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Rebuilding A Life And A City After Years On Detroit's Streets

Mar 9, 2014
Originally published on March 9, 2014 10:00 am

Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

After years of selling drugs and serving prison time in Detroit, 54-year-old Isaac Lott is now a site supervisor with the organization Reclaim Detroit. The group deconstructs abandoned homes to reclaim materials from them.

Lott says he is hopeful about his own future, as well as the future of the city of Detroit. He tells NPR's Rachel Martin that he was proud just to make it through the training program that got him his job.

"This is the first time I really completed anything," he says. "And I enjoy coming to work everyday."

Lott says what's different now is that he doesn't have to look over his shoulder anymore, either for police or other criminals. He says it was a life full of stress.

Lott was dealing heroin and cocaine, but he says he was also his own best customer.

"I wasn't good at it because I'm not rich," he says.

Lott says he came from a good home, and his parents always worked hard to provide, but that he and his two brothers gravitated toward making money on the street. At one time, he says, they were making more money than their parents. Those two brothers died living that street life.

Now that he works for Reclaim Detroit, the first legitimate job he's ever had, working to help rebuild the city he's lived in his whole life, Lott says he's hopeful.

"In the next 10 years you won't really know Detroit; I really believe that," Lott says. "Once we get rid of all of this blight and educate these younger kids, I think it's going to change."

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ISAAC LOTT: These last four years have been wonderful, wonderful for me. I've never been so comfortable in my own skin. Because, you know, they gave me an opportunity to really enhance my life. So, you know, I try to give back.


That is the voice of Isaac Lott, talking a little more about his experience working with the group Reclaim Detroit. After years of selling drugs and serving prison time, he's now a site supervisor for the organization. We sat down in the break room at the back of the work shop after Lott had finished his shift and we started off talking about how proud he was just to make it through the training program that got him the job. This week's Sunday Conversation from Detroit with Isaac Lott.

LOTT: This is the first time I really completed anything. And I've been working ever since. And I enjoy coming to work every day.

MARTIN: Why? What's different about that...

LOTT: 'Cause I'm not doing this. I'm not looking over my shoulder for anybody - the police or the stick-up man or anybody.

MARTIN: There's a lot of stress in that lifestyle.

LOTT: Yes, it is. And I've never been so happy in my life. My mom - if she hear the phones ringing late at night, she doesn't think that it's something bad.

MARTIN: Do you have a family?

LOTT: Yes. I have a mom and I have a sister who's married. My dad has passed. And two brothers that are - they passed from the street activity.

MARTIN: Is this the first legitimate job that you've had?

LOTT: First legitimate job. Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: You were dealing drugs your whole adult life, or?

LOTT: Yeah, and I wasn't good at it 'cause I'm not rich now.


LOTT: Because you can't sell drugs and use drugs too.

MARTIN: Did you?

LOTT: I used drugs and sold drugs. I became one of my best customers, so to speak.

MARTIN: Heroin?

LOTT: And cocaine. And all the behavior that goes with it. I never robbed anybody or anything like that. But just the kind of people you deal with, I no longer deal with those kind of people. If I see them, I just wave and keep going.

MARTIN: Do you live in the same neighborhood?

LOTT: I've lived all over the city.

MARTIN: OK. It wasn't matter of you needing to get out of a certain space so you didn't fall back into that...

LOTT: No. Because I came from a two-parent home that both parents worked and they provided for us. I just swayed to the left a little bit. You know, my mom and dad always have worked. I've never had a hungry day or our lights or gas never got turned off or none of that. My father worked for General Motors and my mom worked for Neiman Marcus.

MARTIN: Yet you and two of your brothers were living on the street.

LOTT: Right. We all kind of swayed to the money. 'Cause we made more money than my dad ever made when we were younger.

MARTIN: That's kind of intoxicating, to make more money than your dad at a young age.

LOTT: Yeah, but we couldn't stay there and do that though. He didn't allow, or my mom wouldn't even accept money from us. They did not believe in that kind of lifestyle.

MARTIN: How long have you lived in Detroit? Is your family from Detroit?

LOTT: My whole life, my whole life.

MARTIN: It's interesting though, your life and the life of the city have moved in different directions. Because now you're doing really well but the city's not doing so great.

LOTT: No. But I believe that the city in the next 10 years, you won't know Detroit. I really believe that. Once we get rid of all this blight and educate these younger kids, I think it's going to change.

MARTIN: Thank you, Isaac.

LOTT: Thank you.

MARTIN: That was Isaac Lott with the group Reclaim Detroit. Later this morning, we'll hear about other efforts to rebuild the Motor City, proposals to fix longstanding divisions between Detroit and its suburbs and the reinvention of the symphony orchestra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.