Turnaround profiles: Will Fields

turnaround podcasts
turnaround profiles
Turnaround blog

In prison for gang activity, Will begins to see the absurdity of it all

“I would say, be serious about life,” Fields said. “Don’t lose your humanness. It’s OK to have pride in your race, but don’t forget that we are all human. Listen to the inner voice inside yourself that tells you right from wrong.You know when someone is telling you something that’s not right.”

Excerpted from “Surviving a Murder Epidemic” | by Eric Schulzke | Deseret News | April 15, 2014

WILL FIELDS WANTED TO be a scientist as a young boy. He had a chemistry set, a telescope, and a microscope with slides, and for Christmas he once asked for math flash cards. He went to school at Brentwood Science Magnet School, near Beverly Hills. Every afternoon he went home to his neighborhood of run down streets, crack addicts on the corners, homes without fathers, communities without jobs — and gang warfare everywhere. “You start to realize your place in life,” Fields says. “You see that you’re at the bottom of the barrel. This your lot. This is going to be you life. As a child it’s frightening to see that reality.”

THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN his tony school and his squalid streets and home life wore him down. Mocked by friends for using big words, he got no encouragement for his academic hopes. He rarely saw his father. His mother struggled to raise two boys, who as they grew became too much for her to handle.

IN THE END, he found validation on the streets. He started his own gang activity at 12, and by 13 he was smoking weed, drinking, breaking into cars, beating people up, and packing “little pistols” in his waistband. He began running with the Hoover Criminals, a major offshoot of the Crips that dominated his neighborhood. Arrested when he was 19, he pled guilty to three counts of attempted murder. He spent the next six years in prison, a detour turned his life around and may well have saved it.

FIELDS IS NOT a scientist today, but he does have a rewarding union job as an electrical lineman. He works hard hours for good pay, and already owns some rental properties. In the interval he’s been married, and though his wife and he are now separated, Will is an attentive father to a precocious six-year old son.

HE IS ALSO A committed Christian. “I always believed in God, even when I was young,” he says. But as a teenager he told himself that he was fighting thugs and acting in self defense. “It’s no secret that you can convince yourself that anything you are doing is correct,” he notes.

WHEN HE GOT TO PRISON, he initially came out fighting, looking to represent his gang on the inside. He got in trouble brawling and spent time in solitary confinement, while others turned the switch off and on at will. This dumbfounded him. Fields today is an intense character, with measured words and a serious face. Being a gangster was not a game for him.

BEFORE LONG THE OTHERS took him aside. “It’s not like that here,” they said. The biggest impact came from a older inmate, an “enemy” in the gang world, who took him aside and gave him books to read. One book in particular, Black Men, Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?: The Afrikan American Family in Transition, hit him hard. “Everything I read in there was me,” Will says. “I was being a parasite on my own community.”

HE CAME OUT determined to do something different. “I was not going back,” Will said, “even if that meant I had to sweep floors.” He plunched into school, earning an AA and an electrical certificate at a community college. He worked selling mattresses for awhile, and then got his break to become an apprentice electrical lineman. He got that break in 2012, and now works long hours for good pay. He’s been saving his money, and already owns a couple of rental units. After three years, in January he’ll earn the coveted “journeyman” rank.

TWO WEEKS AFTER he left prison in 2007, Fields had sat down with Renford Reese, a political science professor at Cal Poly Pomona. At the end of the interview, Reese asked, “What would you tell you son if you had one today?”

“I would say, be serious about life,” Fields said. “Don’t lose your humanness. It’s OK to have pride in your race, but don’t forget that we are all human. Listen to the inner voice inside yourself that tells you right from wrong. You know when someone is telling you something that’s not right. You know when someone is telling you something good, even though you may not want to hear it.”

Avoid fantasies you get from movies and entertainment, he continued, speaking to his future son. Steer clear of the stereotypes people try to fit you into. “Sometimes cut the music off. Chill in silence. Reflect on where your life is going. Be serious about life.”

Fields son, now 6, is old enough to begin to understand his dad’s words, and build a future that avoids his dad’s mistakes.

No one is ever compensated for doing a profile at Youturn.org. Their only motive is helping to change lives by changing minds. If you know someone who would make a great profile, let us know.

1. Job interview (4:37)

How do you explain an attempted murder charge in a job interview?

2. How it began (4:40)

Will compares his Brentwood magnet school to poverty and despair at home.

3. Gang life (5:54)

Gang life offers a sense of purpose and identity. Before long, Will goes all in.

4. “This is it.” (3:59)

In prison Will keeps gang banging, but the contradictions begin to wear on him.

5. Not going back (7:02)

Offered a book by an “enemy,” Will sees himself and recognizes the absurdity all around him. He won’t be coming back.

6. College (4:24)

Will goes to school to become an electrical lineman, shedding the gang image.

7. Mattresses (5:15)

Will sells mattresses while waiting for his break, learning valuable people skills as he does.