Josh Booth is a man on a mission.
“Right now I’m like a lion. There’s nothing that can stop me. If I put my mind to something I’m gonna to do it. I built my business, and it’s taking off. And now, you know, the next thing I want to conquer is creating a nonprofit, and then a book later. And I just keep trying to tell people, you can literally do anything you want to do. Anything.”
Josh has always had hustle. But he’ll admit it wasn’t always channeled in the right direction. Four years ago he found himself sitting in a jail cell facing what could have been 60 years in prison for internet fraud crimes. He still hesitates to tell the story, saying, “I only made this public because I do want to give hope to people, because people who are in the system, it’ll get you down. It’ll make you feel like, There is no other option for me in life right now.”
Luckily for Josh, his time in jail ultimately helped him create new options for himself. “I was blessed. I sat in jail for two weeks and I just thought about it. And I was like, You know what? This is not worth it. I have to make a change right now. I’m getting too old. I can’t let my kids see me like this. It was embarrassing. It was in the media and my kids’ teachers at school knew about it. And I was just getting too old to have excuses. So I made a promise to myself and to my wife that when I got out of jail–if I got out of jail–I would go to school and I would change my life.”
Josh had been a good student in high school, but afterwards, he just didn’t want to invest the time in college. “I wanted fast money. But after jail I got out and registered for school. I slowly started to change my thought patterns and the way I look at life and the way I view people. It’s been cool. I graduated with my associates last year from Kirkwood, and I’ll be entering my senior year at Iowa in August. I’ll graduate in the spring with a computer science degree. I had to do it to make a statement for people with a past, and for my kids.”
At no point in my conversation with him did Josh make excuses for his past transgressions. Still, when I listened to him describe his childhood, I can see why it took him some time to overcome what he calls the “poverty mindset”.
Overcoming the “PoverTy Mindset”
“We had a tough life,” Josh told me. “My mom, she tried to do her best. She grew up in the worst part of Chicago. As a kid I would look out my second-floor window, and I would see guys across the park shooting at each other. I remember times hearing stories of people dying. We would be in what they call the projects. That’s where we lived. And I would be walking, and my mom would say, ‘Hey, you smell that? That’s a dead body.'”
“And as a kid I remember little guys–it was like fourth grade–and these guys would come into school and they would be gang banging in fourth grade! And they had a lot of money. Now that I think about it, it’s crazy, but back then it didn’t seem crazy, that they could gang bang and talk about whatever, about this person who got killed last night. And I remember a kid bringing marijuana to school in fourth grade.”
Josh’s mother didn’t want the same life for her children that she had known. She tried hard to keep her kids safe until finally she moved the family out of Chicago to Freeport, a small town in northern Illinois where she had other relatives.
“My mom, she knew the environment we were in. She was different. She was a different kind of person compared to the people that were down there. She didn’t let us go outside. Didn’t let us hang out, and now I understand why. When I got to be ten, we moved to Freeport. And it was weird being ten years old, going outside and seeing grass. Where I lived in Chicago there wasn’t grass. It was just concrete and a few trees and a park.”
In spite of the new environment, it wasn’t until Josh decided to make a change and started school at Kirkwood that he felt like his mind really opened up. “People think the poverty mindset is just financial,”he says, “but it’s not. It’s a way of living. People in poverty don’t care about what they eat. They don’t care about exercise. They don’t care about politics, finance, credit, none of the important things that the rest of the world cares about. So, you really have to get some kind of foundation. For me that foundation was school. When I got into Kirkwood, I was just like, I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m going to do it. I’m gonna stick to it. Right now, I have no other choice. I can’t turn back. So when I did that it just started opening my mind up. I took psychology classes, sociology classes, and it started just opening my mind up to the world.”
Life is good.
Life now is not what Josh had planned ten years ago. He moved to Iowa City in 2004 when his girlfriend (now wife) was pregnant with their first child. He wanted to get a fresh start in a new place, maybe dig into the music scene. Before long he was managing a group of musicians and artists, trying to make connections for them. He hired a person to create videos for these artists, but it didn’t work out, so Josh decided to just learn how to do it himself. Then other local musicians saw his work and asked Josh to make videos for them.
Since he had the equipment, he began experimenting with portrait photography. “I just started taking pictures, and people were like, ‘Ah, they’re nice. How much?’ So, I developed it into an actual business.” And business is good, “shockingly good” these days, according to Josh.
Nobody succeeds all on their own. Through all the ups and downs, Josh has had the support of his wife, Samantha. The two have been together for fourteen years. Last year, when Samantha was diagnosed with breast cancer, Josh did his best to help her like she has so often helped him. Normally Samantha “takes on extra weight during the school year, so I can just focus, focus, focus.” But last year it was Josh’s turn to step up.
The family of five survived a tough year, but things are looking up now. “She’s good,” Josh says. Life is good.
Josh is still considering next steps after graduation. He’s got ideas about developing software for filmmakers, but is also considering what it would take to start a nonprofit to link positive male role models with young men who have gotten themselves into trouble. Right now, the world feels full of possibility. And Josh isn’t about to let that go to waste.
Josh’s website: www.joshboothstudios.com
Story by Courtney T Ball. Photos by Braden Kopf.