This wasn’t the career choice Gerry Graham had in mind. But life happened, and he is grateful to be working at USF Dining’s Fresh Food Company spreading wisdom and positivity to diners.
Growing up, Graham had big dreams of becoming a professional football player or firefighter.
But those dreams are in the past.
“I ran with the wrong crowd,” Graham said. “I got hooked up selling drugs and messed my dreams all up.”
Graham’s childhood was far from ideal.
“When I was a little kid, we had it kind of rough,” Graham said. “I grew up in the 70s and early 80s with two brothers and a sister. As I got older, my mom and dad separated.”
With his parents’ separation came problems of their own. By 11th grade, Graham had dropped out of school and began his long and challenging journey.
Unfortunately for Graham, selling drugs caught up with him and he found himself in prison. Four years of his life have been spent behind bars on two different arrests.
While in prison, Graham, now 49 years old, got in even more trouble.
“You can go to (solitary confinement) for anything in prison,” Graham said. “One time, they wrote me up for eyeballing. I did 32 days in an underground jail where there was no sunlight, no TV and not even a clock.”
Prison proved to be dark days for Graham, but it was the reality check he needed to get back on the right path.
“I’m a changed dude,” Graham said. “I’m an older dude right now. I got kids and grandkids.”
Once he was released from prison for the second time in 2008, he landed a job with Juniper Dining. A few years later, he got the job at Fresh Food Company where he has worked since.
The pay isn’t great.
From the money he makes, a large portion goes to paying child support to the three mothers of his five kids.
Graham doesn’t mind. He enjoys what he does.
Justin Brown, a freshman majoring in nursing, is a regular at the Fresh Food Company and sees Graham daily.
“Gerry is always diligently working and always seems to enjoy himself,” Brown said. “He never complains about his job, and he is always socializing with the students at Fresh Foods.”
In 1999, Graham spent two weeks in the hospital after being injured in a car accident. The accident left him with broken arms, which had to be fixed by removing a hipbone to help correct the injury.
“I wanted to be there for my mom and kids,” Graham said. “I told myself that if I can get through this, I’m going to be a changed man.”
Graham has faced a lot of adversity in his life, and through those challenges, has become a mentor for the people around him.
Wenford Isaacs, a regular at the Fresh Food Company, frequently goes to Graham for advice.
“Any time I have a problem, he will pull me to the side, and he will tell me that he has been there and done that. Nine out of 10 times, what he told me has been true,” Isaacs said. “His coaching me helped me with problems that I had been going through.”
Graham is always there for his co-workers, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Jaycee Welker, a freshman majoring in speech pathology has observed his kind nature.
“Gerry is always smiling and spreading joy to everyone he speaks to,” Welker said. “He really encourages his co-workers to do their best and always be appreciative of their blessings.”
Although Graham enjoys working at Fresh Food Company, he still aspires to do something different.
Graham’s new goal is to start trade school and study to become a welder.
“I am going to go to trade school,” Graham said. “Next time they have an opening, I am going to go full force at it. In the meantime, I’ll keep this job to make ends meet.”