Cleaning up her act
A USF senior custodian leaves troubled past behind
Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 00:03
Once, Erickah was charged with “throwing a deadly missile at or within the presence of a police officer,” according to police reports. The weapon, she said, was a box of hashbrowns.
In total, Erikah has spent about 10 months in jail. She has been homeless and lived in hotels. In 2006, she was put on probation for three and a half years and moved in with her sister and Devon. However, due to a mistake in her paperwork, she said, she went back in jail for three months.
Before leaving to serve her unexpected sentence, Erickah had one last thing to do.
She spoke to her son and said, “I promise you that I will never leave you again.”
She told her mother, “This would be the last time.”
And it was.
“I talked to (Devon),” Erickah said. “I let him know I messed up. I let my anger determine a lot of my life and I’m paying for it even now, because I have a record. I cannot take that back.”
Devon hasn’t held it against her.
“She kept her promise to stay out of jail,” he said. “She taught me that, when I grow up, I should make better decisions.”
When Swidish Blaise, 30, walked into the Popeyes that Erickah worked at on and off since she was a teenager, they caught each other’s eyes. They exchanged numbers that day and soon began dating.
“When we got together she had probably been on probation for years,” Blaise said. “It was just something in the system and it became her belief that was all she was worth. It was a hard time.”
For five years, Blaise said she saw Erickah put on a tie and dress shoes numerous times to jump on the bus and go to job interviews, only to come home rejected.
Then, two years ago, an employer saw her arrest record but decided to give her a chance anyway.
“By grace of God, USF came along and asked for her rap sheet,” Blaise said. “They gave her a job. Three years ago you couldn’t tell me that she had a job.”
New shoes, new path
A year ago, when Erickah was promoted to senior custodian, there were eight custodians in Cooper Hall — two for each floor, including herself.
Now there are four total.
“It’s really a struggle sometimes,” she said. “But they work hard. They come in here every day and they give 100 percent.”
Erickah holds a temporary position, which means no paid holidays, vacation or sick time, and hopes to be hired into a staff position. It would be less pay, but it would mean not having to fall behind financially during the holidays.
Erickah is paid $9.50 per hour for 40 hours a week.
After bills, it leaves her with about $450 every month, but the money can dry up quickly.
A few months ago, Erickah’s car was stolen and taken to a chop shop. In the car were two notebooks full of her poems. Some she had copies of. Others were lost forever.
She had to save up for a new car and is currently behind on her $30 water bill.
Though Erickah earned her GED, she hopes to return to school to get a degree in counseling and human services.
“I need this job, though,” she said. “The job is going to pay the bills, not school.”
Every school night, she continues her routine — check on the other three custodians and clean up after all the students and employees leave the building.
By 2:30 a.m., she walks away from Cooper Hall and goes home to her family.