“Those Things That Are Best” has been the motto of Oak Park and River Forest High School since 1908. Along with adopting the school’s motto, Steven Clark, class of 1984, has learned to travel the road of honesty and truth while pursuing his happiness.
Clark, 41, was released from the Sheridan Federal Penitentiary in June 2007, and has vowed never to return. With the barbering skills he acquired from Sheridan, Clark hopes to offer others what was given to him: a second chance.
“I can’t recall the last time I felt normal,” he said. “Since I’ve come up with the idea to give back, it makes me feel normal.”
Last Wednesday, Clark was at the Westside Health authority (WHA), 5816 W. Division, giving haircuts to a waiting list of men. In his desire to give back, Clark has decided to offer free haircuts to parolees or to those who simply can’t afford to pay for one.
Every Wednesday evening, Clark, a father of three, will be at WHA “giving back.”
“If you can name it or if I can see it, I can cut it, said an eager Clark. “It was presented to me by the Community and Support Advisory Councils as unpaid service work. And I said ‘I will look at it as service work for the Lord.'”
As for what provoked his change of heart – and mind, Clark said, “I got tired of being tired. I just wanted to live right. And it started with change.”
Quoting Albert Einstein, he added, “Doing the same thing and expecting different results is insanity.”
Clark offers haircuts from 5-7 p.m. One of his first costumers last week was Jose Lopez, himself recently released from prison. Lopez, who had his two sons with him, asked for fade.
“It makes you feel good inside because you have to take care of yourself and your hair, but you don’t have that much money,” said Lopez. “When you go on a job, you have to look your best.”
Clark’s hair-cutting service at WHA doesn’t pay him anything, and he’s not looking to make money off of it. He just enjoys what he does and working at the WHA. He’s still trying to find steadier work with better pay.
“I want to do right, and I’m trying to do right. The only thing that’s hindering me right now is finding a [permanant] job,” said the former Oak Park resident. “I know the importance of a job now, and I didn’t know this at first. A real man works. He may not like the job, but he’s going to work and take care of his family.
“I’d like to be able to get an income,” he added. “I would like to one day take my tax refund and go buy my son a car. It’s not a lot but it’s something that I would like to do.”
Clark’s currently working part-time as a custodian for Office Corner Management on the South Side and, with this brutal winter, has been up to his knees in snow. The campany he works for doesn’t have a snow blower, so Clark is out their with a shovel.
“I have to clean and keep up 30 apartment buildings,” he said. “Right now, it’s snowing, so I have to shovel snow. I travel on the CTA with a shovel to the designated apartments.”
Earning $7.50 an hour, Clark realizes his options are limited. His job is financed through Hartland, which offers an 8-week program allowing parolees an opportunity to reenter a work environment.
But after 8 weeks, if he’s not hired permanantly, Clark’s on his own. He also knows that his criminal past creates an obstacle for his future.
“I [can] either give up or work with something until it gets better. I want the experience of working for a company for 25 years. It doesn’t have to be a high-paying job, just a permanent job,” he said. “I can’t say anything to convince someone that my past is behind me. I can just show them.”
Clark currently resides at Gateway Recovery Home, 1706 N. Kedzie, on the West Side.
Gateway also helps with finding job leads, and in contrast to prison, offers a lot more privacy.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Clark said. “There are some really nice people working here. It’s beautiful to have privacy. To be told when to get up, when to eat, and sleep – it’s not the way to live.
“Can you imagine having to sleep in your bathroom with another person – that’s what it’s like in prison,” he said. “Some people don’t get the opportunity to say ‘enough is enough,’ so to get to this point is a blessing in itself.
Clark noted some of the people at Gateway who’s been helpful, such as manager Peter Shimenetto.
“If you don’t have washing powder, Peter will give you quarters to buy it. He goes into his pockets for us, so we can have parties and fellowship,” Clark said. “Everybody loves Peter; he provides for us.”
Clark added that he’s ready to live life on life’s terms, something that “normal people” do.
“They don’t have to look over their back when the day is over.”
Clark is able to joke about living a normal life, saying, “I want to be the one to call the police [and] see what it’s like to live life like you. I want to pay bills, do things with my family, and be a positive person in my community.”
For more information about Steven Clark’s free haircuts or to schedule an appointment, call the Westside Heath Authority at 773/786-0226.
Terry Dean contributed to this story.