For some, it takes more than two chances to get things right and in order. Life happens, things happen, and people make mistakes. Ronald Lee, 25-year-old Chicago native, is living proof that one can overcome their regrettable past and live their dream.
Lee has spent six years of his young life in prison. He has been convicted of two felonies, and many had lost hope for his life.
After serving 4.5 years in prison for an armed robbery charge, Lee had initially begun to start a new life and never look back. Unfortunately, things did not work out as smoothly as planned.
Nearly three months later he had been arrested again, this time being charged with aggravated use of a firearm by felon. He then had to serve an additional two years in prison until his release in 2015.
After Lee’s second conviction he would often get discouraged while incarcerated. “The way prison is set up, it’s set up to break you down. The gray and brick walls, the bars on the door, it’s set up to break you mentally and make you submit. The things you are subject to on a daily basis, it’s just really made to break you. I honestly feel like it’s similar to a slave master on a plantation” Lee said.
Though he has made mistakes and was guilty of the crimes, Lee always had family and friends in his corner who never stopped believing in him. But after being incarcerated the second time, he often began to doubt himself. “Once I got out and then I went back, I started to feel hopeless. I started to question my faith. I started to ask myself is this really for me? Is this my story? Am I just going to be in and out of jail my entire life?” Lee told the Chicago Defender.
But a letter that Lee received from his grandmother during his second prison term restored his faith and was all the inspiration he needed to transform his life. In the letter his grandmother informed him that she loved him, and that she still believed in him. She told him that she was confident that he will still achieve all of the goals that he has set out for himself, and that prison was not the plan for his life.
Lee is doing just that. Since his release in 2015 he has become a motivational speaker who addresses youth across the city of Chicago. He has spoken at Kennedy-King College, as well as various non-profit organizations and churches across the South Side. He feels obliged to encourage black youth, constantly informing them of the importance of living a crime-free life.
The Chicago Defender asked, “Would you have listened to you if the tables were turned?” Lee had an intriguing response.
“I would have heard them but I probably wouldn’t have listened. But on a scale of 1-10, my passion for speaking and encouraging youth is a 10. I do this for them. I don’t do it for monetary gain. I do it to share my story, help the people from my neighborhood, people from Englewood, people that are from anywhere. When they look at me, they can see someone who has actually lived through the story that they are speaking about. I know firsthand the consequences that can happen for making bad decisions. I can relate to the youth, I’m not someone that came from the suburbs and cannot identify with the harsh realities our youth face in the city on a daily basis. I’ve went back and forth from jail throughout my entire youth, and then I came and made something of myself. I speak to show that it is possible; it’s never too late to make something of yourself,” Lee said. He hopes that his inspiring words resonate with the young people.
Lee also has his hand in other business ventures. “Fly Money” is a brand that he and his brothers created one year ago. The “Fly Money” creators produce modern, urban clothing apparel, though it plans to become much more versatile with its merchandise. They currently sell T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants and scarves as their young business evolves.
Mistakes will always be made. Solutions for those mistakes are pivotal to one’s success. Lee shows that prison does not always determine one’s future. More important, he demonstrates that confidence in the self, and unconditional love from family is what matters most.