Finding his way home
October 1-7, 2018
By Jay Edwards
Last April, Depaul USA, which operates the Jericho Way mission, purchased a house on Heather Lane in east Little Rock with the purpose of housing the homeless.
“Depaul USA’s goal when it arrived in Little Rock was to grow and deepen the services at the Jericho Way Day Resource Center,” explained Depaul USA Executive Director Chuck Levesque. “Owning and managing housing for very low-income individuals is a logical next step in our growth in Little Rock and we look forward to more housing initiatives in the future.”
The first tenant in the Heather Lane home is Vincent Talley, who is the custodian at Jericho Way.
“When Mandy Davis (Jericho Way’s executive director) first told me about the house she said she was thinking I should be the one to live there,” Talley said. “I was so excited that I walked all the way from the mission to see it. It was one hot Saturday but I didn’t care. I was so excited.”
Talley’s new home is part of Depaul USA’s international 13 Houses campaign, a project aiming to end homelessness with the creation of affordable housing in every country.
“Part of the solution to homelessness is prevention,” said Levesque. “So part of prevention is having enough affordable housing that people can remain in and build their lives on – so it’s part of a prevention strategy as well as an alleviation strategy.”
Vincent Talley was at his usual post on a recent Thursday morning just inside the lower level entrance to Jericho Way, where he directs the homeless clients who begin arriving for different services the mission offers. “Today is art day,” Talley says, just as a woman enters and tells him she is there for “art.” He points down the hallway and she heads off, as he says to her, “Make sure you’re in there to do artwork and not just eat the snacks.
“It’s a popular program and a lot of good stuff comes out of there,” he says. “We encourage everyone to try the program.”
Jericho Way Executive Director Mandy Davis says the art program came about because she asked people what programs or services they’d like to see. “There were some people from an organization who wanted to come in and teach a course on financial planning,” Davis said. “Honestly, folks experiencing homelessness are not interested in how to manage money, they too often have none. Instead they want an opportunity to make money “a legitimate hustle,” that’s why the art program is so important, it’s truly a legitimate hustle created specifically with them in mind.
“They keep 75 percent of what their art is sold for and 25 percent is put back in the program for supplies. It’s been a wonderful thing so far.”
A man comes through the door and wants to take a shower. Talley hands him a towel and soap and the man asks for a razor as well, which he gets. Talley tells him to take shower B or C, and the man heads down the hall. “They get 15 minutes,” he said. “Most follow the rules, but some don’t and I have to remind them it’s time to come out.”
It was a long road to this spot for Talley, now in his early 50s. When he was a year old, his mother, a respiratory therapist, moved the family from Blytheville to the west side of Chicago. Talley had three older brothers and two more would come after him.
“I grew up in a high-rise apartment building, on the 16th floor,” he says. “I learned early on how to hustle, from my shoe shine box.” He also learned, before the age of ten, how to drink, do drugs and about being with women.
“The apartment where everyone congregated belonged to a woman named Tiny. It’s where all the pimps and drug dealers hung out. It was like Studio 54. And it was safe, there wasn’t any violence there. The one time there was violence on our floor was when this guy got his brains blown out. We had to step over his body. And you always knew when violence happened in the building because they shut down the elevators. If the elevator didn’t run you knew something had happened.”
When Talley was ten, his older brother, a gang member, was targeted by the gang for being a snitch. “He wasn’t a snitch, but someone said he was and that was enough to make them go after him. My brother almost killed the guy because he used his name.”
Fearful for her oldest son’s life, Beatrice Talley sent him back to Blytheville and the rest of the family soon followed. Talley was able to enroll himself in school and signed up for all the special ed classes, for an easier road. It wasn’t long before his mom got a letter from the school saying he needed to be in more advanced classes. “She wasn’t too happy,” Talley smiled.
He quickly figured out where and what to hustle in Blytheville. “There is a ‘Tiny’s’ in every town in America,” he says, “you just have to know where to look.”
He soon had a group of “home-boys” and it was back to business. “Blytheville was cool, but slower than Chicago,” Talley says. “They watched wrestling all the time and drank cheap wine. I wasn’t ready to slow down.”
He says the problem in moving to the more advanced classes in school wasn’t the difficulty of the work, it was leaving his crew behind. Still, he looked for the easiest way to get through the classes. “I spent so many hours making cheat sheets that when it was time to take the test, I knew the answers.
“School wasn’t that difficult for me, I just didn’t want to spend all that time there. I had better things to do. But I went, because my mom wanted me there.”
He graduated from high school in Blytheville in 1984 and spent the summer saying he was going into the military because it impressed the girls. “I’d tell one it was the Navy, and another, the Air Force,” he says. “I covered all the branches.”
He also traveled a lot. “We’d hop a train and go all over, Cleveland, St. Louis, even back to Chicago,” where he went to the old neighborhood, only to find the high-rises had been torn down and replaced with houses.
But Blytheville remained his home, and base for his main business, which was selling crack cocaine. It was lucrative for decades. “I flew under the radar,” he says. “I always drove other people’s cars. Never even had a license. I got arrested now and then, but no one ever testified. They knew better. So I never spent much time in jail.”
That life lasted until one early morning in August of 2015, when the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, named Blynd Justus, converged on Blytheville with 521 law enforcement officers, including the FBI and tactical officers.
This eventually led to more than 70 arrests, including Talley.
“They came in with tanks, and burnt houses down,” Talley remembers. “At the press conference they called us the most violent criminals in the history of the Delta.
“But I should not have been caught. They weren’t even targeting me. It was someone I knew they were watching, and he brought an informant to my house. We sold him some cocaine. Now they had the evidence on me. I knew it and so I turned myself in, got on the bus with the rest and they took me to Little Rock.”
When Talley remembers that fateful day, a day most would have viewed as the end, a contented smile forms on his face. “I was relieved,” he says. “It was finally over. It was like I was out of the darkness. I could see the light. The police weren’t after me anymore because they had me. It was like every debt I owed was right there. It was divine intervention.”
The prosecutor would ask the state to give him a sentence of 20 to 40 years. Even at that, he was still feeling a peace he’d never known before. “I was going to take whatever they gave me because of the relief I felt. Now, when they said, 20 to 40, I was shocked. But I was still OK, because I had this glorious, warm feeling that it was over. It’s hard to explain but I still have that same feeling.”
Some hard work from his attorney, Chris Palmer, got the sentence reduced to five years. That, along with time served, good behavior and two years probation, meant Talley would spend one year in the federal correctional institution in Forrest City.
When he was released, he was supposed to be sent back to Blytheville, which, he says, “would have likely put me right back in the darkness.” But as he sat waiting at the prison for the van to pick him up, it never arrived, and they sent him to Little Rock instead, which led to the Union Rescue Mission, which led to meeting Mandy Davis and becoming the custodian for Jericho Way, and into his new home on Heather Lane.
“More divine intervention,” Talley says of the van not showing up to take him back to Blytheville.
This summer he did return to east Arkansas, for a reconciliation with his mom. “My Mom is barely five feet tall but she hugged me so tight when she saw me and just rocked me,” he says. “It was so emotional. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Talley’s oldest brother, who had lived a similar life of crime, passed away from a heart attack years ago. “I saw him before he died,” Talley says. “He had turned his life around. When we met that last time I was still in the darkness, but he had found the light. Now I’ve made it to the light as well. It’s an amazing thing.”
Located on Little Rock’s Springer Boulevard, Jericho Way Resource Center provides services to help individuals transition out of homelessness. An offshoot of Depaul USA which operates the Jericho Way Mission, the center was able to purchase a house in East Little Rock with the purpose of housing the homeless this past April. Meet Vincent Talley, the first housed tenant. (Photo by Becca Bona)
Vincent Talley mans his post as custodian at Jericho Way on Springer Boulevard in Little Rock. (Photo by Becca Bona)