For Hill, 43, laboring for $10.50 an hour isn’t just a job. The convicted murderer, a two-time ex-con, is trying to change his life. He needs work to do that.
Hill’s struggles to live the straight life mirror those of about 15,000 people in the District who are on parole or probation. For these ex-offenders, success is far from certain. A study released this year by the Pew Center on the States found that more than four in 10 offenders returned to state prison within three years of their release.
And Hill has bucked long odds. According to a study released Thursday by the Council for Court Excellence, 46 percent of 550 ex-inmates surveyed in the District reported being unemployed.
On an August night in 1987, in an alley across the street from his summertime work site, Hill shot a man in the back three times in a fight over drug turf, then stood over him and fired twice more. He looked into his victim’s eyes and realized that the man was still alive. Hill walked away.
Landing a job near the murder scene was more than happenstance, he said.
“This is destiny for me to be here,” Hill said as he directed traffic one morning. “I believe in God. I believe all of us have a purpose. If you don’t get it right the first time, it’ll come back around. I feel I’m not here by accident — there’s a purpose to this.”
‘Raised by gangsters’
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Hill was a boy, S Street was full of old-school drug dealers: Reb, Country, Baldie. Hill ran errands for them, picking up soda or snacks from a convenience store, and they taught him the rules of the street, the primary one being that silence is golden.
When he was 9, Hill said, he grabbed a handful of methamphetamine pills that one of the dealers had hidden. To this day, he won’t say whose stash it was. Hill sold the pills for $70, using the cash to buy candy for girls.
So began his career as a drug dealer.
Hill’s mother, Harriet Hill, was 17 when he was born. His father didn’t stick around. He was such a small baby that his grandmother called him Peanut, a nickname that stuck. He later shortened it to P-Nut.
His mother ended up renting a room in a place that didn’t allow children. She knew a woman, named Virginia Brown, who watched children in her apartment on Sixth Street NW near S Street. Harriet Hill paid her $25 a week to take care of her son.
To young Harold, Brown became Granny. She took him to church and taught him to be respectful.
She also showed him how to hustle. Brown ran a neighborhood numbers game and was a bootlegger, Hill said.
“I was raised by gangsters,” he said. “Granny may have been the biggest gangster of all.”
By the time he was a teenager, Hill said, he had a handful of “runners” working for him: boys who sold cocaine, crack or methamphetamines.