"I was adventurous. I wouldn't have minded going to Vietnam. I cannot sit. I've got to go do something. I want to wear out, not rust out. That's why I've been in Norway, Germany, Africa. I'm learning by seeing. People say, 'Aren't you scared?' I say, 'No, I'm from the West Side.'
"I've got a picture of me taking rocks off the Berlin Wall a week after the wall came down. I was a member of the Kiwanis Club, and they had a trip to Norway. On my African trips, the one to Nairobi was through the Gideon ministry. I just got back from another trip to Nigeria. There's an African with Bayer Crop and he liked me and he took me over there for a wedding. Those people took care of me like I was a baby when they found out I was an old man.
"I worked at FMC Ordnance, DuPont and Carbide and retired from John Amos after 25 years. Every job I go to, people think I'm smart because I run my mouth.
"At John Amos, they took me off the floor as a maintenance mechanic and made me something I couldn't even spell. I was an expediter. I did that for 18 years. If a piece of ordered equipment was delayed, my job was to find out what it would take to get it to the job site.
"I've been mentoring men at the South Central jail for about 18 years. When I first started, I made a mistake. I would begin to help people get out. Then I thought no, they've got a record. So I don't help people to get out, I help them not to go back. I learned that by doing.
"I discovered these people in jail had children. I started a service called Family Youth and Development, mentoring children whose parents were in prison.
"I don't want to say I preach to them. I'd rather say I mentor to them. I try to deal with them the same way I do with my seven kids and 25 grandkids, and they've all turned out pretty good.
"I believe in child abuse. I abuse them now so the law won't abuse them later. If I have to chop and hack on them, I do what I have to do to get their attention.
"Meanwhile, working at the Kanawha Presbyterian Church, I met the people who started this center run by West Virginia State University. I asked them if I could clean the building for a fee and an office. That's the way I run my service. I call myself the old janitor.
"About three years ago, my wife was feeding some kids I was mentoring and she asked them if they knew where the corn and green beans came from. They said Kroger, and they were serious. So immediately, I started community gardens and it has exploded.
"See that plow in the picture there? I took that plow and plowed up a portion on Sixth Avenue and Rebecca Street. Larry Poore, the lawyer, allowed me to have this plot of ground. Last year, I had peppers, tomatoes, beans, anything you could grow, right there in the heart of the West Side.
"My strategy is to bring people together, kids and adults. I have another garden across from Shining Way.
"I don't like to depend on grant money. If you depend on that and the grant is gone, you don't have any money. People make contributions to me through the West Side Neighborhood Association. They write a check to the association and the money is put there for me.
"We're going to do urban farming and have an outdoor classroom and a children's discovery garden.
"The highlight of my week is Wednesday at 10 o'clock. I go to Venture Lanes and bowl with mentally challenged children and adults. They actually taught me how to bowl. I don't know who's having mental problems, them or me. For three and a half years, I've never missed being with them. I want to encourage them but they encourage me.
"I went away to a laughing clinic in Ohio that certifies people to get people to laugh. I was going to open a therapeutic laughter thing, but it was taking too much away from my main goals, like the jail ministry. I'm going to start it back up. I've got all the paperwork.
"The saddest time in my life was going through a divorce. Karl Marx said religion was the opium of the people. My religion is Christianity. Christ came down, you accept his plan of salvation, and that is it. Religion is when you fight everything to please God. Religion actually caused my divorce. My wife became very overzealous. I felt more sorrow for my wife than I did anger. She left a good man like me.
"Then I married Phyllis, a very nice woman who helped me overcome a lot of things. I'm so blessed.
"It would be an eternity to tell you my experiences. I've had an excellent life. I only regret the divorce, but I overcame that.
"I wish blacks would experience the era I came through. They have so many advantages now. But I don't look back. Don't drive forward looking back or you will crash."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.