Going the Extra Mile to Turn a Life Around

Walter Robinson is impressive by any measurement. Six foot three and 250 pounds, his muscular build and animated nature make it hard to believe what he’s gone through in his 60 years. Robinson was released in August after an 11-year prison sentence. Like many, he faced a tough time getting back on his feet and finding a job.

“I was pretty frustrated,” he recalled. “I couldn’t find work.”

Then he attended an event where one of the speakers was MLM’s Stephen Barbee, a Learning to Earning program coordinator. Barbee has also turned his life around after similar challenges and now shares his story with others.

“When he got up and spoke, he inspired me,” Robinson said. “He told how other people had been in the same situation and then succeeded. I thought—look at him, look at how much he has accomplished.” After the speech, Robinson approached Barbee and said he’d be at MLM the next day. He was.

Robinson’s first jobs were with a temp agency, but before long, he had a full-time job offer. That’s when other widespread issues surfaced: work clothes and transportation.

“At that time, the only thing I had was a shirt, pants and shoes,” Robinson said. “And I wasn’t sure how I’d get there.”

MLM stepped in with bus passes and some money for clothing. Robinson went the extra mile, too. In one case, he found the bus route ended miles from a Northland job interview. “I wasn’t sure how far it was,” he laughs now. “I just started walking. But I got there on time.”

Besides MLM, Robinson has other supports. The biggest is clearly his mother, who took him in when he was released. The oldest of seven children, Robinson obviously looks up to her for guidance, although she’s barely five feet tall.

“When I came home, I got on my knees and hugged her and told her I’m going to do everything I need to do. It was hard on her when I was locked up, but she sees that I’m getting ahead now.”

That may be an understatement. After holding one job for several weeks, Robinson was offered another job, which he at first refused. “They wanted me to start on my mother’s birthday, and I thought it was part time,” he explained. “I was taking her out to eat, and I didn’t think it was right to cancel for that.” It turned out to be full time and has been a good fit for both Robinson and the downtown hotel that employed him.

“Employers like me because I’m dependable,” he said. “I’ve even saved up for a car. I had to put an engine in it, but now I have transportation.”

This type of success story is dramatic, but it’s not unusual at MLM. “These types of stories, no matter what you say, they just mean a lot,” Barbee said. “It just makes your day to hear them.”


Questions? Contact Scott Cooper at 816.931.0027 or ScottCooper@mlmkc.org.

“At that time, the only thing I had was a shirt, pants and shoes.”