In New Haven, at any point in time, 700 people are homeless. Peter Cox was once one of those 700, bearing a common story: teenage alcoholic with dreams of being a gangster, young black male behind bars, absent father, and homeless on the streets of New Haven. But today, Pete is an exception. He is hardworking, clean, and sober. He is a family man and a homeowner. His tale is one of imperfection, and one of hope.
Pete was born in 1963 into a good family in New Haven. His parents worked steady jobs but divorced when he was young. Resentful of the way his father mistreated his mother, Pete rebelled. By the time he was in his teens, Pete had an alcohol problem. He used liquor as a way to escape from home and enter the fantasy of the streets, where he saw dealers driving big cars without working an honest day. He wanted to be like them, wanted to be the Scarface of his generation. In order to support his drinking and fulfill his gangster ambitions, Pete turned to robbing stores and banks.
In 1982, a 19-year-old Pete was arrested for robbery in New Haven and sentenced to five years in prison. After serving his time, Pete moved to Georgia to live with his brother and stay out of the trouble New Haven brewed for him. But within a year of being released from behind bars, he was arrested again for larceny. He got into altercations in the Georgia prison that led to his sentence being extended to 10 years, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement, where he was locked up for 23 hours per day. Pete says that around year five or six of his time in the Georgia prison, he realized he needed to make a change. “Prison saved me in more ways then one,” he says. “If I had not gotten incarcerated, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. I don’t think I’d even be alive. Prison redemption is for real.”
When Pete got out of prison in 1998, at age 35, he didn’t know how to work a microwave or a cell phone. He returned to New Haven and set about the struggle to pull his life together. Like many recently released prisoners trying to reintegrate into society, Pete became homeless. But he stayed sober and leaned on his godfather, mother, and friends for support. He admits, “I’m here because of other people.”
Today, Pete lives a life that is “not about dollars or cents.” He has money in the bank he used to rob. He works with the homeless as a case manager for the South Central Behavioral Health Network (SCBH) and mans the third watch night shift at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. He often works sixteen-hour days and for years went unpaid at SCBH — his work was simply his way of giving back.
For Pete, every day is a bonus: “I’m 46 years old, and I’m still here. Statistically I’m not supposed to be here. It’s a God-given gift. And if I fall short of being perfect, oh well. Because that’s God’s job — being perfect. I’m glad that I fall short. Lets me know that I’m human.”
Pete usually refuses to be interviewed. He does not want any fame for his story — that’s not him. Therefore, I am even more grateful he has allowed me to enter his life, meet his mother and wife, and spend time in his home. I believe he has let me in because he trusts me to understand his story and share it with others in a meaningful way. The best I can do is to show his life as it is. Flawed and inspirational.