Abussamaa Ramziddin was just 8 years old when he went into New Jersey’s foster care system.
“We had some troubles in my home, so I was removed from the home,” Abussamaa said. “Once a child, especially a black male, enters a state system, your life is never the same.”
As a teenager, Abussamaa fell into criminal trouble. For 30 years, he cycled in and out of prison. In 2012, he had an epiphany. “You just have enough. You wake up one day and say: ‘I can’t do this,’” he said. “Life doesn’t stop when you’re in prison. Each time you get arrested, time stands still. When you return to society after leaving that social graveyard, you’re psychologically set back even further.”
A tough-talking probation officer kicked him into gear. “He said: ‘If you don’t give yourself a chance and go to counseling, you’re going to find yourself locked up again.” Abussamaa said. “His threat played loud in my head. But he didn’t hound me, because I didn’t give him that opportunity – I was determined I wouldn’t go back. So I went to counseling, and it turned out to be the best move I ever made. Because that second chance that I always said I wanted and didn’t give myself? I gave myself. I came to the program, and I met good people.”
Abussamaa did both one-on-one counseling and group therapy at Catholic Charities’ Guidance Clinic, where he focused twice a week on improving his mental health.
“It was simple, like basic mathematics,” he said of his recovery. “I grew, and I continued to grow. I’ve become a productive member of society. I’m not out here committing crimes. I’m a registered voter. I don’t have any probation. I don’t have to look over my shoulder or worry about a warrant, because I served. I did what I had to do to get back on track. It wasn’t easy. But I did it.”
He still goes to Guidance Clinic twice a month and credits his counselors and other clinic staff with keeping him on a positive path.
“Catholic Charities has been a great support,” he said. “Throughout your recovery, you have to continually face yourself. Your enemy doesn’t always appear as an aggressor. Your enemy might be the devil inside you. Catholic Charities helps you get past that by staying in your ear, reminding you to remind yourself: ‘This is what you gotta do. Go do it.’”
Kia Macon, care coordinator of Mercer Outpatient Services, has worked with Abussamaa and said he has worked hard to be where he is today. “Abussamaa is that ideal client that you can look and see the progress, from federal prison release to having an apartment to maintaining his overall health and well-being,” she said.
Abussamaa got his commercial driver’s license and plans to go to school to become a paralegal in hopes of advocating for people coming out of the foster and criminal justice systems. “I want to do something to help people who are similarly situated like me,” he said.
Seven years after leaving prison behind, he now lives with his dog Blanco and finds joy everywhere he goes. “I enjoy everything being out of prison. Life is wonderful. I got a saying for you: ‘Man asked God: Give me everything so I can enjoy life. God said: I gave you life so you can enjoy everything.’ If you appreciate the little things, you can appreciate everything. There’s not one thing I don’t enjoy. Every breath I take is phenomenal. A lot of people don’t get a chance to say that. Your worst day could be somebody’s best day. I’m happy for every opportunity I get. And I’m going to keep trying to reach for every opportunity I can.”