Wednesday, September 27, 2017

DJ Shab "Mr. Bring The City Out"

You may have attended a party, Club Aqua, Plush (when it was open), heard My Tenacity Radio or recently been to Mavericks. If you have or even if you haven’t by now you probably heard of DJ Shab better known as “Mr. Bring The City Out”.  Shab is no stranger to Jacksonville’s night scene and is on the rise to being one of Jacksonville’s very own hottest MC’s/ DJ’s. His journey started about eight years ago when he was eighteen he and his friend Sheldon threw a party for his 18th birthday. The party was in Orange Park at a hotel with over 300 in attendance. It was so successful that Sheldon encouraged Shab that they should start throwing parties. So it began and while they both worked at the tennis shoe store Athlete’s Foot they were working and throwing parties at night and on the weekends when they weren’t working. 

After about two years Sheldon wanted to cut out the expense of paying a DJ and thought they could just do it themselves. The two of them put their money together and bought the cheapest turn table board available and a laptop. They started practicing at the house with Sheldon being the DJ and Shab being the MC. Shab admits through laughter that at first he was afraid he sounded corny on the mic but eventually learned that you just have to be yourself and the crowd will follow suit.  Together they started hosting events and the crowds grew with each event. Then they started hosting teen parties and until this day Shab DJ’s teen parties because eventually teens become adults and they always come back to support.

A few years back on Easter Sunday there were three clubs open. Point Blank Ent had Aqua, Plush was open and Shab & Sheldon had a club called Icon on Beach Blvd. Icon had no liquor license so only wine was being served. On this night they shut the entire city down and this was the turning point for them as they begin to make their mark. Bigga Rankins put them on the 2 Chainz and Future show at Plush which was a success. The last event at Plush before they officially closed  was his birthday party and Young Thug performed. At this time Young Thug was a new artist with his hit single “I’m a Stoner”. Throughout all of this they were both still working at the shoe store. Shab was eventually let go and he gained momentum and started building his brand. Throwing parties became his sole source of income so he had to take it serious. He came up with ways to turn his passion into profit so he began hosting mixtapes, selling rideout mixtapes as well as having meet and greets with artists.

Shab feels like his events are successful because he makes his events memorable through promotions. A lot of small businesses are missing promotions. He and his homeboy hit all sides of town distributing flyers, hanging posters and grabbing the attention of his supporters. Promoting is about relevancy as well and ensuring that the artists that you bring are who the people want to see. Jacksonville is NOT a crab city. He hates when he hears this. In business you have to prepare yourself for disappointments because NOONE owes you anything!!! You have to make the people want to support you by working hard. You also have to thank the people who do support you. If people love what you are doing then they will support you and you get support by being a blessing to others says Shab. Recently he fed the homeless and was compelled to do something because the city has tremendously blessed him. “You gotta pay your tithes and you gotta give back.”

On October 14, 2014 DJ Sheldon passed away. He had only been fighting cancer for a short while. Sheldon and Shab often played Madden and they took it very serious. Shab recalls one day playing the game and Sheldon didn’t feel well so they stopped. He went to the hospital and had tests ran and was diagnosed with cancer. When Sheldon passed away Shab didn’t know what to do! He considered it over because up until this point he was only an MC and didn’t know how to DJ. People wanted to join his team as his selector but he didn’t feel right having anyone in Sheldon’s place. Big Al from Boss Security gave him the advice to learn how to DJ on his own and be a one man show. Sheldon is irreplaceable so after his passing Shab became “The Shab and Sheldon Show”. He had to learn everything dealing with being a DJ. DJ Swag taught him to beat match, mixing and mastering and Byrd Sanchez taught him as well. When asked how he recovered in Sheldon’s absence he responded that he has yet to recover but he knows that this is what Sheldon wanted so he has to keep going.

If he could give anyone advice he has three key points and they are to build your brand, stay consistent and outwork everybody. If you combine all of these then you are sure to be successful in your business. His ultimate goal is to be a world renowned DJ/MC. He is inpsired by Bigga Rankins, DJ Khaled and DJ Drama. Shab also acknowledges that his manager Ron Da Don has played an integral role in his success. Family and his past also inspires him because he grew up on Jacksonville’s Northside off of Fairfax and saw a lot of people fall victim to the streets and he wanted to take a different route. No matter how far he gets in life or how much money he makes he will always be grounded in Duval and he doesn’t mind sharing his story to help others. Stay tuned the best is yet to come. 

                                                  LONG LIVE DJ SHELDON!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I am so tired of hearing about "IT WORKS", Aren't You?

Over the course of 2017 I saw an influx in social media posts about “ItWorks Global”. Several of my Facebook friends are posting about various weight loss and skin care products that the company offered. There are before and after photos, screenshots of direct deposit payments and the promise of financial freedom if you just dare to sign up and be a distributor.  Through a mutual friend on social media I followed Antinese Stinson prior to me knowing she was a distributor of the trending wellness company. I met her at Westside High School and I honestly just liked her radiant personality and her whitty humor. As time went on I began to notice her posts about the It Works products and admittedly they peaked my interest. I am a woman who has tried everything but crack on my own personal weight loss journey. Honestly when I saw the post I clicked like because I am always proud of my peers who are embarking on entrepreneurial endeavors. Also admittedly I AM NOT a sales person so don’t even ask was a thought that crossed my mind just like others I’m sure who see these posts in passing. Time continued on and I noticed all of the promotions that Antinese was getting within the company and just like everyone else while proud of her I had lingering thoughts like this is just to good to be true. I even became an auto ship customer of hers because I wanted so badly to see this mother of two reach her goal of being a top performer. I typically only blog about the criminal justice system but it is important for me to highlight people of color in my community doing positive things as well as uplifting and empowering women like myself. I reached out to Antinese also known as Nikki and asked if she would be interested in being interviewed for my blog and she agreed.
In elementary school Antinese was a straight A student from kindergarten until the 8th grade and in middle school she won an award for having good grades her entire school career. In the 9th grade that begin to change and she no longer wanted to be smart, she wanted to fit in so she stopped applying herself. She simply wanted to do what the other kids did. There was a point during high school Antinese was only attending school once a week while her mom was busy working three jobs.  Her father was always an entrepreneur and her mom always worked a lot. No matter what her mom always did what she needed to do to make things happen for she and her brothers.  Around age eleven her mom worked three jobs and at one point they didn’t have a car. Her mom rode a bike to work at night to Krystal’s from 11 to 7 then rode it home showered and worked her day job. Her dad was incarcerated up until age 12 for various drug charges. They visited and corresponded through letters His physical absence didn’t really affect Antinese because this had become normal for her and her mother filled the voids as best she knew how.
Roughly two weeks after graduating from Robert E. Lee High School in the year 2000 Antinese found out she was pregnant. After graduation she had no plans and with a baby on the way didn’t really know what  she wanted to do. She got a job working at a call center and one day while running to catch the bus it was pouring rain. The bus driver saw her running and splashed her with a puddle. She went back home and this was the start of many incidents with several jobs.
In 2003 she had her second son and started working as a medical assistant. In 2005 to 2007 she worked at an abortion clinic. After that she worked at a companion service and an OBGYN office where she has seen everything dealing with female genitalia. In 2011 she was in nursing school with one semester left with a 4.0 GPA. A classmate who had recently lost her healthcare asked her could she bring birth control samples to class. She thought nothing of it because women regularly received free samples at the office. While exchanging the pills another student was selling candy bars for a fundraiser and Antinese purchased one. An on looking student told the professor that she was selling pills. As a result she was kicked out of school and two days later she was terminated and arrested because her professor contacted her employer. She thought life was OVER! Her entire life she wanted to be a nurse and through life’s shortcomings that was her chance. She cried everyday for over a week.
In 2012 Antinese started several odd and end jobs from tax preparation, personal assisting, working the door at night clubs, strip clubs, call centers, cleaning service and even worked as an Uber/Lyft driver but she didn’t want anyone to know.
In May of 2016 she saw a post from Ashley Goggins that read “looking for 5 ladies to make residual income text lunch to ____________”. They met a few days later at Panera. Antinese thought she was getting a job. She went to the meeting with a resume and Ashley told her about It Works and in her mind she was thinking “You gotta be fu*king kidding me”. Ashley told her it was $99 to start but she didn’t have it. She handed Ashley her card and prayed that it went through. The payment total was $113 and there was $115 available on her card. She received the kit in May and didn’t open it until October. Meanwhile she was still working two driver jobs for both Uber & Lyft, working at Revlon, her cleaning service, a student, a mother and still struggling.
She attempted a wrap party but her friends weren’t receptive and she thought no one would support it. She also thought that by being plus sized no one would purchase weight loss supplements from her. In October 2016 Antinese began posting to social media about Its Works and within two weeks she had 30 customers. She continued posting and people were receptive. She promoted four ranks in 30 days by recruiting 16 distributors under her team and as a result she received a $1000 bonus. From November 2016 to January 2017 she promoted to Diamond a leadership rank with 26 distributors now on her team and received a $10,000 bonus. In March she promoted to double diamond with over 46 distributors working on her team and a total of over 300 team members and received a $30,000 bonus!!!! (These bonuses are broken into payments over time.
Antinese is no longer receiving public assistance, paid off debts, repaired her credit and quit ALL of her jobs except the cleaning service which she owns and Its Works! Today she is preparing to promote to Triple Diamond and anticipating a $25,000 bonus. Once this goal is accomplished she will have received $66,000 in bonuses not including her monthly commissions and weekly bonuses. With these supplements she has lost roughly 25 pounds, her skin is clear, her blood pressure is down and her bank account is up. Even with her past shortcomings, the arrest, her childhood, overcoming bullying, being a single mother and every single curve ball life threw at her she was able to find something that not only helps others but she has helped herself and is on the road to financial freedom!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Orain Benjamin Reddick: 1 year later

August 1st 2016 I was asleep and my phone rang at 4:42 a.m. it was Kenneth Reddick. I missed the call but I remember thinking to myself that he called me in error. I picked the phone up and I called back Kenneth answered saying " Renata he gone" I can't recall much after that but sobbing on the floor. I called Neisha and she answered and within 15 minutes Nashira was in my dining room. I think I even called his phone to see if he would answer. The entire day was so surreal! I remember logging on to Facebook and my entire timeline was filled with rest in peace post. I got in the car and turned on the radio and his name was being shouted out! It was like the entire city mourned his loss. I was sad but also proud to have known someone who affected the lives of so many. We met officially more than ten years ago while getting my hair done at Carlos' shop then we worked together at a mortgage banking company. We used to have town hall meetings at work and in this one particular meeting the CEO of the company was expected to attend. I remember getting to work and Orain was dressed in a bright yellow sweater with a bow tie and slacks. Everybody on the team laughed because he was overdressed. All day long Orain told us how we would not be laughing when he became the CEO. Long story short at the end of the town hall he was talking to the CEO, shaking his hand and taking pictures. That picture ended up all over the company website and in print! That was classic Orain always making something bigger than it was and inserting himself and eventually taking over. Orain had a way of making everything he was involved in grandiose, it was the next big thing and if you knew him you had to support it or you were dumb! I have so many fond memories over the course of our friendship and I am going to capture as many as I can.

First on family anyone that knew him knew that he LOVED his family!! He often talked about his father Bill that preceded him in death and how he was tough on him. He said that people often told him that they were just alike. He also often talked about his sister who too preceded him in death. He adored his nephew Joel and admired him as a young father. If you knew him you knew how much he loved his big brother Kenneth and that he thought he was his daddy. Orain would always say "He ain't my daddy, my daddy dead"! lol. Anyone that knew him knows he didn't play about Ms. Barbara he would talk trash but he drove her to church and doctors appointments, he named her Jesus secretary. He shared with me that he had loved "Moni" since he was fourteen years old and that he had been pursuing her pretty much his entire life.

One of my fondest memories of him was his interactions with the kids Nazah, Selah, Judah and Jordyn. He loved challenging them he was extremely hard on them because he wanted the best. He was so proud of all of them in all their endeavors. He wanted Nazah to go to college and drive a brand new fuel efficient Prius. He attended all of her sporting events and was the loudest one cheering and after took other kids home who didn't have a ride. He believed wholeheartedly that Selah would one day be the best basketball player! He once ordered a huge life size cut out of her face and held them up at her game. He used to call Judah "The Big Hurt" his favorite son. He was hard on him because he thought he needed to prepare him for the harsh realities of the world. Finally Jordyn she could do no wrong in his eyes. He said she took after Ms. Barbara. She was his feisty fast track runner and he knew one day she would be an olympic runner.

On friendship Orain was an extremely supportive and dedicated friend. You didn't have to solicit his advice because he gave it without you asking. You could call him for a laugh, business advice or moral support. If you were working on a project and you went to him then it became his project too as if it were his creation and he took over the project. He made sure to tell everyone he loved them which honestly for me was weird but eventually you had no choice. He told me that the doctors told him he wouldn't live beyond his teen years due to sickle cell anemia. This was the reason he told people he loved them because it might be his last time. I saw Orain the Thursday before his death and I was in a meeting. He walked past the room I was meeting in and noticed me so he turned around to speak. I was seated at a conference room table and the table had files on it. He walked in shook the woman's hand whom I was meeting with and said boldly "Hi I am Orain Benjamin Reddick" then he picked up the file and asked "Who is this" I snatched the folder and we laughed. The following day we spoke by phone for about 30 minutes. Two days later he was gone. I have never lost a close friend especially one who I talked to almost daily. This entire experience has taught me to cherish life because it truly is precious. I now tell my friends that I love them with no inhibitions. Most importantly I live in the spirit of Orain. By that I mean nothing stops me he never made excuses that he couldn't do something because of sickle cell. If he had an idea he executed it rather or not he had the resources or not. he believed in himself and those around him. I partnered with him in 2015 to feed the homeless. Orain setup donation drop off locations and created a system where we passed out 250 bagged lunches for the homeless once a month.

Orain and 18 others protested the Sheriff's Office standing in solidarity with other cities who lose citizens to police violence. He and the others stopped traffic by shutting the Harts Bridge down. As a result Orain and the others were arrested. This was a bold move and it took great courage. Once he was released the next day he said "You're not an activist until you get arrested" and he began to compare himself to Dr. Cornel West. All the way until his last day on earth he spent it giving back to others. He went on a young male retreat with the Building Powerful Minds group. This group serves at risk black males ages 5 to 18. I told this story at his wake but he was also the Vice President of the Raines PTA association. He told me he was unanimously voted in at his first ever meeting. I later found out that there were only three members in attendance!!

No matter what capacity you knew him in you loved him. Orain was a husband, father, son, friend, Kappa, 21Q, Orie Gold, basketball coach, real estate agent, mentor, sickle cell warrior, bow tie designer, activist, follower of Dr. Sebi, The greatest debater and a bee keeper!!!!!!!!

There has not been one day over the last 365 that I have not thought of O or been reminded of him. Rather it be a bow tie, a political issue, hearing Outkast or simply wanting to have a debate about some world issue. Orain you are greatly missed. I can literally hear your voice tell me that life is chess not checkers and when I make decisions they are strategic and not based on emotion. I thanked you in my first book because I remember you telling me from your hospital bed "Either write it or shut up". So I did! I miss visiting the hospital and bringing you peach Nehi, sunflower seeds, watermelon blow pops and Zaxby's. I miss talking on the phone in the morning while you drop the girls off and they fist fight in the background. I miss the debates, the rants and the trash talking during football season.

Lastly speaking of the Jags the day before your wake I spoke with Gus Bradley's wife (former head coach of the Jaguars) and informed her of your passing she passed the message to him and as I exited your wake he was outside. That's the affect you had on people that at the start of the season an NFL coach came to say goodbye.

This was a hard year but we somehow made it. I have to constantly remind myself that legends don't die they live on through those of us that loved them. You will never be forgotten. I will carry you everywhere I go and I will tell everyone I come in contact with what an awesome friend and community leader you were. WE ALL WE GOT. Frick with no Frack. Until we meet again......

P.S. Nazah I know he is proud of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Sound Beyond The Picture (Bigger than life painting of Jacksonville Activist)

If you’ve crossed the Harts bridge since November then you probably have seen the spray painted figures on the huge silos. Many have driven past but don’t know that the faces belong to Connell Crooms and Sara Mahmoud (Palestinian Activist). Last week I had the distinct honor and pleasure of meeting with 26 year old Connell Crooms a local activist and member of the deaf community. I became familiar with his name in April when what started as a rally against American imperialism turned into officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office attacking peaceful protestors. According to Crooms there were agitators in attendance and the protestors had petitioned the police to separate them from the protest. In an effort to strike Connell one of the disturbers struck the officer. After this occurrence five police officers began to attack Connell and it was all caught on camera. He was punched, kicked, kneed in the face, tased and lost his hearing aid which was later found. He was then arrested and taken to the hospital after being knocked unconscious.
Once he was hospitalized there was no sign language interpreter on hand for hours. Even once transported to the jail there was no means of communication for deaf inmates. The only means of communication inside the Duval County Jail are TTY phones. Crooms states being born in 1990 that method is completely obsolete and no longer used. While in jail overnight he had to rely on the help of another inmate to contact his family. Speaking about this life changing ordeal brought on emotions for the both of us. On June 2nd the State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against Connell which was a huge relief but he still doesn’t feel good about it. The officers in question were not reprimanded and as of now there is an internal investigation Connell can only think what if it would have been a gun instead of a taser? He has no expectation for police officers to ever be punished for police crime. Crooms states “It takes death to see justice. It takes a shooting as opposed to a beating”.
At age 5 Connell’s family learned that he was deaf. He graduated from The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in 2009  most notably known for Ray Charles attending. He is also one of the founders of Deafinitely Dope which bridges the gap between the deaf and speaking world through music. Connell signs the lyrics to hip hop music ideally making a music video in his hands. Recently his founding partner Matt Maxey has toured with Chance The Rapper as an interpreter. He is bringing awareness to the American Sign Language. There are not a lot of African American interpreters in Hip Hop music that understand the culture says Crooms.
In November 2016 an artist from Australia Guido Van Helsten saw both Crooms and Mahmoud speak at a Dump Trump rally and chose them as the subjects of his work. The artwork was completed in 4 days using a crane. The paintings were commissioned by Art Republic. When he was told he was being painted he thought it could be hung at home. He swerved off the road when he saw it in disbelief. The mural stands for solidarity “rather you are white, black, gay or trans if you are working class we all stand together.
Currently Crooms is working alongside others on a JPAC (Jacksonville Police Accountability Council). This is a non politically biased council democratically elected by the people to oversee the hiring, firing and investigations of the police. Connell believes this is our only choice unless we as blacks continue to beaten, shot and killed by the police. Police are historically rooted in slave patrols. He states “We can keep changing elected officials and Sheriffs but we need to have oversight over the police”.
Ultimately Connell wants from his activism programs for poor black communities and would love to bring the original Panther party model back. He wants to charge all young African Americans to stand up for what they believe in!
“If you are young and black read up on your history because that’s all we have! We are living in revolutionary times. BE THE CHANGE & FREE PALESTINE”. – Connell Crooms

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Disease And A Cure (Borderico Letter to the Judge)

Dear Judge Howard, If I had to title the story of my life, it would be "A Disease And A Cure". I think the disease began in my 8th grade year at Dupont Middle School. At the time I was staying with my aunt, uncle and cousin on the southside of Jacksonville. I liked those living conditions better. Mostly because I felt more apart of a family with a dad and I had a big brother instead of a cousin. My cousin was an only child so he was spoiled with all of the latest games and toys. I grew up being the only boy with five women so it was a welcomed change. My mom had me playing sports by age 5 or 6. Every year it was baseball and football. I played basketball a couple of seasons but didn't like it much. I also did boxing at the Police Athletic League for a year. I've always excelled academically. I never had a problem learning and always wanted to learn more. Through magnet programs and doing extra credit work, I actually graduated a year early. My 8th grade year would have been my first year playing school sports. I was a good football player and easily made the team. I was also kind of popular and well liked amongst my team mates. About a week before our first scheduled game of the season, I had a horrible day in school. I'm not exactly sure what set off or caused the sequence of events that day, but it ended with three disciplinary referrals and me getting kicked off the football team. All of the infractions were minor, but the fact that it was three seperate violations made it a big deal. I remember pleading with the coach for another chance. My aunt suggested I write a formal letter of apology and get all of my team mates to sign it, which I did, but my coach had already made his decision and said it was final. Reflecting back on that moment, I really think that's where things took a turn for the worst. By the end of that year, I was sent to Mattie V. Alternative school and smoking weed. My uncle sent back to my mom's house, which was in the middle of a drug zone. She stayed off of MLK and Myrtle Avenue at the time. Every single friend I made in that neighborhood sold drugs. My first package came from a guy who went by the name "Pop". I actually used to call him dad because every time he saw me, he called me son and gave me a few dollars. My mom never knew this guy and still doesn't until this day. She was busy working two jobs and doing the best she could to make sure we had food in our stomachs and a roof over our heads. I remember asking him for some money one day at the pool hall. He said he didn't have any, so I asked this guy he was shooting pool against. Before the guy could respond, Pop got mad and pulled me outside to the car. When we got in the car, he pulled out a bag of crack and asked me, "do you know how to sell this?" I didn't but I told him I did. He gave me the whole bag and told me that he better never hear me ask another man for nothing again, including him. That was the beginning of the worst addiction in my life. Selling drugs is a disease that has plagued my life since I was 14. I've made so many bad decisions since then that it's impossible to count them. My worst decision probably being the friends I chose. I've been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time so often that it sounds like an excuse rather than the truth. Excuses are the reason for my current situation. Trying to think for others. Trying to determine what other people need. Putting myself in this situation again has hurt my family more than what I did to get myself here has ever helped them. The first thing the detectives asked me when I was arrested was if I wanted to ever see my son play football again. I didn't answer that question at the time because I knew it was rhetorical, but not a day goes by that I don't wish I could be on that sideline. Being raised without a father has been the only motivation I've ever needed to do any and everything possible to make my children happy. I've made mistakes. Too many. As a matter of fact, I can even see now where I've foolishly tried correcting old mistakes by making new ones! Every choice I've made in life, I chose to make. Sometimes outside influence has had an effect, but for the most part it's been all me. I chose to use drugs while on probation knowing I could be drug tested on any given day. I chose to sell drugs knowing it was against the law. I chose to be in this situation I'm in because of the choices I chose to make. All I've ever wanted to do since January 2011 is be the best father I can be, make music my career, and escape Jacksonville. I made several new friends, good friends you can say. People very supportive of my musical ambitions, hard working, no arrest records etc. One of these friends used to let me drive his cars. I got pulled over while driving his car a couple of times, and he had a gun locked in the glove compartment. It was his gun, he claimed the gun and the charges were dismissed. I was never aware of the presence of the guns. The thought never crossed my mind to even worry about stuff like that because I knew he wasn't one of my typical friends from the neighborhood. Then there's Carrie Thompson. A Godsend. We met at the first "Back to School Drive" I had in the summer of 2012. Since then she has done more for me than everyone short of my mother. Very positive, very supportive, very helpful in any way she can possibly be. Carrie has pushed me and pushed me until success was the only option. With her knowledge and experience in the music industry, she has helped me elevate my career to successful heights. Officially I call her my manager, just like she won't accept any of the monies from my career. She is a part of my family just as much as one of my sisters. It took me every day since January 2011 to attain my status as an artist and I plan on doing whatever I possibly can to retain it. Music is my CURE! It has been the most effective antigen possible for me. I know that I have made the kind of mistakes that carry minimum mandatory sentences. For that, I am regretful and remorseful. I know that my past looks pretty shabby, but it does not accurately represent the man that I am today. Instead of judging me by my past transgressions, I ask that you look at my future potential and chance of being and remaining a positive part of society. I can't speak for everyone in my situation, but I have nothing material worth being seized by the government. I have no cars, houses, jewelry, or anything to forfeit. The only thing I have of any real value is my family and career. My biggest fear is to be separated from my children at a point in their lives when I am needed the most. A period of time that would make it too late to save one of them from the vicious cycle that has me where I am currently today. I fear the day my son might ask another man for a dollar. The day my son looks at another man as his father. I fear the day will come the next "Pop" might approach my son with the same choice I was presented and I won't be there to give him proper guidance that a father should. I've used my family as an excuse in the past to justify the choices I chose to make. An excuse is when you can make the right choice, but you choose to do what you know is wrong. As a better man, my family is the reason I am going to make better decisions. A reason is when you have no choice or control over the situation. I sincerely hope that the story of my life does not stray from the fact that I accept full responsibility for my actions. Have no doubt about that. I have a great mom who did a great job raising me to the best of her abilities. The fact that I did not grow up with a father had no influence over the stupid decisions I chose to make. I understand I must be held accountable for my actions and am prepared to do so. I know I've been given a chance before and didn't take full advantage of it. This time is different because of my children and level of maturity. There is no better teacher than life itself. I can't change the past, but I can choose to change. I am only asking for the same chance I wish I could have gotten from my 8th grade football coach. This is the only opportunity I'll ever need from you your Honor. To be there for my children, my family and my supporters. I owe it to every one of the people who ever believed in me. Hopefully that means I owe it to you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sharron Townsend: Sentenced to 30 years at age 15

At birth black boys are given two options, they can choose jail or death and two destinations prison or the cemetary. Statistics show that one in 3 African American males will experience incarceration in their lifetime. At age fifteen Sharron's mother gave birth to him in New Jersey. His father has been in and out of jails and prisons his entire life. Growing up Sharron remembers he, his brother and mother living on the streets and when they were able to find housing they always went back and opened their home to allow others in transition to take a shower and often took them food. In one of our many visits inside the Duval County Jail he shared with me that he remembers those times and would have never done something to someone living on the streets. About two weeks ago the defense team put on a very compelling mitigation hearing where Sharron's upbringing and social history was presented in great detail. Neurologist, psychologist and mitigation experts all took the stand explaining to the courts that the frontal lobe of an adolescent preteen is not developed. The frontal lobe helps us make decisions and thus results in "impetuous and ill considered actions and decisions". Simply put children do NOT consider the long term consequences of their immediate actions. They are vulnerable to poor decision making and hanging with the wrong crowd. Society dictates that a normal household contains two equipped working adults in a loving home with a white picket fence a pet dog if you're lucky. Sharron's life and upbringing is so far from the standard of normalcy that to read is unbelievable. He never had a chance from the start. In his early childhood he was labeled as ESE and over medicated for attention deficit disorder. When he didn't have medicine of his own his mother would give him his brothers medicine which was a different brand and dosage. It was suggested that during pregnancy his mother consumed both drugs and alcohol which could have contributed to his brain dysfunction. Experts testified that given a nourishing and loving structured environment that a child like Sharron can rehabilitate. In George Jackson’s Soledad Brother he wrote “There is a species of fly that lives only four hours. If one of these flies was born at twelve o’clock midnight in darkness and gloom, there would be no way possible for him in his lifetime to ever understand the concept of day and light. This is the case with Sharron. It was said at the hearing that the only structure Sharron has experienced has been his almost two year incarceration housed in an adult jail. While incarcerated Sharron has been written up on several disciplinary referrals for fighting, horse playing and even playing in water. In one visit I asked an officer what did he expect from a child locked in a cage to do? As a form of punishment to these referrals a few times Sharron was stripped of his visits and phone calls to call home. Also as a punishment he was placed on twenty three hour lock down and only let out to shower and go to rec alone for one hour. It was during these times that outside of his cell mates and the officers I was the ONLY face he would see for weeks at a time. Every week when we met I encouraged him to behave better and I never allowed him to believe that he was going home but that his attorneys were fighting extremely hard to get him a fair sentence. Every week he bopped or skipped down the hallway to a room and we talked about school, girls, sports, books, his future or whatever was on his mind at the time. I can recall one visit when he made the comment that at sixteen his dad is going to buy him a car and I began to cry because I knew he would not be free at that age to drive a car. I now know that he won’t have the opportunity to finish high school, attend a prom, play high school sports, attend college or have children of his own until he is in his late forties. Today at the sentencing the judge recapped the case and spoke directly to Sharron for nearly twenty minutes. Judge Schemer told him that he knows that it was difficult coming up under those circumstances but when viewing the police interrogation video Sharron showed no remorse or that he was affected emotionally. He told him that not only did he take the life of the victim but part of the lives of his family and friends. Judge Schemer also cited three landmark supreme court cases that explain the differences between children and adults. Roper vs. Simmons (imposes it is unconstitutional for juveniles to receive capital punishment) Graham vs. Florida (prohibits life without parole for juveniles) Miller vs. Alabama (imposes that mandatory life sentences for juveniles violates the 8th amendment) Judge Schemer seemed to be in agreement that kids are different and was even empathetic to Sharron’s learning disability but before handing down his sentence wanted him to understand that mitigation is not justification or an excuse for taking a life. Sharron was sentenced to 30 years today followed by ten years probation. After serving fifteen years his case can be reviewed and if denied it can be reviewed again at twenty five years. Schemer told Townsend “this creates the possibility but does not guarantee that you will have the key to the cell door. Rather that key has anything to do with unlocking that cell door has everything to do with you and your ability to rehabilitate.” I sat in complete horror today as this sentencing was read aloud and the tears began to roll down my face. I have been advocating for young people now for six years and it doesn’t get easier. I have built a bond with Sharron and to me he is just another kid from unfortunate circumstances. The orange jumpsuit has never made me look at him different. I am always asked what if your loved one was the victim? My answer remains the same. I would still want the defendant to have a second chance at life and an opportunity to redeem themselves. My heart was broken today as I watched Sharron be ushered on his journey to prison in handcuffs and shackles. I could only think about what the next 30 years will look like for him. I am only 32 and have only done one thing consistently for 30 years. At fifteen he can't even grasp the concept of what exactly a thirty year sentence means for him. Even after serving the 30 years he will be on probation for an additional ten years for a choice made at age twelve. There is also a false notion that prison rehabilitates which is far from truth. There are very few programs available to those serving lengthy sentences like Sharron. The vocational and educational programs that are available are saved for those who will reenter society. So for someone serving a 30 year sentence they will not be able to take advantage of such programming until the last 5 years of their sentence. I urge all parents to talk to their children about the decisions they make and the crowd they choose to hang around because one poor choice can cost them their entire life. P.S. Never Give Up Hope. Ever. Love #THEHopeDealer