from him at his desk, recorder placed between us on his cluttered desk full of papers regarding youth-related opportunities, I took one last “real” look in his eyes and prepared myself for his story.
“What you want me tell you?” he asks, looking across his desk at me. He’s a little uneasy as he glances at the recorder; the bright red light seems to glare among the sea of white papers on his desk.
“Who are you, what do you do,” I prompt, attempting to relax the atmosphere. His story has never really been told–he’s made that clear–especially not like this…with the press and such. I can only imagine how my shadowing him for a few hours may be just enough to cause some nervousness.
Community Partnership Liaison?
In short, his position is housed under the Mayor’s Office of Community Services. One of the departments’ main goals is to help move anyone who’s living 125% below the poverty line to sustainability through community services. That means for a household of one, you must make less than 15k annually; for a household of two [combined income] you must make less than 20k annually; and so forth.
“Given my life and my background, I focus primarily on kids. I think that if we put kids in a position to be successful, then they won’t even find themselves in those situations—because we’re talking generational poverty here. In that generational poverty [there’s]: attitude, behavior, demeanor and so forth; those things [also] play a part in it,” he explains. I watch the passion flare up ever so smoothly in his eyes.
Given your life? About that…
“I was abandon as a kid. My mom took me to the police station when I was eight-years-old and left me there. I ended up being adopted by the man who owned a gas station across the street from where I lived at. When he found out what happened, he came to the police station and got me,” he says with a hint of a smile on his face.
Well damn, there goes that story I was preparing for.
His smile fades, “the one thing that he couldn’t do—that nobody could do, because only I could: he couldn’t erase the pain.
If my mom didn’t want me, why would anyone else want me?“
That nagging question, buried under a ton of love showered to him by his adoptive father, followed him throughout his life. It wasn’t until he was about 28 or 29 years of age that he really began to confront the question that spawned so many insecurities within him. He served in the military; went in to work every day; never ran the streets or sold drugs, so by all standards he was a responsible, upstanding citizen.
But he was a broken, angry one.
In his mind, he had to constantly prove to people that he was somebody because he felt that they had already written him off. He believed that the one thing he could control was how people treated him; those moments of anger served as an opportunity to make it clear that he was not to be toyed with. Interestingly enough, the young Maxwell Brown is who and what enables him to relate to youth today. This is in part because of the fact that up until his late twenties, life was much like being in a football game or boxing match in the sense that: you don’t really have the time to sit back to digest and analyze your actions or decisions; you’re largely reacting to whatever risks comes with your position. This only makes it easier to blame others instead of stopping to examine your actions. It’s only when you’re taken out the game or get the chance to study the film, do you see what you could have done differently.
I’m not going to lie or front, that’s his analogy not mine…but I thought it a good one none-the-less.
However, when your mom has just abandoned you at 8 years-old and you’ve been adopted by the guy from across the street…none of this is even conceivable. Hell, it may have been hard enough just trying to wrap your mind around the fact that your “new dad” (never mind the fact that you’ve never met your biological one) is 100%, first-generation Italian…in 1977.
“He was my hero. He came over here from Italy and worked the railroads for almost 20 years and then he had an injury. He and his business partner bought a gas station—I remember the day it happened: Nov. 26, 1976,” Maxwell says smiling, “His name was Salvatore Ciletti and they called it S & M Gas Station because his business partners’ name was Mario.”
“Is he still around?” I ask, wanting to meet him. By this point he’s told me of how Salvatore had to drop out of school in the seventh grade back in Italy to help take care of his family; how he’d pay for stranger’s lunch if they agreed to sit and chat with them all because he wanted his son to see that color didn’t matter due to the fact that “you can always find something in common with a person”; and how he absolutely loved deep sea fishing.
His face drops and a sadness shrouds around him.
“No, no. Unfortunately he passed away October 15th, 1998. Terrible,” he says with a shake of the head.
Terrible because not only did his father pass, he did so after suffering a heart attack while on the highway headed to pick up the boat that he commissioned to have built the year prior. He was finally retiring and look forward to spending time on his boat, fishing with all of his family.
He never got to see the boat.
“I was in prison at this time and that was terrible because I use to tell him all the time: I love you, I love you and he said to me, ‘when I need you the most you’re not going to be here’. And it was true. It stung me inside. He never got to enjoy what he wanted to do. So it was kind of tough,” his voice is thick…with guilt.
It was at that point in his life that he had time to really face those tough questions as well as that moment…the moment his anger finally struck with a fatal vengeance.
“What was that moment like?” I ask knowing it was touchy subject.
His body stiffens some as he slightly cocks his head to the side and stares at me. After a brief pause, he takes a deep breath and his shoulders drop.
“It was SO real. It was so real…because I had already made up my mind–almost like you deciding that you need something to eat—like I’m getting ready to go kill this dude. I called up a couple of my friends and said this is what we need to do. I grab my vest, we grabbed some guns and I went looking for him. It was just that simple,” he says.
“Well damn. How did you get to that point?” I ask.
“Umm,” he starts to nervously chuckle, “long story short, I was dating this girl, he happened to be going with the same girl,” the phone rings, and he answers, “ok be right down. THANK YOU!”
There’s no doubt about this one: he says his last statement with relief. We pack up our things and head to a tinted truck. Our first stop is a local apparel store to pick up giveaway donations and then we’re off to a high school where he mentors youth.
I’ve heard great things about his work and now I finally get to see him in action.
As soon as we get settled in the car, I request that the radio be turned down and turn the recorder on as I lean into the front passenger seat.
“I didn’t know he was dating the same girl. So long story short he found out—I told the girl I didn’t want to mess with her anymore, she then went and told him that I hit her, so he came down there looking for me,” he explains.
After finding Maxwell, the Junior Black Mafia-associated man called Maxwell to his car to talk and immediately threw a blow his way. Once the altercation was broken up, Maxwell found out about the young lady’s apparent lies and where the hostility came from. He then contacted a JBM affiliate to inquire about the entire ordeal in attempt to fix it.
“Moochie called me back like two days later and was like, He said he goin’ kill you. I was stopped at a light [later] and he was actually shooting up my car. That’s what made me call my homies and then I sped off and I went looking for him,” he explains.
They found him in his home. Maxwell had a young man knock on the front door and when the guy went to run out the back door, he was greeted with his demise.
Once reality sunk in, Maxwell went on the run to Atlanta.
“My pop being the man that he is—and me being the man that I am—my pop was like we don’t run from nothing, whatever the issue is, let’s deal with it. So, I came back, I got a lawyer and I turned myself in—which was the HARDEST thing to do on the face of the Earth. But I turned myself in and thus the journey began,” he says in slight daze.
He was slapped with reality quickly. He thought he would go to trial in three to four months. HA! After being denied bail in his preliminary hearing, he was forced to “sit” for the next year of his life…at 20 years-old. When it came time for his trial, he was placed in a holding cell with two others: Aaron Jones and Anthony “2 Guns” Fletcher. They waited to receive their verdicts for their respective crimes—both 1st degree murder and both went on to receive the death penalty.
“I didn’t even want to go in the courtroom. Like…I mean literally I couldn’t even walk,” he says shaking his head as he relives them each walking back into the cell after their ruling.
And then his turn came…
“They found me guilty of 3rd degree murder and—this is the first time anyone is ever hearing this EVER—after they found me guilty I asked the sheriff and them to put me in a separate cell. I could not face Aaron and them; I could not go back in that cell and say to them…you know what I mean? I couldn’t do it. I could not do it,” he says shaking his head more forcefully.
After his status hearing and sentencing, the football numbers started rolling in. Meanwhile, all during this time Maxwell is still angry—now more so at the fact that, “this dude was trying to kill me. What was I supposed to do? Somebody tell me what I was supposed to do.” In his mind, he was “keeping true to the streets” and anybody from the streets knows, the cops don’t necessarily get called and a police report damn sure is rarely filed. His mentality when approaching his options were simple: “If this is the work he want, this is the work he goin’ get”.
Well the man definitely “got that work” and then Maxwell “got that work”…thirty-four and a half [34 ½ ] years worth of it. That included: 3rd degree murder, conspiracy and recklessly endangering another person’s life—which started to add up since the judge issued this ruling for all 15 people who were present at the time of the crime.
“As he’s sentencing me—that’s what I said,” says Maxwell as the car stops in front of our first destination, “you coming in?”
I shake my head as we get out the car and head in. Minutes later we emerge with the bag full of giveaway items for the high school students and settle into the car once again.
Knowing that this time, we’ll be afforded a longer car ride–which means more time for a sustained amount of questioning and insight into this man’s life, I try to prepare myself yet again.
As we hit I-76, I turn the recorder back on and start again, “So, 34 ½ years…”
Stop by next week to check out Part II of Maxwell’s story:
He opens up about his time behind bars, which included nearly two years spent in the “hole”; how he finally faced his demons; his re-entry into society; and the moment his “scarlet letter“, C for Convict, was permanently removed.
Thank you Maxwell, for being brave enough to not let your past define you. Thank you for showing others–especially our youth– through your story that it’s possible to change and more importantly, it’s possible to heal and subsequently empower others.
– Sincerely Syreeta