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His high-stakes grifting eventually got the attention of the law and landed him in prison. Six years later, he was released from prison, where many moments of truth brought him to the realization that crime does indeed not pay and he needed to change his life.

A Breed Apart : A Journey to Redemption by Victor Woods (, Paperback) for sale online | eBay

Today Victor Woods stands as a man reborn, having dedicated his life and work to speaking to young people, motivating them to get on and stay on the straight and narrow. He tells his incredible story to help others sidestep the darkness and pain that once consumed him. In charting the winding path of his own hard-won journey toward redemption, Woods manages to reach out to readers with the startling emotional immediacy of a letter from an old friend.

My grandmother was still active in the church and was considered its first lady. The church was so huge that the preacher had to speak through a microphone.

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There were two choirs and nurses for people who caught the Holy Ghost. When I was growing up, all the people in the church knew and remembered my grandfather, and expressed love and respect for him. After church service, we were treated like celebrities. People lined up to talk to me and meet the late reverend's grandson. Many old men and women just wanted to kiss me. It used to scare me, but I loved all the attention. I never could begin to imagine that one day I too would find myself in the pulpit, speaking to thousands of people.

My grandmother told me stories about my grandfather so often I felt I knew him personally. Some nights, in bed with my grandmother, I fell asleep in her arms as she talked about him. I was going to preach one day as my grandfather had preached, she said, making sure to keep my grandfather's memory alive. We were the first black family to move there. A neighbor who befriended my parents told them that others were saying "niggers are moving in" and held a town meeting where they tried to raise enough money for the town to buy the house in order to keep us out.

I was in the fourth grade when we moved to Arlington Heights. We had moved from a diverse neighborhood in New York. I knew little about racism.

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I quickly made friends with a few boys on the block and enjoyed that first summer. But I was going to receive a crash course on racism. I was unprepared for the first day of school. I was called "nigger" more times than I care to remember. Although they had never been around anyone black, those white children had been told black people were "niggers.

Racism is taught and learned. Being the only black in my class was horrible. I hated it. I especially hated it when the teacher would talk about slavery. Each of those white children in class one by one turned to look at me, as the teacher explained the little bit that American public schools share with students about black people and our history. One day in Social Studies class, we discussed the subject of welfare.

One boy in class said his father told him all black people were on welfare. Everybody turned around and looked at me. The teacher admonished him, but the damage was already done. I don't think my parents considered all the cruelties that would be inflicted upon their children when they thrust us in an all-white environment.

They had been raised in segregated black environments.

A Breed Apart: A Journey to Redemption

The never-ending battle with my parents remained constant with regard to my behavior at home. I was determined to do things the only way I knew how -- my way. Despite the madness at school, I had a normal childhood. I played baseball, rode my bicycle, and watched TV. Kung Fu was my favorite show; I was a karate man.

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My grandmother even bought me a karate uniform. I was fascinated with Bruce Lee. I watched his movies and read any book about him I could find.

A breed apart : a journey to redemption

My second sister was born when I was in the fourth grade. It was an exciting time. After my parents brought my baby sister home, Valerie and I ran home from school and rushed in to see her lying in her crib. I held her, under the watchful eye of my parents. Vanessa was a beautiful baby and had the Woods's trademark head of hair. She was happy and athletic -- crawling within months and walking early. She would go on to become a track star in junior high and high school. At the time its members were mostly upper middle class and wealthy families, but recently they have reached out to less fortunate blacks for membership.

Annual regional and national conventions allowed us to meet black children from across the country. As most years went by, most of the children in my neighborhood grew to accept me, and by junior high school, I was one of the most popular kids in school. Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta, was a hit movie and one of my other friends and I put together a routine, tried out for a school talent show, and won.

After that, I was invited to all the parties, and the girls always wanted to dance with me. My grades were always a mess. If I got a C, my parents were happy. I refused to study and couldn't concentrate. I was the class clown and enjoyed making the other children laugh. Being the lone black student I quickly adopted the philosophy: Better to make them laugh with you, than at you.

School was one big party. White kids asked me stupid questions like: What do you do with your hair? Or, do you wear suntan lotion in the summer? I hated the questions, but I knew most of them didn't mean any harm, they were simply ignorant. The morning after Jimmy Carter had won the presidential election, I was waiting at the bus stop to go to school. My parents had felt good about the election and although I didn't know a thing about politics, I felt good about it, too. I made the mistake of sharing that joy with one of the white boys at the bus stop.

The others started laughing at me. Hurt and disgusted, I retaliated in the way I knew best -- fighting.

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  6. Hearing the word "nigger" was like pulling the trigger for an ass-kicking from me. In spite of my popularity, I still constantly had to deal with insensitive comments from other students. On s-day in school, a day everybody dressed up in fifties' attire, one white girl asked me why I bothered to dress up, since there were no black people in the fifties! She never saw any black people on TV show reruns of the era, so we must not have existed. The irony, however, was all of those white kids were bobbing and hopping to music created and performed by black people.

    The truly scary thing, though, was that the girl really believed there were no black people in the s.

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    I had to deal with ignorance every day. I had a few girlfriends in junior high school.

    All we did was hold hands -- no big deal. In eighth grade being black in an all-white environment became even worse. One night at a party, we started playing spin the bottle. None of the girls wanted to kiss me when the bottle landed on me. When it came to kissing, I was no longer the cute little black kid. I left the party hurt and disturbed. That night marked the beginning of my education on how truly unaccepted I really was in white America. Other than being the class clown and getting poor grades, I was a good kid. I had never stolen anything, nor had I ever tried drugs or alcohol. I was excited about going to high school, but worried at the same time.

    I knew I would probably be the only black child in the school -- again.