A Lewiston man whose troubled life led him from completing a year in college to living in a cardboard box in the Boston subway was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison on a gun charge.

Baron Holmes Androscoggin County Jail photo

Baron Holmes, 34, grew up in a Philadelphia ghetto with a mother and grandmother who were both alcoholics and addicted to crack; his father, absent.

Holmes and his mother “were in and out of homeless shelters until one day she brought him to an orphanage and walked away,” wrote Heather Gonzales, Holmes’ public defender.

He lived in an orphanage until he was 3 years old, when his grandmother petitioned for custody of him Gonzales wrote in court documents.

Although the state had taken Holmes’ mother and her 10 siblings away from Holmes’ grandmother when his mother was a child, the state granted his grandmother custody of him.

She “did her best to provide basic necessities, but she was an alcoholic and addicted to crack cocaine,” Gonzales wrote. “They lived in a run-down apartment in the Tasker housing projects in South Philadelphia.”


Developed in 1942, the Tasker projects “were originally clean, safe and integrated. However, toward the 1980s, the area disintegrated into a mess of crime, drugs and poverty,” and populated by roving gangs, Gonzales wrote.

One day at age 12, Holmes was playing basketball when he was grazed by a bullet.

He was determined to steer clear of that life by bagging groceries at neighborhood markets, pumping gas at nearby gas stations and selling candy at baseball and football games at Veterans Stadium, Gonzales wrote.

“It was difficult for me to escape peer pressure in the environment I lived,” he wrote in his college admissions essay. “It was very hard for me to do right when everyone around me was doing wrong.”

Influenced by his older brother, Holmes was 10 years old when he started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.

He had stopped going to school in the fifth grade because it was too dangerous to walk from his neighborhood to the school, he said.


His cousin had been shot, thrown in the trunk of a car and burned to death, Gonzales wrote.

Holmes was jumped one day, so the older boys in his neighborhood gave him a gun. “He thought carrying a gun at 13 years old was a normal way of life. It was around this time that Baron’s grandmother decided she could not take care of him or his brother anymore and returned them to state custody,” Gonzales wrote.

Holmes persevered, living in a group home, and overcame feeling like a “dirty, poor, ghetto child” to become a college student at the nation’s first historically black college and university, Gonzales wrote.

He successfully completed his freshman year in 2006, studying sociology and secondary education.

“His main goal was to make a positive difference in the lives of others,” Gonzales wrote.

But the summer following his freshman year, he left Philadelphia at his grandmother’s urging to move to Boston to take care of his ailing mother, who was still addicted to crack and had been diagnosed with AIDS.


There, he worked to provide for her while her addiction ate up all of his earnings.

“Baron found his mom but lost himself,” Gonzales wrote.

Being around the drugs and alcohol took their toll on him. He began selling drugs to feed her addiction and, eventually, his own.

She died from AIDS while he was serving a prison sentence for a drug deal that involved his brother and  had been elevated because it was near a school.

Holmes was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He never returned to college.


In 2017, he followed his brother to Maine where he found work.

In May 2019, a “cooperating individual” told police Holmes had a camera that had been taken in a burglary and that he had a gun in a bag he was carrying. The informant told police they could find Holmes in Kennedy Park in Lewiston with the stolen camera hanging from his neck.

A detective approached Holmes in the park and asked him where he got the camera, according to a police affidavit.

Holmes said he got it from someone known to police. He handed the camera to the detective. When he was told to hand over the bag, Holmes fled, tossing the bag as he ran.

Police caught Holmes and found a .38-caliber revolver in the bag. They also found crack cocaine in his pocket.

Because of his drug conviction, he was charged in U.S. District Court with being a felon in possession of a firearm, a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


After serving his five-year sentence, he’ll be on supervised release for three years.

A judge ordered Holmes to enroll in a drug treatment program for 500 hours participate in mental health treatment.

He must work or perform 20 hours of community service per week and participate in workforce development training. While on release, he may have no alcohol or illegal drugs and can be searched upon reasonable suspicion.

He also will be barred from having any firearms or dangerous weapons.

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