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The Winner: Edward F. Maz, 38

"Don't want to go there no more."

Somehow he has. His determination and his story of potential salvation, led us to choose him as our cover subject for this issue.

And though publishers and performers aren't calling him — yet — something in Maz's blunt demeanor says he won't go down the wrong road again. Maz is now trying to create his own Richmond-based rap and R&B record label. It's still a faraway goal. He is coming up with the music and the words, but actual musicians have yet to materialize. Maz himself has no desire for celebrity. "It's about the look," he says sagely. "And I don't have the look."

Maz believes that eventually he'll find his future stars. Until then, he's working toward his ambition by going to school and writing out his plans. And maybe, he reasons, a page of publicity could help launch his dream.

Why the name "Fell-o-ny"? Well, he explains, misdemeanors stay on your record for only three years. "If it's a felony, it stays forever." Maz knows firsthand.

A native of Lima, Peru, Maz (pronounced "maze") came to Richmond with his parents in 1968. "My father always wanted to give us kids a better way of life," he says. Yet hanging out with his friends in the streets of Creighton Court and Fairfield Court, the young Maz found he liked "going out and doing all kinds of stupid things" more than school.

He scorned his father's belief in hard work. He cringed when neighbors told him he looked like his dad. "Evil" is how Maz describes his younger self. "Real mean," he continues. "I was angry at a lot of people … because I felt like so many people had more than I did. I tried to get it the wrong way."

Drugs and blood stained his life. His friends started dying. "I lost a couple people right beside me," Maz says. In 1988, his father died of cancer. It was Nov. 13 at 4:30 a.m., a date and time etched so deeply in Maz's memory that still it brings tears to his eyes. Then, Maz says, he decided "my life's gonna change." But those changes took a long time to happen.

In 1994, while working as an electrician for the city, Maz was arrested on drug charges. He was on the job when the police took him away, he says, still wincing at the memory. But that ignominy marked the beginning of the real change in Maz's life, he says, the moment when he realized "you'll pay for whatever mistake you make."

There's little to do when you're doing time, Maz says, so "what I did was buy a piece of paper and a pen and start writing, just to pass the time away." Even after he was released on probation seven months later, he couldn't put the pen down.

One piece of paper turned into eight books, six screenplays, "and to tell God thank you," Maz wrote, "one Christian play called 'Thug Angel,' about an angel helping people who also happens to get high." He wrote a poem for his best friend, Terry Lynn Wingate, who died in a car accident shortly after Maz's release. None has been published — yet, he says.

He spent two years working temp jobs, all the while hoping to get his city job back. In 1997, he succeeded, and has been an electrician journeyman for the city's Department of Public Works ever since. He's also taking classes in writing and music at John Tyler and J. Sargeant Reynolds community colleges. He's tired of scraping by and anxious for success. "I want mine," Maz says. "And this time, it'll be done the right way."

Sometimes, Maz still sees his old friends on the street. "When they see me, they just hug me," he says. "I told them, 'We can't be friends because I think what you do is wrong.' " He's reluctant now to talk about his wild younger days. "Don't want to go there no more," he says, and looks away.

He's in a different place now. Four years ago he adopted a son, Christopher. A Guatemalan couple that was being deported had asked Maz to take their son, to give him a better life. He wishes he could do more. Shortly before he adopted Christopher a woman Maz knew was deported to Guatemala with her 4-year-old son, Marvin. He died after only two weeks in Guatemala, ill from drinking bad water. "I was kinda mad at myself," Maz says, for not having saved that child by adopting him.

Now Maz is married. He and his wife, Rebecca, recently celebrated their first anniversary. And Maz adores his son, now 7 — so smart, so active, he says. Whenever the two are out, people always say the boy looks just like him. And Maz smiles with pride.

"Life is so weird," he reflects. "Everything goes full circle." S

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