Saskatoon

Single father of 3 transcends street life, addictions, violence to provide stable, loving home

Devon Napope was lost in the world of gangs and drugs until he met Andre Poilievre and others from the non-profit group STR8UP. Now he's a father of three and on the board of STR8UP.

Devon Napope is in the process of adopting another boy, completing a social work degree

Since leaving street gang life a few years ago, Devon Napope enrolled in a social work program and starts a new job this month. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Devon Napope is reviewing his social work course outline on his laptop when he spots one of his sons walking quickly down the hallway.

"Hey, I see you. Take that food back to the table. No eating in your room," Napope says with a smile.

Napope is a single father of a daughter and two sons. He wants them to feel a stability and love he never knew.

"My greatest fear is failing — failing my kids," he said. "Now they're looking up to me."

When the kids finish eating, Napope walks into the kitchen and sits down at the table with them. They all laugh their way through a game of Connect Four.

One of Napope's earliest memories is playing another game — Duck, Duck, Goose — with his brothers and other kids. But another is the frequent sight of marijuana joints and drug needles strewn around the homes of various relatives who raised them.

He remembers beatings with an electrical cord and the constant threat of violence.

"Being in that environment sucks the energy and spirit right out of you. It wore me down. I couldn't handle it anymore. Every day I wondered if I was going to make it," Napope, now 32, said.

Devon Napope, right, plays a game of Connect Four with his children. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Napope eventually joined a Saskatoon street gang, used every drug he could find and floated in and out of prison. He was nearly killed in a stabbing.

Many times he wanted to get out but didn't know how.

"I'm not used to asking anybody for help," he said.

That's when he met Catholic priest André Poilièvre and others from the group STR8 UP. They helped Napope to see that while he and his family faced unimaginable barriers, his fate was not inevitable. Napope also connected with his First Nations culture and ceremony.

Napope said that most importantly he stopped believing the "illusion" of how a man is supposed to behave.

"I was holding everything in. Not thinking, not feeling, not trusting," he said.

"The moment I broke those chains, I started trusting, started expressing myself in a better way."

It took years, but Napope eventually began to speak to other vulnerable youth about his life and his efforts to leave the gangs and get sober.

Poilievre said things will never be easy for Napope, but he's on the right path.

"He's quite a guy," he said.

Napope rededicated himself to fatherhood, raising his sons largely on his own. And when he saw another boy who could use a hand, he offered his. Napope is finalizing the adoption process now.

He's in his second year of Indigenous social work at First Nations University of Canada. He's on the board of STR8 UP. And this month, he begins an internship at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

"I try to stay busy," he said. "I was broken and lost. I had to choose sobriety, had to choose education. It was a choice. I wanted to change."

Corrections

  • A former version of this story said that Napope had three sons. This has been changed.
    Jan 06, 2020 5:58 AM CT

now