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Charles Veley wasn’t even a teenager the first time someone put a gun in his hands.
“Nobody told me, ‘Don’t carry no gun. Don’t sell no drugs.’ It was like, ‘Here go the drugs, sell the drugs. Here go the gun, carry the gun,’ ” said Veley, 40, a Toledo native.
It was the beginning of the stealing and robbing and shooting and drugs. It wasn’t long before there was juvenile detention and eventually a seven-year prison sentence for a crime that ended in the death of an accomplice.
For more than a year, Veley has tried to find a way to tip the scales — to balance his life story so, when all is said and done, he’s done at least as much good as bad.
Wednesday, at 5:30 a.m., he will meet a group of supporters at Central and Detroit avenues in Toledo’s inner city, take a group photo, and start pedaling toward Los Angeles, planning to stop in cities, big and small, along the way to promote an end to gun violence.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a drug dealer or a gang banger, so I made that out of my life,” Veley said. “But now I want to make somebody’s life a better life.”
In Toledo this year, as of Friday night, 49 people have been shot. That’s down from the 56 at this point in 2013, and 84 in 2012.
The route that Veley has mapped is about 3,600 miles. He hopes to finish in 90 days, but said he will take as long as necessary. All that matters is that he makes it. He will ride alone, sleep in a tent, and stay connected by using one of the two cell phones and solar charger he purchased. He’ll carry water and crushed-up noodles, but will have to, at some point, rely on the generosity of others for sustenance.
“I’m actually scared,” he said. “I’m doing it for everybody. I’m doing it for my city. I love my city to death, you know. I believe we’re one of the greatest cities on Earth.”
To prepare, Veley has worked out four hours a day, six days a week, running, lifting, and biking.
The decision to cycle from Toledo to Los Angeles came one night when Veley was thinking about his son, Charles McCuin, 22, who is in prison for murder, and about his nephew, who, in an unrelated case, was found shot dead and decomposed in the basement of a vacant North Toledo home.
People tell him he’s crazy for even thinking about attempting the long ride through rough terrain and across deserts in the middle of the summer, but there’s no turning back.
Veley has a point to prove.
“I have never known nobody to do nothing,” he said. “I ain’t never known a star or someone to go to college or make it on a football or baseball team. For me to do this, I’m gonna prove a point to a whole lot of people who probably never thought they could do something.”
Veley grew up the second of five children born to Ethel Veley. He’s never met his father. As a child, he broke into homes to steal food. With the gun and the drugs came an affiliation with the Bloods. While a juvenile, he was sent three times to various Department of Youth Services lockup facilities. Eight months after his final juvenile release, then 18, he was arrested again after an armed robbery in Fremont and shootout with a Woodville police officer.
He was convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated assault and ordered to serve seven years in prison.
One of his co-defendants, Frederick Carter, 18, was shot eight times by Toledo police officers at a North Toledo motel in April, 1992. An autopsy showed that Mr. Carter put a Tec-9 to his head and shot once. His death was ruled a suicide.
While in prison, Veley, who never made it past the sixth grade, learned to read and write, though he never earned his GED. Prison changed him for the better, he said. He was released in 1996 and, in 1999, was off parole.
He has been back to the Lucas County jail numerous times since — he still had a hand in the drug game for a while. His charges include obstructing official business, menacing, burglary, domestic violence, and various drug offenses. He has been found guilty of several of these, though most were dismissed in Toledo Municipal Court.
“It took me to 39 to become a man,” Veley said.
The ride is dedicated to La’Sean Robinson, 29, the man his son killed and left naked, face down in a North Toledo field on June 10, 2012. Mr. Robinson’s family could not be reached for comment.
“I done cried, I cried a lot of nights,” Veley said. “I cried nights because of him and because of La’Sean. I think of my nephew a lot to this day. I think of my son a lot to this day.”