“Islam Changed My Game Plan”
NEW YORK — The book on Mustafa Garment’s office desk has the title “Changin’ your Game Plan.”
For the African American, who broke his criminal life cycle through embracing Islam, the book relates like no other.
“I can identify with changing the game plan, changing the way you think, because that’s pretty much my story,” Garment, now a forensic coordinator at the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, told IslamOnline.net.
Soft-spoken, bushy bearded Garment, 64, is nothing of the man he used to be some 20 years ago.
Working at the Mental Health Court, an affiliate of the New York State Supreme Court, he helps jail inmates get treatment for mental illnesses and drug addiction.
No one can help better than Garment, who spent his early life struggling with homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction.
Growing up in poverty-stricken Harlem, he had a childhood full of sufferings.
“I remember being so hungry. I remember feeling weak from hunger.”
His first experience with drugs and alcohol, which became part of his “lifestyle” for 30 years, was at the age of 13.
Garment says that part of being accepted among his peers involved a routine of smoking marijuana and drinking wine.
“I would meet my mother in the bar,” he says of his former self.
He dropped out of the High School in the beginning of the tenth grade.
But it was when introduced to crack, a smokeable form of cocaine that Garment’s addiction-based lifestyle came to a climax.
He began to resort to stealing and even selling drugs at one point to feed his addiction.
“When you’re addicted to crack, the first thought that comes to mind is how to get more.”
He grew up into a bitter and angry man jailed for more than 30 times for crimes ranging from drug dealing to robbery.
Amid his drug problems and incarceration, Garment, raised a Baptist, first contact with Islam was in 1972.
Then 27-year-old, he converted and married a Muslim woman.
But Garment admits that his conversion was only nominal, and it did not keep him off his criminal lifestyle.
“I wasn’t thinking about changing my game plan,” he says.
“I had the same mindset. So I pretty much got the same thing I always got. I didn’t change.”
As his life continued to be identified by addiction and incarceration, his Muslim wife eventually asked for divorce.
It was finally in 1998, after nearly 40 years of living on the streets, surviving on soup kitchens and stealing and using drugs that Garment decided to open a new chapter with himself.
He started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and sought assistance through The Bridge, an organization that helps the homeless and those with substance abuse problems.
It was there that Garment met Amin, his Muslim mentor who guided him into becoming a real Muslim while on the path to recovery.
Amin, a former heroin addict and AIDS patient, introduced Garment to Millati Islami – a drug recovery program based on Islamic principles.
“We would talk about getting close to Allah, talk about praying,” Garment remembers.
Lucille Jackson, who used to run The Bridge, describes Garment’s re-discovery of Islam as a turning point for him.
“He took advantage in a positive way of what was around him. He made use of knowledge very well.”
Jackson was so impressed that she decided to give Garment a job in her organization while he was still in treatment.
When she became Project Director of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, she wanted to hire him as a forensic coordinator.
But because of Garment’s criminal record, she needed to obtain a special permission from the state’s Supreme Court to hire him. She did.
Garment work involves linking inmates with services they need to find treatment for mental illnesses and substance abuse problems or to help them with unemployment and homelessness.
Though he is not required to sh
“I see that their lives are being interrupted. I take them on as my own children. I tell them ‘Get an education. Don’t do this to yourself.’”
Jackson describes Garment’s work as “fabulous.”
“He is an incredible human being,” she told IOL.
“He never allows anything to stand in his way to help a client. He goes the extra mile.”
Today a happily married father and grandfather, Garment thanks God every day for discovering Islam during the hardest days of his life.
Besides his job, he has finished General Educational Development (GED). He is also excelling in Arabic classes he recently undertook to fully understand the Noble Qur’an.
Garment plans to get a degree in Islamic Studies some day.
“When we were young, we used to blame everything on the white man,” he recalls.
“But I’m a Muslim today. My condition is by my own hands [and] by the will of Allah.”