When I graduated from high school in June 1991, I said to myself, “I am free. But free from what?”
Between then and March of 1993, I was in my “Now what?!” years. Many people with disabilities I know graduate from high school at age 20, and they get only a third-grade education.
I graduated with a full education when I was 18. I was in an “emotional adjustment” program. Then my dad and I talked about programs in the Prince George’s County area (in Maryland near Washington, D.C.). What caught my dad’s eye was Maryland Rehabilitation in Baltimore. He said that it would be perfect for me. I, however, disagreed.
Whether I liked it or not, I was on my way anyway. I called it voc rehab. It was near Morgan State University, where my brother Ronald was going to school. He also met his future wife, Shonda Washington, there.
The place had dorms, a pool and a recreation center. It had a break room, pay phones and a mini post office. It also had a cafeteria. The one thing that got on my nerves is the other people telling me what to eat every day. My favorite part was weekly trips to the area malls.
I was not happy. I did not want to leave the nest so soon. I spent three weeks up there. My sister said that it was my fault that I did not adapt myself. My dad, however, said it was not. He said after his trip to Norfolk, “We’ll find you a different environment.”
So 17 months later, on Feb. 10, 1992, my dad and I went to this warehouse workshop where people with disabilities were working, and we met the manager of operations.
She told us what they were all about, and then I was allowed to ask a few questions, like “How much do I get paid?” and “When do I start?” I was so enthusiastic; I wanted to start right away! She told me and my dad that there was a waiting list, and we had to wait for four months.
We were disappointed. When June came, I never got the spot. My dad was getting close to retirement, and he wanted me to go back to Charles County.
He chose Waldorf as his choice. I love it, because I would not want to live in La Plata (that is the county seat of Charles County). I also was riding the Metro system in the Washington area on occasion. I even read the Metro maps in the Bell Atlantic Telephone books: the red line, blue line, even a line yet to come, which we know as the green line (it was completed in 2001).
My ability may have been underestimated by agency management and policy rules, but it has not been denied or derailed to this day. On March 29, 1993, a new era began for me. I went in the Spring Dell Center in White Plains, Md., where I met Mary DeGeorge. I even knew her from the party I’d gone to months before. You should have known me back then. I was sloppily dressed. I was laughing and talking to myself. I even brought my breakfast with me. They taught me well. They showed me janitorial skills.
I went on the lawn crew. I was given time trials. The night crew and the mall project was my biggest test. It got me ready for my job at Ames.
I’ve had nine other jobs since then. I even used my lawn crew days to start my own business. I called it “Tony’s Labor Force of One.” I even use it at my job at Home Depot where I load cars and trucks. There’s a trailer near the Conrail Stockyards. I can load that by myself in under seven minutes! I have really improved myself. There is no reason I should go back to any agency.
Self-advocate Tony Sampson is a graduate of Leaders in Disability Policy and a former member of the Maryland Disabilities Council. He has delivered many training sessions on inequality in the treatment of people with disabilities. He has worked at Home Depot for five years.