Episode #35: Song for My Father, Pt. II

Friday, June 7, 2013

Last week in our series, we looked at the generational cycle of incarceration that ravages some Baltimore neighborhoods. Today, we’ll talk about how to break the cycle of violence and incarceration, with a particular emphasis on the role of fathers to make or break the cycle.

We’ll talk with Joe Jones, the director of the Center for Urban Families. He is the founder and director of the Center for Urban Families here in Baltimore. A number of the center’s initiatives have been replicated across the country. One of those initiatives is the Baltimore Responsible Fatherhood Project, which works with low income fathers to help them accept the financial and emotional obligations of fatherhood.

We also have the story of Ameer Jones (no relation to Joe). He grew up in West Baltimore. He lived with his mother, who had a decent job. His father, a drug dealer, didn’t live in the house with Ameer or his two brothers. When Ameer was 13, his father was killed in a drug-related incident.

Ameer told Tom Hall, "I can remember then saying to my mother that I was going to kill the guy. I meant it because I was hurt, but I didn’t know if it would really come into fruition, but that’s how I felt."

That hurt simmered inside him during his teens and early twenties. Like his father, he turned to drugs, as a dealer and a user.  But, that initial impulse to get revenge for his father’s death never went away: "It destroyed me, actually. It had me desensitized to a sense. You know, because at that point, in the streets, they say it’s survival of the fittest. You either become a sheep or a wolf. I had become a wolf."

Ameer would eventually kill the man in a planned attack. A teenager who told The Baltimore Sun at the time that he witnessed the shooting said quote: "He just walked up to him, fired at him over and over, and walked away like it was nothing. We counted the shots: There were 13 of them."

Ameer was eventually arrested for the murder and  pled a deal for 35 years with all but ten suspended. When he went to prison, someone slipped him a book: "And it said in the book, there comes a time in life where you ask yourself 3 questions: Who am I? What am I? and Where am I going? And I really didn’t know. At 24, I didn’t know who I was."

But, his life in prison resembled, in many ways, his life on the streets. He continued selling drugs in prison. One day he got into a serious fight with another inmate that shook him up.

He says, "That night, I went back to my cell and I looked in the mirror and I said to myself “this shit is not working”. Life for me is not working. So, I started working at that point reading the bible, reading the Koran, started investigating, trying to fill this void. Because each individual know when they’re off. You know when there’s an imbalance in your life. Even when you sedate yourself with drugs to forget it, that was for me the start of the turning point."

Ameer stopped selling drugs, found religion, and began fasting. He befriended another inmate, the late Leon Faruq, who would later go on to work in violence prevention as the director of Safe Streets in East Baltimore.

Ameer served about 7 and a half years in prison. He has been out for thirteen years now. After he got out, he worked with Leon Faruq on violence prevention, targeting what he calls the “misconceptions” youth are under in poor neighborhoods.

"We have had misconceptions in the hood as they call it about what a man is or what a woman is. We have to become in tune with ourselves to learn what it means to be a good father to your child or a good son to your mother, or a good daughter to your mother, you know what I mean?"

His first marriage ended in divorce, but he is now re-married, and employed full-time. And, he is the father of two daughters.

"I’m trying to teach them how to think, because I think if you stop thinking… you know I always say to young people that not thinking was the number one killer last year and it’s an all-time high this year."

It appears that after falling into the cycle of violence as a young man, Ameer has wrestled free from it and embraced his role as a father. Today, on the Lines Between Us, a little more than a week before Father’s Day, we look more closely at the importance of fathers in breaking the cycle.