Author and Advocate, Dashaun "Jiwe" Morris
Author of War of the Bloods in my Veins: A Street Soldiers March to Redemption, Dashaun "Jiwe" Morris was known on the streets as Machete from Newark, NJ. He is a reformed member of the Bloods, and a full-time gang consultant. He seeks to end the cycle of gang violence through Juvenile Intervention work. A sought-after lecturer, Jiwe speaks throughout the United States as a spokesperson for The Stay Strong Foundation sharing his unique experiences and the horrible truth about living a gang lifestyle with kids and parents in an effort to inspire them to make better life decisions.
With his movie star good looks, Jiwe possesses the charm of someone from another time.
He shares the stories about his past; painful stories that are regrettably not so unique. It is because his story is the story of so many other young men, that Jiwe is doing what he does - spreading his message of peace.
As I listened to him share about the things that he has been through, the things that he has done, the things that he regrets and the things that keep hope alive in his heart, I predicted silently that Dashaun "Jiwe" Morris is destined to build a legacy of -
DR: Tell me about your life - right now.
DJM: I have been a Blood for seventeen years.
My introduction to gang life started in Phoenix. I moved there when I was nine. I was initiated into the gang when I was eleven. I have endured a lot of neglect and abuse in my life. I have also experienced a lot of paranoia, agony and misery because of this lifestyle. As a result, I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
I have lost a lot of my homeboys. A lot of them are locked up and never coming home. Some are juveniles, serving juvenile life. I, myself have been locked up.
I have learned a lot through all of the years that I spent as a gang member. I got to a point where I had reached a peak of gang banging and got myself locked up facing 25 years in prison - first degree attempted murder, possession, attempt to commit murder, conspiracy - at the same time that my first child, my daughter, was due to be born and one of my good friends was murdered and again I was facing a quarter of a century behind bars. That was my wake up call, my rock bottom. That was the place and the set of circumstances that allowed me to get control of my life and to realize that prison is not where I wanted to be. I no longer wanted the destruction, the drug dealings, the murdering, the funerals, writing on the walls, dead homies on my t-shirt - it had grown old. It took an emotional and psychological toll on me and it altered the entire way that I viewed life. Prison was my time to reflect. It was a blessing in the midst of the fire. I had my back against the wall. I was not in control anymore. I had to surrender myself and focus on a higher power.
So, I began to work on myself. I began to write, putting my story on paper which was very therapeutic; to be able to express the anger and frustration that I had built up for years.
A lot of gang members deal with extensive depression. In most cases we don't even realize that we are depressed because of the rage and resentment. If those issues were pinpointed, so many could iron out the wrinkles and work out the real problems. Instead, street life forces you to have to deal with murder, debt, homelessness, constant crisis, and -
the street is no place to be emotional or sensitive!
We don't discuss personal issues. It's all about gang banging, revenge and reputation. We suppress the emotions that we need to be working out. You can only pile up so much anger before it manifests itself in ways that turn people into animals with animalistic ways and views on life - kill or be killed.
Plus, when I was eighteen, nobody had no damn money to go and see no therapist! We were just left out there to die! Until we can tap into those resources where there is help, then the cycle will keep repeating itself.
I am a father now. When my daughter was born it was hard for me to imagine being a good father. My mind was still so consumed with gang life, it was still so consumed with funerals, it was still so consumed. My partner had been shot two days before my daughter was born and I am in the house not being able to surrender myself and cater to my daughter because I was dealing with so much animosity from street life.
It affects us all in many different ways but that is something that I have had to work on in trying to become a better father. I have put a lot of those old ways behind me as I move more toward "being human".
When you know better you do better. When you get older you are supposed to upgrade.
War of the Bloods in My Veins is a landmark publication that tells the raw truth about Jiwe’s life in the Bloods gang and the resulting trauma he continues to experience—all in an effort to open society’s eyes and help our kids make better life choices. It is the first memoir about Bloods to be published by one of Newark’s own.
Destined to become an American and worldwide classic, War of the Bloods in My Veins and Jiwe are about the business of spreading a message of hope and making an impact that will save lives and inspire our youth to want to live better.
Click here to learn more and order your copy of War of the Bloods in my Veins from Amazon.com.
DR: What about your Mom?
DJM: My mother was a drug addict so she couldn't properly care for me. That has repercussions, so an important aspect to this whole thing is mentoring.
Terrie Williams, my mentor, has been a savior for me. She, from the day that I have met her, has been nothing but a positive influence on my life. She welcomes me.
DR: What do you think of the notion that people are in charge of their own destiny? I mean, do you think that you are in control of your own destiny? You were born, yet, you didn't ask to be born. Your mother was a drug addict who left you alone most of the time, which contributed to how life was for you. So, what do you think about people who have, from the beginning, had profoundly negative circumstances working against them, but are faced with making choices for better or for worse?
DJM: I have complicated feelings about that.
I do feel that we are all in charge of our own destiny with free will to make our own decisions. But, you have to factor in the environment that kids are born into. A lot of kids are born to abusive drug addicts and that has to be factored in because that molds who that person will become. You can't ignore that. Now, does that mean that everyone who comes from the hood, who had an addict as a mother, that they can't make it and be successful? I am not saying that at all. You do have those exceptions to the rule; those who are lucky or blessed or fortunate, however you want to put it, but there aren't enough of those to judge the whole picture.
How you are raised has a major impact on how you will view life.
When I was sixteen, death did not bother me like it would a normal human being. By the time I was sixteen, I had been through a lot. When I was eleven I watched my best friend get murdered. Eleven years old. One day, individuals came through my neighborhood in Phoenix shooting and hit my homie, Trey. He was eleven years old. When I was thirteen I watched one of my homies get burned. I mean burned on over more than 75% of his body. I have watched individuals get shot and die to the point that my view on death was altered. As a human being, you should feel emotion and empathy or sympathy or some type of vulnerability when you lose a loved one. But, by the time I was sixteen or seventeen, Dana, when we lost a homie, it was just a typical routine -
You go get a couple of shirts, you throw his face on it, you write his name on a wall, you get a couple of forties, you pour it on his grave and you move on!
My upbringing altered how I viewed life and death. So, I do believe that every man and every woman has to be accountable for their own actions but I think that you always have to look carefully at what led up to the choices that people make.
DR: What do you think would have happened to you if you had not gone to prison?
DJM: Prison was the best thing that happened to me at that time.
I feel that we can find our light through darkness and being faced with doing that much time was my wake up call. I honestly do not believe that I would have gotten my life together, at that point in time if I hadn't gone to prison because I still had a criminal mentality. I was still into dealing with drugs and slinging guns. Had I not been derailed and faced with going to prison and at the same time, my daughter being born and wanting to be a father, I am certain that I would still be traveling that road because there would not have been anything that I felt I had to lose. My daughter was that something that I didn't want to lose.
DR: So, it was the combination of the possibility of being in prison for twenty five years and being afraid that you would lose your daughter that helped to change things around?
DR: Because at the time that you went to prison weren't you playing football in Delaware on a scholarship, celebrated as the toast of the town?
That was a blessing for me too. We all had that dream of wanting to be the biggest professional athlete. When the offers came in I made the decision to try and pursue that. During my years at Delaware State University, I learned a lot but the gang lifestyle didn't just leave me. I got caught with a gun in my dorm room, I caught a first degree assault on campus for stabbing a student on campus and the following month when I was bailed out, I caught myself a first degree attempted murder.
I do feel like it all served a purpose in getting me to where I am today.
DR: So what is it that is different now? Was it the absolute reality of possibly doing twenty five years? What makes this change, "the change"?
DJM: Well, I think the prison time and the birth of my daughter was the starting point but it wasn't until I met Terrie. Through her support and what she exposed me to, I experienced enough to realize that there was more out there.
You have to remember that there are many of us; I am talking about hard core gang members, who don't get to see anything in life. There were parts of my own city that I had never even seen growing up. We are confined to the geographical boundaries of our neighborhood.
When I was awarded a full football scholarship to go to school, that opened my eyes, but there was no one there to help me to make the transition into "civilian life". It was all gang life for me and then I was put into an environment where I was expected to function as a decent human being and that was foreign to me. Terrie was the one, once I got out of prison, who helped me make that transition. Traveling with Terrie and meeting people and learning how business deals worked and understanding what my potential was and writing my book, that was enough for me to realize that I wanted more of that.
DR: I think the thing that so many young people don't have is good people who are willing to go out of their way for another human being. You are lucky that you have had a lot of good support.
DJM: The people who I have come into contact with, the opportunities that I have gotten, the situations that I have been in through Terrie, revived me. Without her I would have never been exposed to these kinds of things.
Everyone should have opportunities. When you can take us out of our element and give us a voice and people actually listen, I think that we feel validated. If more of us could get those opportunities we could decrease gang violence because more of us would feel like we have a purpose instead of just waiting for our turn to die.
DR: What would you change or do differently if you could?
DJM: I regret that a lot of innocent people have been hurt because of gang violence. A lot of people lose their lives because of gang activity. I am getting my life together but there are mothers and fathers and grandparents out here who are still mourning the loss of their kids, or taking care of kids who are paralyzed now.
Many innocent people have been victimized. I regret that.
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
DJM: I wrote my book because I am real big on legacies.
I believe that when ever you have an epidemic or a genocide; something negative, it takes a strong individual with strong character to step out and break the mold and to bring some light to the problem. You've got to remember the gang lifestyle is a secret society. A lot of the things that we go through don't get talked about. We have to start talking about it.
I am a Blood. I want to be remembered as a Blood, as a man, as a father who took the circumstances and that he was faced with and all of the things that he had seen in his life, and did not allow that to justify why he just laid down and died.
I want to be remembered as a person who gave back more than he took.
Essence Magazine on War of the Bloods in My Veins
Had it up to here with fictitious tales of street life? You may want to check out Dashuan Morris's absorbing memoir, War of the Bloods in My Veins (Scribner, $25). His account of his life as a member of the notorious Bloods gang has the genre's requisite glocks and bling, but in laying out his complicated story, Morris takes us inside the world of the troubled young men we see glamourized in movies, TV series and music videos. Early on, Morris, just 27, examines how "childhood is murdered and innocence is shot" as he's "reborn a gangster." Morris, nicknamed "Jiwe," originally hails from Irvington, New Jersey; he learns about the Bloods when his mother sends him and his younger brother Dunn to Phoenix, or "the P-zone" with a promise that she will soon join them. Jiwe quickly revolts against the strict rules and alleed abuse he says he suffered at the hands of an aunt. He finds solace with the Bloods, an at age 10 is initiated into the gang. Eventually Jiwe makes his way back East, and as he moves into his teenage years, his life as a gangbanger is cemented. When his family moves to Orange, New Jersey, illegal acctivities such as selling drugs and robberies increase -- as does the body count of those close to him. Will a full ride on a football scholarship to Delaware State make Morris change his gangbanging ways, or will the lure of the streets be strong than his dream of making the NFL? We don't want to give away the ending, but the book's subtitle, A Street Soldier's March to Redemption, rings hauntingly true.
Essence | April 2008