If winning a lottery is the peak of one’s life, then spending time in jail shortly after that must be near the bottom.
That was part of the roller-coaster ride for U.S. Air Force A1C Takyi Botchway, Air Freight Technician, 43rd Air Mobility Squadron, who only lived in the states a few months before finding himself in jail for what amounts to being a caring individual. There is far more to his story of resiliency before landing at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, in late 2020.
He grew up in Ghana, second oldest of four siblings. His father was the first in the family to be educated, paving the way for his children to do the same. The 32-year-old Botchway spent his last 12 years in Ghana living throughout all areas of the country. He was teaching at an all girl’s high school in 2013 when he received word he had won the lottery. Not the lottery you might expect, but one equally as exciting: the U.S. Visa Lottery.
He arrived in New York City in 2014, greeted by his brother. Geography alone was a culture shock for him, “In Ghana, you can drive from one side of the country to the other in three hours,” Botchway said. “It took longer than that just to get from Upstate New York to New York City.” He lived with his brother for three months before venturing out on his own to learn the American way of life. Nothing came easy, though.
One day, a cousin’s friend asked him to pick up a few packages at the post office. Botchway agreed, thinking he was doing a favor, only to be tracked down by the police department, arrested, and sent to jail for seven days for allegedly handling stolen property. He thought his opportunity at the American dream had been ruined, but the judge noticed he had no prior legal issues before coming to America and was released on his own recognizance.
He found a job working for a food nutrition company and six months later found himself back in jail after taking his paralyzed neighbor to the ATM. Once again, thinking he was doing something good for someone, Botchway’s neighbor handed him her ATM card and relayed the PIN to withdrawal funds. Only one thing was wrong – turned out that the ATM card didn’t belong to his neighbor; it had been stolen.
“I was caught off guard,” Botchway shared. “I never would have thought a neighbor would do that to me. In Ghana, we help others and steer them in the right direction. All we hear about the United States are positive things, so I expected all the people here to be trustworthy. When I made those mistakes, I thought for sure my life was over.”
It was his roommate at the time who steered him in the right direction, picking him up from jail, helping him with his resume, taking him to get a driver’s license and explaining, “Your life isn’t over.” The court agreed – dropping his charges after realizing he was doing nothing more than helping a neighbor.
With a new lease on life, Botchway followed up with a previous dream of joining the Air Force. He initially contacted a recruiter in 2014 upon first arriving in the U.S., but since he didn’t have access to a phone or a computer, the recruiter was unable to contact him. He followed up with an Air National Guard recruiter in 2017, but after receiving a job promotion he put the military on the backburner.
It was a trip home to visit his family and his daughter when he realized it was time to get serious. “I have always loved planes,” Botchway described. “I love physics and math and still want to be a pilot. It was always the Air Force for me, though, I didn’t know anything about the other branches.”
In March 2020, finally ready to join, he saw his dream delayed a bit longer due to coronavirus protocols. He successfully completed basic training later that year and arrived at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, for his first assignment as a Port Dawg.
Botchway’s roommate, Jonathan Ortiz, who helped steer him in the right direction after a rough start in the U.S., tragically died in February 2018. He is far from forgotten though. “Jonathan was like a brother to me,” Botchway shared. “I’m so thankful for his friendship and being there when I thought my life was ruined. Everything I do is in his honor.
For a college-educated, big-hearted person who speaks five languages, most would expect his journey to have been a little easier. After dodging a few unfortunate situations, arriving in an entirely new country and new way of life ,with no telephone, no email address, and no computer, all while living clear across the globe from his family and daughter – Botchway is proud to be an Airman.
“Every day I learn something new,” Botchway said. “I’m an adult, but since I’m not from here originally, I’m like a seven-year-old because I am still learning so much.”
His pride in the U.S. Air Force is obvious. “I feel like the Air Force is a leadership institution. Nobody should leave without the Air Force qualities instilled in them. Some Airmen join at the age of 17 and they haven’t had the experience working with a company. When they leave the Air Force, they should be able to take on leadership and managerial roles in any company or in society. If the Air Force can do what it’s capable of doing, in a certain sense, Airmen should be able to handle anything in life.”
Botchway’s story of perseverance and resiliency is something anyone can learn from. His hope is that others realize what they have in front of them. “That would be a great dream for me – for others to understand the opportunity they have with the Air Force that sets them up for success,” Botchway said. “I hope others understand they have the opportunity to make a difference.
“And, for everyone else who continues to aim high: always win in the face of adversity!”
(Harley’s Hope highlights Team Pope Airmen while providing a snapshot into their culture, stereotypes faced, and how their culture plays a role in their personal and professional lives.)