A Twist of Fate

07/01/2022 12:15 AM By Lisa Anderson
Fresh Start
Harry Spencer
Harry Spencer
Story & Photo by Lisa Anderson

A Twist of Fate

Troubled Teen Goes from the ‘Hood to Under the Hood

Harry Spencer (Spencer to his friends) is a 31-year-old, respected business owner, fiancé, and loving father of twin boys. So, it’s hard to imagine he would have just been getting out of jail, if it wasn’t for a twist of fate.

“I grew up in the ‘hood. My parents, they did the best they could for what they had. It was a little rough.”

Cause and Effect

When Spencer was about 12 years old, he began “hanging out with 16- or 17-year-olds. I was hanging out with an age group that I had no business being around.”

Spencer’s first arrest was for three counts of burglary, two counts of grand theft, and one count of petty theft. He was 13 years old when a hurricane hit Ocala in 2004, leaving homes empty. “I got coached to go break into some homes with these older kids. I just let them lead, and I followed, essentially. I ended up taking the rap for a lot of stuff I didn’t even do.”

Before being sent to a boot camp, Spencer spent a few months in the juvenile detention center. “I tried to escape. I actually made it outside all the way to the fence,” but Spencer admits that being in the detention center was like being at a daycare compared to the boot camp. “They put you through the ringer there. They pushed you to your physical limit every day,” he states.

In order to go home, the inmates would need to complete three marathons—three, five, and eight miles—within a specific time frame. “If you stopped, fell down, or stopped to throw up, it would add 30 days.”

Besides the strict physical regime, Spencer witnessed a lot of abuse, including arms being broken and heads being slammed into the concrete floor by the corrections officers, who called themselves the “boom squad.” The facility has since closed down.

A six-month program turned into a year for Spencer, mostly due to his behavior. His parents moved the family to the other side of town to help him stay on the straight and narrow. As part of his probation, he had to attend the Silver River Marine Institute.

Spencer kept his head down and nose clean. After his release, he attended a local public high school as a junior, even though he was only 15 years old at the time. However, due to his background, he was regularly harassed by the principal who insisted on searching him everyday and pulled him out of class numerous times to accuse him of incidents of which Spencer had no knowledge. After two months, Spencer left high school to obtain his GED.

Into the Fire

Spencer stayed out of trouble for a while, but eventually he fell back into old patterns. “I lived every day like I was in the Wild West. I was money hungry. It was bad. I thought I was going to be in prison for the rest of my life, or I wasn’t going to see 21.”

During an incident where Spencer was simply there to stand as backup, bullets started flying. “Next thing I know, we’re in a full-blown shootout on the side of [State] Highway 200, right next to the Bonefish Grill.”

His original charges were three counts of attempted murder, possession of firearms, and shooting into occupied dwellings. He was about to turn 16 years old, which made him fair game to be tried as an adult. His public defender told him to plead guilty, and he would only get 15 years. “I cried my eyes out that night, and I prayed to God if there’s a way that I can make it out of this, I will change.”

Fortunately, his mother had received a large sum of money from back taxes and was able to hire an attorney. Instead of 15 years, Spencer only spent about 24 months in prison, with three of those months on probation, and he was determined to uphold his promise to God. During the last six months in a detention center, Spencer studied carpentry. He graduated from the program with a 4.0 GPA and came out with a $5,000 scholarship and acceptance into the University Technical Institute in Orlando. His parole officer, unbeknownst to Spencer, worked on getting him another $5,000 scholarship.

He graduated college at 19 and returned home shortly after his 21st birthday, when his father passed away. Spencer stayed in Ocala to take care of his mom and sister and, eventually, saved up enough to buy them a home.

In 2019, he opened Spencer’s Auto & Diesel Repair Services. Before opening his business, he met his now fiancée, and he is the proud parent of twin boys (about 22 months). Spencer thinks about how he would have just been getting out of prison at this age, if he had taken a plea deal with the public defender, and he is so grateful for the life he has now. “If you don’t want to change and you don’t want to do better, you’ll never do better. You have to want it as bad as you want to breathe, or you will never turn your life around.”
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