LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Two local men who grew up running the streets of Louisville, entrenched in drug deals, robberies and gun violence, are now working together to show others they can turn their lives around like they did.
Robert Anderson and Chris Forehand are both in their 50s. They shared their stories recently with WAVE 3 News, detailing the hunger on the streets and grinding for food and money. These days, that grind is about status and clout, requiring a survival mode that can escalate into violence.
Forehand and Anderson grew up together in what was then the Cotter home projects.
”I caught my first shooting charge at 14,” said Anderson, who added that he was hustling at a liquor store. ”I would have killed the individual. He put his hand up and I shot him in the arm. I didn’t think of none of this at all growing up.”
Before he first started selling dope, Anderson’s mother died in a fire, bumping him up to head of the household as a child.
”That’s what led me to want to get money, a lot of it,” Anderson said. “My whole life started to spiral.”
Anderson’s family had to eat by any means necessary. His first and last robbery was a pizza deliveryman.
Forehand’s beginnings weren’t unlike Anderson’s.
”A lot of my crime and corruption came from (my) environment,” Forehand said. “So then that makes you say these are redline environments, too. All of these environments are redline environments.”
Forehand said America ignored those environments. Forehand couldn’t, growing up on the drug stroll right next to the police and fire station.
”It was learned behaviors,” Forehand said. “Drugs, crime, women, partying, all those types of things is what we learned, and they became tools we used to obtain wealth, to get food, take care of our families. We all weren’t always like that. We went to school.”
Forehand said he got his first taste of drugs when he was a star athlete at Eastern High School, where he would drop out during his sophomore year. Drug dealers for teachers, he latched onto their lesson plans.
”Shoot, go to school,” Forehand said. “(Friends in the neighborhood} made $50,000 last year. Why would I go to school?”
The cycle continued. Forehand and Anderson became role models, gaining street cred, criminal records, and a competition between the two. They both shot and were shot at multiple times, and ended up pointing guns at each other over a sports argument as teenagers.
”We got into a beef,” Forehand said. “A fight that turned into a shootout. He ended up shooting me.” About six years later, both were in prison for trafficking and possession of drugs. Forehand got out after 13 years.
“And then I’m the first person in the state of Kentucky under the strict federal guidelines to receive a life sentence without the opportunity for parole,” Anderson said.
He said he got a second chance when President Barack Obama pardoned him after 23 years behind bars. He got a third chance when the man he pointed a gun at pointed him in the direction of a new life and career.
”You’re not going to be able to help everybody,” Forehand said. “Don’t show how much you know. Show me how much you care, because the gangs are showing how much they care.”
Forehand said crime is big business for drug dealers, lawyers, judges and politicians. Everyone gets paid. Organizations try to stop the violence but don’t try to help those involved in it. Guns and drugs need to be traded for opportunities outside of the street life.
”The reality is, what is the alternative?” Forehand asked. “It’s entrepreneurship and ownership. You talking to me (as a kid). I’ve got $400,000 hidden in a wall. You want me to go work for McDonald’s?”
The men said they constantly reminisce about all their old friends who never got the opportunity to change.
”A lot of people don’t even make it to get gray hair,” Anderson said. “That’s why we’re here sitting at the beginning at a funeral home. They died at a young age. (They) don’t even get to see gray hair. Don’t got a clue.”
Although Anderson and Forehand left crime in their past, it came back close to home. Forehand’s son, a Trinity High School student, was shot and killed.
Anderson and Forehand both have their own foundations now: Real Men Stepping Out Against Violence and We All Kinfolk Inc. They provide to others the same opportunities they were given for a safer life.
Anderson also runs U Ask Academy, where he trains at-risk young adults who have been through the court system. He gets them trained and hired for careers, not just jobs. Both men also help to rehabilitate men who have been incarcerated to make sure they don’t go back to jail.
They changed and agree that anyone stuck in the life of crime can, too.