Two years ago, we told you the story of Dartanyon Blake -- then a 37-year-old man, born and raised in Hartford, who got in trouble young and who couldn't get out. Blake passed away recently. WNPR's Jeff Cohen has this remembrance.
Blake was honest about his past, but not proud of it. He dealt drugs, he robbed people, and he spent the better part of 20 years in jail. He was a man caught between the things he had done and the things he wanted to do. When we met him, he was out of prison, on parole, living at a halfway house, and trying to get a job at a car wash. He was looking for something normal, something natural.
“It's not natural to be on parole. You know what I'm saying? Dinnertime. That’s natural. Its time to eat, lets eat. You know what I'm saying? Let's go on vacation, I can't go because I'm on parole, that's not natural. That's unfortunate. But I did what I did and it was wrong, you know? I cheated myself. I cheated my community, I cheated my family but I cheated myself.”
Blake died last week, two weeks after police say they found him in the street. His friends and family say he was the victim of a hit and run and his injuries eventually killed him. His death came as he was staying away from trouble. Hartford police said they hadn't arrested him in years. He called himself a hustler, and he was still hustling -- not drugs, his family says, but CDs and DVDs. And he was learning kitchen skills at the Open Hearth, a transitional living facility in Hartford. Evan Kennedy is the kitchen manager.
Kennedy: I think he would have been a really good entrepreneur. He really could, he just had a way about him. He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.
Frank Tate is the kitchen's assistant manager.
Tate: He had his own personal goals, he wanted to open up a paint store. He also wanted to do a meals on wheels.
Kennedy: Dartanyon definitely fit that mold -- just extremely intelligent, almost too smart for his own good. And he was really, like I said, he was just on the cusp of really something good.
The Open Hearth isn't a place for men who have it easy. They look for work, but they don't have money, they don't have cars, and a lot of them, like Blake, have criminal records.
Kennedy: You get to see people struggle. And, a lot of people struggle. And, some people...some people you get closer to than others, and...
The two men said that for all Blake tried, he still felt the pull of the streets. He eventually left the Open Hearth.
Tate: I did see him out there in the world. And him and I talked and he said, he said, "Frank, I really messed up. And I'm still messing up." I said, "So what are we going to do? How can we, what can we do to help you?" He said, "I don't know."
Kennedy: Until you get some sort of proof for yourself that what you're doing is gonna have some type of positive reward, like you're life is actually really gonna be better if you put forth the effort, I mean, you need some sort of proof.
Tate: I said, "You know, the door is still open." He said, "Yeah. But I'm afraid." I said, "Of what? You, or failure? Or people looking at you?" He said, "Everything. All of the above."
When we first met Blake, he spoke about the role of strong women in his life -- and the pain that he time in prison had caused them. His family is still looking for details about how he was hurt, as are police. His sister says Blake spent ten days or so in ICU before things started looking up. He was transferred out of the unit, and he was awake, talking, even cracking jokes for a few days. Then he died. His mother, Pamela Cato, is now dealing with the uncertainty of what took her son.
Cato: It's not right, and something -- I feel something, we gonna find out. We gonna find out. I don't want to guess, I don't want to accuse, I don't want to blame. Excuse me. But, I'm suffering. It hurts. It hurts. So much. He wasn't a bad person. He didn't deserve this. I guess everybody would say that about their kids, but he was a young man.
A funeral mass full of song was held in Hartford for Blake last Thursday, where the priest told a packed church that people like Blake are about more than their mistakes. The two men didn't know each other, so the priest read Blake's words from an interview we did now two years ago in which he spoke about his grandmother -- a one-time Hartford activist.
Priest/Blake: I believe that the same things that are in her, I possess, as well. The desire to do good, the desire to care for my community and my fellow man, woman, and child. And I embrace those feelings. And I want to do better. And its on me, man. Thats the beautiful part. No one else gets credit for the good stuff I do.
Dartanyon Blake died at the age of 39.
WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.