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Part 1
A father finds his way

Part 2
'He saves lives'

Part 3
'Heaven sent' in Badlands

Part 4
The healing touch

Part 5
AIDS is nun's calling

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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Metro | Region / Everyday Heroes
A five-part series
A father finds his way
When Andre Galette learned in jail that he
had a baby son, he turned his life around

By Stan Grossfeld, Globe Staff, 6/18/2000

ROLE REVERSAL: After a long day, Andre naps while Darien watches television. "I wish I could do more, but right now taking care of Darien is like a full-time job," Galette says. (Globe Staff Photo / Stan Grossfeld)

* Andre and Darien photo gallery

First of five parts

When he heard the news he was a father again, Andre Galette was a drug-dealing street hustler sitting in a prison cell, wondering if he was the one getting hustled.

It was the spring of 1995 and Galette was serving a two-year sentence at the Suffolk County House of Correction. He stared at the baby picture that arrived in the mail. And he stared again. It was from a woman who claimed she had his baby.

''I met her through dealing [drugs],'' he recalls. ''She sent a picture of a newborn and she said, `This is your son.' I didn't even know she was pregnant. It blew my mind. I went around with the picture and said, `Does he look like me?'''

Correction officers and inmates, who rarely agree on anything, offered a unanimous decision. ''They said, `You couldn't deny that in court.' And he does look just like me, a handsome fella.''

Galette explodes in a belly laugh that the neighbors in his two-bedroom apartment in Roxbury could surely hear. Then he gets up because he's got laundry and food shopping to do, and he has to get to the corner before the bus delivers his five-year-old son, Darien, from day care.

''It's not easy being a single dad,'' he says. ''I now have a lot more respect for single moms.''

This is a story of pain and loss, of addiction and rehabilitation. But mostly this is a story of love.

Andre Galette, 39, was born and raised in Brooklyn. ''I was always on the other side, the black sheep of the family. Nobody in my house drank or smoked.''

Galette started smoking marijuana at 15. ''In order to survive I started selling it, then the crack came out and it was better money.

''Everything was brought to you. You never stopped and took a look at where you were going. It was too wild, nonstop until you passed out, girls all around, everything you wanted was coming from crack. It's amazing how a little thing like that can take over your life. I was totally out of it.''

In 1985, he moved to Massachusetts. But the drugs ruined his first marriage and he was in and out of jail for drug possession. He barely knew his first son, now 11. ''It was all my fault. I had a beautiful wife. I was a zombie.''

But old habits are hard to break. When Galette got out of jail in 1996, he went back to the projects and his life of drugs. ''It was like I was missing something up here,'' he says pointing to his brain. ''I went right back to what I left, and you go back to that area, there's nothing to go back to but use. It was like I never left. At first I thought it was great. But then I knew it was over when I got a flashback of me laying in the cell, counting time. I thought, I'm better than that.''

Then a chance meeting changed his life. ''I was driving my friend's car without a license. I was goin' to get high and a guy was stuck in a van with his hood lifted up, and I knew the guy. I pulled over to give him a boost and who is in the van? Darien's mother. She says, `Oh my God, c'mon let me take you to see something.'''

They went to her apartment two blocks away.

''He [Darien] was something like a year old and he just ran to me like a speeding bullet, and just jumped on me and held me so tight. And I left with him that day. That was one of the best feelings I felt in my whole life. The way he charged me and hugged me and didn't want me to let him go. I felt his heart beating against mine. It was like he went right inside of me. That was one helluva feeling.''

Darien started spending the weekends with his father, but during the week, Galette slipped, got involved with drugs again, and was sent back to jail for the last time in 1997. For reasons it refuses to divulge, DSS eventually took custody of Darien from his mother.

''My last trip, I noticed they had recovery units,'' Galette says. ''People I used to use with had stopped using. They were telling me I didn't have to live like that no more, and to hang with the winners. And they looked good. I took their advice and started going to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.''

When he was released in late 1997, ''I stopped using and went to detox.'' When he got out he contacted DSS and asked for Darien back. Officials encouraged him to complete a battery of social programs including parenting and anger management. DSS said it required two-bedroom housing, and a steady job. ''I told them, `No problem. I'll get on it.'''

He did more, according to Keith Williams, who runs the Family Nurturing Center, a 13-week, DSS-supported program in Dorchester, and the Nurturing Father's Program for single fathers. Galette completed both with flying colors, Williams says.

''He's a great guy, a hard-working father, and one of the few fathers who go the extra mile for their son,'' says Williams.

Two years ago Galette landed a job in the paint department at the Home Depot in Dorchester, where he was honored as employee of the month in October 1999. They also adjusted his schedule so he could get Darien off to day care, and meet him at the bus stop.

A visit to Darien's day-care center is a lovefest for Galette. Upstairs, the teacher offers him lunch, downstairs the principal wants him to taste the homemade yams, and in between, one mother wants to take him home for dinner. A single father in a world of single mothers. ''Life is good,'' he says.

Galette says he's doing his best to spend as much time as possible with his older son, Patrick. ''I wish I could do more, but right now taking care of Darien is like a full-time job,'' Galette says.

His life has totally changed. ''I'm up at six every morning, making breakfast. Then I get Darien off to day care and go to work. I meet the bus, make him dinner, and make sure he's brushed his teeth and in bed by 8:30. Then I lay out his clothes for the morning. Sometimes in the morning when the alarm rings he comes in and pushes me. `C'mon, dad,' get up.'''

''I've never seen anything like it,'' says Kelly O'Hara, who has worked as a DSS social worker for five years. ''He's a hero. For society as a whole, but especially black men. They need more of this. He changed his lifestyle and everyone from here to the courts loves him. You can see the difference in Darien. Before he was very angry and aggressive and always getting into fights. He wouldn't listen to anyone. Now he's really happy.''

On a stroll through the neighborhood, Galette accepts the praise with his customary smile. Shy, he is not.

''That was my weakest thing - being responsible. Today I realize my main responsibility is Darien. For all my 39 years this is the best time. Today I am living. Before, I was surviving.''

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 6/18/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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