By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Joe Lowry leans close to the baby boy cradled in his arms, watching the child drift off to sleep.
New father Joe Lowry bends down to give his newborn baby Javon a kiss on his first day home in their Over-the-Rhine apartment.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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A pile of folded baby clothes is next to him on the couch. A tiny, brightly colored chair stands a few feet away. Bottles and formula and bibs are scattered from the kitchen to the bedroom.
Joe looks over the scene and smiles. "I can't believe I'm a father," he says. "I couldn't picture this happening."
Fatherhood is just one of the changes in Joe's life since he was featured four months ago in a series of Enquirer articles that described his first year of freedom after three years in prison for drug dealing.
During that year, Joe attended a drug program, got a job, passed his random drug tests and successfully completed parole. He also settled into a stable relationship with Rhonda Carter, the woman who stuck with him through his years in prison.
Now he's a father, too. JaVon Jahreil Lowry was born two weeks ago, a healthy 9 pounds, 6 ounces.
"Look at him," Joe says, still watching him sleep. "He's beautiful."
Despite his happiness, Joe knows that JaVon's arrival raises the stakes for him and his family. He now must learn to be a father while he continues to build a new life, one without drugs and crime.
Although he succeeded on parole, Joe has found that his task is no easier now than it was during his first year of freedom. He and Rhonda still live in an Over-the-Rhine apartment, still worry about getting mugged or shot, still struggle to pay the bills.
"Despite all the things he's been up against, he's been battling," says Danny Payton, a case manager recruiter for the Urban League. "He's taking suggestions from people. He's trying to get solid employment. He's trying to do the things that everyone else in society does."
Payton met Joe through the Urban League's job training program for ex-convicts, Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention (SOAR). He says Joe attended every day of the three-week program and completed it two months ago.
Payton, who also has served prison time, says he spoke to Joe often during the program about the need to stay focused on building a new life, no matter how frustrating the process may be. Too often, he says, ex-convicts give up and return to crime.
"We have a tendency to go back, to do what we used to do," Payton says. "Nothing happens overnight. You have to stay in the process."
And part of the process is learning the kind of daily routine - getting up for work, paying the bills - that most people take for granted.
Joe is still working on that.
He's stayed out of trouble, which is no small accomplishment for a man who has spent most of his adult life either in prison or on the street selling drugs. But he knows he needs to do more, especially now that he's a father.
His first priority is a job. He continued to do home repair work for most of this year, but the jobs and money dried up last month. In hopes of something more reliable, he's applied for maintenance and hotel jobs close to downtown.
With no car and no high school degree, Joe's options are limited.
He and Rhonda are getting by on help from family, food stamps and public assistance. They expect to be back on their own when Joe gets a new job and Rhonda returns to her job as a nursing assistant in eight weeks.
Relatives will help take care of JaVon while they work so they won't have to pay for daycare.
Joe says he's confident he and Rhonda will be working again soon, and that soon after they will be able to move.
"I'm not worried," Rhonda says. "I'm getting used to this mother thing."
They're also getting some help from friends at the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, which they started attending a few weeks before JaVon was born. One friend is trying to help them find an affordable apartment that will rent to Joe despite his criminal record.
Another friend, Nancy Chance, drives them to church on Sundays and has helped whenever possible with the baby. "I reached out," Chance says. "That's what we're supposed to do as Christians."
Unlike his old friends, some of whom still sell drugs, Joe says his new friends encourage him to stay clean.
But these days, he says, his son is the only motivation he needs.
Joe rises from the couch and gently places JaVon in the tiny chair next to him.
"He's going to be smarter than me," Joe says. "He's going to have it better than me."
The Enquirer's three-part series about Joe Lowry can be found online at http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2003/02/23/loc_parolee23.html
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