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Man of ‘Steele’ overcomes homelessness and abuse

To say William Steele has overcome a lot of adversity in his life would be a bit of an understatement. He will graduate from New Mexico State in the fall of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts with an emphasis in musical theater and a minor in music. Steele had to come a long way to get where he is today.

“I want to get to know myself through him in a way. I want to give him a second chance, even though there was never really a first chance.”

His life got off to a rocky start as soon as he and his twin sister Destiny were born to Jennifer and Fred Steele in Christiana, Delaware. Both Jennifer and Fred were drug addicts. The state of Delaware took the twins away from Fred and Jennifer and immediately put them up for adoption. William and Destiny, both 25 years old now, were taken in and adopted by their paternal great aunt and great uncle, Ellen and Jacob Steele.

William Steele appears outside the Center for the Arts building on the NMSU main campus in Las Cruces. (Photo by Nolan Fox/Kokopelli)

When Steele first met his biological parents, he was at his grandparents’ house in Dover, Delaware. Steele describes his mother as “gorgeous in my eyes,” despite the fact she was never there for him as a parent.

“I was nervous and excited to meet them. It was kind of like the first day of school,” Steele recalls.

His biological father Fred had been in and out of jail for most of his life for crimes such as drug use, drug possession and breaking and entering. Steele says that Fred was “feared in the streets,” but he knew that if his father had been there for him growing up, he would have had his back.

Now that he is older, Steele would like to get to know Fred more closely. Growing up, Steele had always heard from his family that he was “a spitting image of his father.” Not just in his physical appearance, but also in the way he acts, talks and carries himself. The difference between William Steele and Fred Steele is the younger Steele has always tried to avoid drugs and stay out of trouble.

“I want to get to know myself through him in a way. I want to give him a second chance, even though there was never really a first chance,” Steele says of his father.

After Steele graduated from high school in 2010, he started college at Delaware State University the next fall with a full-ride academic scholarship of $27,000. His plan was to study music education. He started performing with the Second Street Players community theater group for fun, and it seemed like his life was on the right track. Then, just before he started school, his adoptive father passed away at the age of 68. This was hard for Steele because Great Uncle Jacob had been the only father figure in his life.

During his junior year at Delaware State, Steele moved back in with his Great Aunt Ellen. He recalls that she was always very hard on him and abused him physically, emotionally and verbally throughout his entire life.

“I don’t know why she was so hard on me all the time, but I think it was because she always expected more of me.”

In his senior year at Delaware State he was still living with Great Aunt Ellen, and there were times when he would just break down crying when he thought about living with her while also dealing with the stress and pressure he felt from his school work. The anxiety was so severe that Steele eventually checked himself into a mental hospital, where he stayed for a week. In that week he was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the most severe type of PTSD, due to the level of abuse he endured growing up with his adopted parents.

After he was released from the mental hospital, he finished the semester at Delaware State, however, he dropped out the following semester due to health issues related to the PTSD.

“I was having problems with my knees, pins and needles up and down my back, headaches, body aches and migraines,” he remembers.

After dropping out of school, Steele moved in with his twin sister Destiny in a mobile home, but their older sister Dana Chambers, who was nearly thirty years older than the two of them, wasn’t comfortable with him living there, and persuaded Destiny to kick him out.

“[Chambers] saw me as a threat to herself because she knew that she couldn’t control me because I wasn’t afraid to speak up for myself,” Steele says. He remembers the day they forced him to leave after he got back from a performance rehearsal.

“When I got home from rehearsal, they had everything packed and ready for me to move out,” he says. “It was at that moment that I knew that my life was going to get better, but it wasn’t going to be easy.”

While Steele was homeless in Delaware he befriended a girl named Reynae Danner, who had been living a similar lifestyle and was also homeless at the time. She is now Steele’s roommate, and he considers her his very best friend.

“We were like twin spirits,” Danner says. Originally from South Carolina, she has known Steele for four years and would trust him with her life.

“I can’t count on some random person, but I can always count on him,” she says of Steele.

After three weeks of homelessness and sleeping either in his car or on someone’s couch, Steele told his older sister he would be leaving the area and wouldn’t be coming back. In the past, Steele had told her he would be leaving, only to come back a short time later.

This time he was serious, and he had a plan … sort of. He told Chambers he would be driving all the way to Texas. He wanted to move to Texas based on a gut feeling and a pair of quarters.

He had two quarters in his pocket. Before he took them out, he decided he would go to one of the two states shown on the backs of the quarters. One was a Texas quarter and the other was a Florida quarter. He had already been up and down the East Coast and had been to Florida before.

He knew a man named Jay Cal, who he had met while Cal was traveling through Delaware on a business trip. Cal was from Humble, Texas, near Houston, and offered to let Steele stay with him. Steele decided he was going to drive by himself from Delaware to Texas. Once he moved in with Cal, he got two jobs: one serving smoothies at Smoothie King and the other as a cashier at Walgreens. Walgreens was always a good option for him because he had previous experience working there.

Steele’s next stop was Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston. In Pearland, he drove back and forth to Houston for work, which was impossible once his car broke down. Fortunately, Steele knew that Reynae Danner was on her way out to El Paso, so he caught a bus to the Sun City.

At that point Steele had been out of performing for almost two years, but he knew he still had a passion for theater and wanted to continue his pursuit of his dream to one day become a Broadway actor in New York City. Though he may have been rusty, he heard that nearby New Mexico State University had a great theater department and he was interested in enrolling. With money he had saved plus a little help from the school’s financial aid office, Steele was able to enroll in time for the fall 2015 semester.

While Steele was taking courses at New Mexico State, he didn’t have a place to stay. A girl in one of his classes let him stay in Garcia Hall with her for a while, but she had to kick him out because living in the dorms without paying for it is not allowed. Steele had to go to the last place he wanted to be, back to Delaware.

He had been away from Delaware for 14 months, which was 13 months longer than Chambers thought he was going to be gone. He stayed in Delaware for another seven months, and came back to Las Cruces in time for the fall 2016 semester. This time, he was at New Mexico State to stay.

Steele indicates he is happy at New Mexico State and is heavily involved in the theater department. His number one goal in life is still to make it to Broadway. He has performed in shows put on by the theater department, and is currently looking for any experience he can get as an actor.

In July of 2017, Steele met his fiance, Carlos Gonzales, through a group on Facebook. Gonzalez is an easterner himself and moved to Las Cruces from Virginia Beach, Virginia, in October.

“ [Steele] is a great partner for me. He treats me like a real person; I treat him like a real person. He’s someone I want to come home to everyday,” Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez says coming out west to Las Cruces was unique for him, since he had never been west of Indiana before. In fact, Steele and Gonzalez didn’t even meet each other face-to-face for the first time until Gonzalez moved to Las Cruces. The two had been communicating with each other via Facetime and Skype prior to meeting in person.

Danner says she thinks of Steele as a very determined and driven individual. “He has always been focused on getting better and improving.” She indicates Steele is always looking for ways to improve both as a person and as an actor.

Gonzalez agrees with Danner, and says he supports Steele one hundred percent. “In terms of his goals, I support him wholeheartedly.”

Gonzalez is currently a registered nurse and hopes to open his own nutrition shop in Las Cruces. He says he and Steele are both open to change, and that has served them well so far. The two plan to marry in May of this year.

Steele has big dreams for himself. He has overcome a lot in his life to get where he is today. During his time at New Mexico State, he has made a lot of friends in his department, and still keeps in touch with older friends he has made during his journey.

William Steele has always considered himself a survivor and a risk taker, and that mindset hasn’t failed him yet. Some might even say he’s a “man of Steele.”

One Comment

  1. William Steele

    Thank you Nolan for sharing my story!

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