Yasser Payne, Patrick Sharkey, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Speaker 5, Randy Smith, Abby, Derriontae
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:00
This season we’re talking about guns, homicide and suicide. We’ve worked hard to ensure that our storytelling is as safe as possible. But we can’t address this issue by avoiding difficult details. Instead of warning, who should and shouldn’t listen before each episode, we want to encourage you to press pause if and when you need to. And please note, this episode contains strong language.
As far as losing people, if we came down to Colin, I wouldn’t eat my hands your hands and maybe somebody else eats both of them.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:32
This is Derriontae. He’s a 24-year-old father of two little girls who grew up in southeast Atlanta. Over the years, Derriontae has lost so many friends to gun violence, that he’s lost count. And when he talks about it, you listen.
Like I was just talking to somebody when I was on the bus a couple of days ago. And he was pretty much looking at me. He was like, you look like a loner. And I’m like, I ain’t got too many people that are kicking away because most of the people that I actually grew up hanging around, they died.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 01:05
When the team came back from their recording trip last summer, they couldn’t stop talking about Derriontae. In every single room he was in that week, he commanded attention. He’s charismatic and kind and funny and so eager and willing to talk about his life. But his story isn’t an easy one to hear. Thinking back to last week’s episode was Sharmaine and her son Jared, Derriontae has way more in common with the shooter than the victim. He’s a gang member, he served time and he carries a gun still to this day. In Sharmaine’s story, Derriontae would be the bad guy. But talking to him, he’s not a bad guy.
We are proud of that environment […]. Like they creating, they create the monsters. And then they tell us that we can’t be monsters, but that’s all we know how to be like, what else I’m supposed to be like? It’s like the Addams Family, right? It’s a whole family of monsters. What you expect them to be they can’t, be he can’t be nothing other than Frankenstein. She can’t be none other than Dr. Frankenstein. He a vampire granddad. He can’t be none other than that. So if all I know is guns and shoot out what you expect from me like you can’t expect me to go work at Waffle House or want to go work at a fortune 500 company. And even if I do go to the NBA or making a rap or football players don’t take this with me because this is the best program that’s in my head.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 02:33
So where do we get that program in our head? Like who programs it? And at what point are some of us set up to succeed while others are set up to fail? Where’s the fork in that road? I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. This is LAST DAY.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 03:20
Before diving into Derriontae’s story, we thought it would be helpful to zoom out of it and give you some context. So we called up an expert.
Yasser Payne 03:28
My name is Yasser Payne. I’m one faculty in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. I have a PhD in social psychology, but I’m a criminologist. So more specifically what’s called a street ethnographer.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 03:41
As a street ethnographer, Dr. Payne is conducting sociological research with the people most directly affected by violence, including victims and shooters.
Yasser Payne 03:52
I would say the violence for me, at the end of the day, for a lot of us, it was more adaptive. You’re going up in a certain circumstance, you’re trying to survive. You’re trying to make sense out of the world that you’re in, and the violence becomes a way of ironically protecting yourself.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 04:09
Through his work, Dr. Payne has spoken to countless people who share stories very similar to Derriontae. He helps his students and research assistants contextualize the rage and frustration they feel that often leads to violence.
Yasser Payne 04:24
We are a bottom cast in service of white privilege. For us, gun violence is really born out of that. So why are the guys doing what they’re doing? Well, because we’re bottom cast.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 04:39
If this feels like a big leap, let’s look at the wealth gap in America. On average, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black family. This disparity exists everywhere in America, but Atlanta has one of the largest wealth gaps in the country, second only to San Juan, Puerto Rico. In Atlanta, the median household income for a White family is about $84,000 a year, compared to $28,000 a year for a Black family. This dynamic has been passed down for generations, from slavery to Jim Crow to today’s institutionalized racism. barriers have been intentionally set up and maintained to prevent black Americans from building and passing on wealth. And all of this is reflected in marginalized communities.
Yasser Payne 05:30
Your neighborhoods and communities have been structurally sabotage for generations on end. Put another way, if you wanted to stop the violence. This is what we talk about. This is the only thing we know has a shot at stopping the gun violence, addressing the fact that your neighborhoods have been set up to be destroyed in service of middle America, right? Your suffering is the bedrock of our economy. Start there. That’s how you change the gun violence.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:09
I have to tell you, because we tackle big systemic issues on the show. It is pretty rare that anyone gives us a clear solution to anything. This feels pretty clear, complicated, but clear. If you want to tackle gun violence, you can’t really start with the guns, you have to look at an equity. Which leads us to our next expert, Patrick Sharkey. He’s a professor of sociology at Princeton University.
Patrick Sharkey 06:40
My research focuses broadly on urban inequality. And as part of that, I have shifted more and more of my focus toward the study of violence.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:52
Sharkey’s expertise is necessary, because it’s hard to talk about the rise of violence in major cities without playing in to tired stereotypes.
Patrick Sharkey 07:02
It’s a real challenge about how to talk about it without being alarmist kind of feeding the narratives of what central cities are like what low-income communities are like. I think the strategy that I take is to always talk about trends in gun violence, along with explanations of those trends, meaning, violence is a product of urban inequality.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 07:29
Talking to Sharkey, it is very clear that the problems today are set up decades ago through a series of deliberately racist policy decisions.
Patrick Sharkey 07:40
In the US, we decided decades ago, that as poverty started to become more and more concentrated in the neighborhoods of central cities, we would respond not with an effort to invest to build institutions that can respond to concentrated poverty and disadvantage. Instead, we responded with a strategy that I refer to as abandonment and punishment, a strategy where we disinvest in community organizations and core community institutions, and leave central cities on their own to deal with all of the rising problems that started to become very visible in the 1960s. And instead, rely on the institutions of punishment, rely on the police to deal with all of the challenges that come when you have concentrated poverty, rely on the prison system.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 08:36
As time passed, mass incarceration decimated these communities. By the 1970s, the number of people behind bars skyrocketed, and the nature of these neighborhoods fundamentally changed.
Patrick Sharkey 08:49
This is what happens when you abandon central city neighborhoods, public space starts to empty out, institutions start to wither away and it becomes vulnerable to violence. Through all of these processes, the character of the community start can start to change. So instead of parents walking around with their children’s set of teachers, being in coaches and mentors and religious leaders being kind of the dominant presences in public space, the dominant actor start to shift and it may be unsupervised groups of young people, but it also may be police officers, parole officers who become a more dominant presence.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 09:30
And this becomes kind of a cycle. Inequality leads to violence and violence leads to more inequality. And over time, this cycle corrodes the entire identity of a neighborhood.
Patrick Sharkey 09:42
And then there are long term consequences when a community becomes violent. It affects the potential for businesses to be successful. So that means jobs may start to disappear from a community as public spaces start to be taken over by violence that affects the economic prospects for young adults so there are all these mechanisms by which violence can overtake public space, with consequences for everyone living within that environment, whether they have anything to do with violence or not.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 10:15
This description of a neighborhood […] by a lack of resources sounds exactly like how Derriontae describes his neighborhood.
Round a time I was growing up every time again. So like the recreation center, closed, public pools close, libraries, pretty much everything that we grew up with was done right. So the whole neighborhood like the neighborhood is throw away. They just feel like we trapped them and […]
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 10:43
Derriontae has witnessed so many things disappear over the years, a depressing reality, that’s only gotten worse with COVID. However, one thing has always managed to stay open.
You go up, go up the screen a little bit more. And you see the biggest, the biggest, intimidating factor we ever seen, I’ve lived Federal Penitentiary that’s the most dominant shit that we’ve ever seen. Like, it was like the White House during the apocalypse. Right? You got the big house, but it’s barbed wire fences around it. Then you got the gate. The gate is it got to be like 12 feet high.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 11:25
Just to give you some context, this building really is unbelievable. Do yourself a favor and Google Atlanta penitentiary. First of all, it’s massive. And the architecture is kind of beautiful. It’s like a cross between a government building you’d see in DC and the Met Museum in New York, only. It’s a prison. The white brick walls are yellow with age. And the whole thing is surrounded by layers of barbed wire. It’s eerie and intimidating and colossal when you compare it to the little houses and apartment complexes that characterize the rest of the neighborhood.
I remember seeing outside of just thanking like, like chess being imagined being four years old, looking at Legos. You see these signings like I can see I can go I can go to the gate on federal penitentiary right now and see the same people that are looking at 20 years ago, that’s psychologically crazy to think about it, but I know niggas can go to prison but imagine being four years old actually seeing it like in his right here next to my neighborhood like I can’t walk to the edge of my gate and seal nigga […] at four years old. Like that’s crazy.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 12:41
It is crazy. At four years old your brain is in hyper sponge mode. I have a nearly four-year-old so I’ve got a front row seat. This is when you really start to piece together your understanding of how the world works. So it really matters what you’re exposed to during this time. Sharkey has been studying this for years.
Community violence affects kids ability to function on a day-to-day basis that affects their sleep patterns. It affects what’s called executive function, their ability to maintain attention on the task at hand, it affects their concentration, it affects their stress hormones. When children live in intensely violent environments. It doesn’t make them less intelligent, but it occupies their minds, it gets under the skin.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 13:30
Sharkey has researched this exact thing. It all started with his first study where he looked at two groups of students who lived in the exact same neighborhood. He gave both groups the same test, but one group took it before a neighborhood homicide, and the other took it a few days after.
Patrick Sharkey 13:47
And what I found is that the kids who were given the assessment in the days after there was a homicide within a few blocks from their home. They performed dramatically worse than the kids who were given the same assessment who lived in the exact same neighborhood. But were given the assessment just before that incident of violence took place. It looked as if the kids who were given the assessment just after had missed about two years of schooling. That’s how much of an impact that has.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 14:16
The first time Sharkey conducted this study, he figured the results were wrong. It seemed impossible that the exposure could have such an extreme impact on these kids. So he ran the study again, you dataset, totally separate group of children. Totally different violent event. And the results came back even stronger after the second test.
Patrick Sharkey 14:37
So that’s when I started to think okay, something very important and scary is going on.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 14:46
When I first heard him say this, I thought, okay, if we’re talking about losing two whole years of learning due to exposure to violence, surely that’s just impacting a small group of kids like these are kids who have lost a family member A friend, an extra neighbor, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Patrick Sharkey 15:06
All the findings that I’m talking about, and the research that I’ve done is looking at violence that occurs in children’s communities, incidents that have nothing to do with the child, sometimes someone totally unrelated and unaffiliated with the child. So it’s living within a violent environment that has these severe consequences. And, you know, part of that runs through the mechanism of just fear and persistent concern and stress about negotiating public space and getting back and forth to school safely, worrying about whether another shooting is going to take place.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 15:47
Until COVID, I didn’t think that much about negotiating public space. But over the past two years, I started to dread leaving my house like, very basic tasks were suddenly pretty terrifying. Spaces that used to feel totally innocuous, suddenly felt potentially dangerous. And it changed the way I moved through the world. But navigating danger outside of his house was something dairy Auntie had to start doing at a fairly young age.
The first time I ever seen he could die, he died on my porch, he got shot in front of me on my porch. I didn’t really realize the impact of that, until I can go outside like I couldn’t, within myself go outside, after like five or six clubs. Or like if you tried to get me to take the trash out at night, I want to know what you did. I still don’t really know how to fully progress the feelings of that particular situation because I don’t feel like nothing happened to me per se. But that ain’t no normal situation. Like everybody don’t go through the eight years.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 17:00
We throw the word trauma around a lot on this show. But seeing a person shot on your porch at eight years old, seems like a pretty fucking dramatic thing to happen to you to help work through that Deontay did get into counseling, but it felt impossible for him to connect with a therapist.
Because he will what? I honestly know why people like where I’m from see no White people. He’s only naked. They look like me. So why do I gotta keep going outside my neighborhood talk to a White man about what’s going on in my neighborhood if he don’t come here with me, right? The fuck they really do it for me nothing because I still gotta go right back to it. Because I’m saying like, it was like, what the hell am I explaining it to a negative […] for right?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 17:43
So many of his problems came back to where he lived. So how could he explain that to an outsider. He quit therapy and tried to deal with things on his own. But it didn’t get any easier as he grew up. When he was 11. And just about to start sixth grade, he was confronted with death again. One day, he and his friends were hanging out by the train tracks that run through his neighborhood. They were playing around just being adventurous when they saw a dead body sprawled across the tracks. This person had been abandoned, discarded, treated like roadkill.
For me, it was the different kind of feelings I’m saying like I ain’t finna be get laid out like that. Like I ain’t gonna get found me on no […]. So when I say nigger, Dad, I’m trying try though today I told myself I won’t go into like that. That’s when I start carrying my gun.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 18:42
The gun gave him two things he needed, one, a sense of safety and two, money to get by. Before that Derriontae made quick cash stealing tires. He take them right off of parked cars and sell them. Well, one day he chose the wrong car. It belonged to a guy in the neighborhood who caught him mid tire heist.
So he likes what are you doing? I’m like shit, they’re mine. mind, hold on, bro. So he was like what are you trying doin? I’m trying to get some money bro, he like shit, they’re my tire, but I’ll give you something to help you make you money, gave me a gun.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 19:20
I just need to stop and stress that Derriontae was about 11 years old at this time. And this guy just gave him a gun like it was nothing. Derriontae said the gun didn’t actually work. But it was a pretty effective prop.
He just gave me the gun for intimidation. Literally. I used that gun to get a real gun and then use that gun to get some money and then use that much about another gun because I sold the other gun.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 19:47
Hearing Derriontae break all of this down makes me realize how woefully inadequate our approach to gun reform is in our country. We’re basically approaching it like Derriontae’s White therapist. well meaning, but totally clueless when it comes to the day-to-day experience of these communities. Derriontae was trying to do what we all do every day, make some money to survive, pay his bills, feed his family, and also avoid ending up as a dead man on the train tracks. That fear reinforced his perception of how the world works, and brought on a pretty significant change in behavior.
[…] So I started moving like that I stopped giving a fuck about school. I skip school every time I got chance.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 20:40
Yeah, how can you care about anything when you’re living in survival mode? Everything came to a head right before Derriontae started high school. And that’s where we pick up after the break. We’re back. So school didn’t seem to matter anymore to Derriontae, he says getting kicked out bouncing around from school to school, and eventually wound up in an alternative school in the eighth grade that he said felt like jail. The teachers locked the kids in the room, you had to get buzzed out, and there were fights all the time. And the violence followed him in and out of school. One day he was hanging out with his cousin in their neighborhood.
I was 13 years old man, he like 18-19 Like we’ve gone to the store to get a blunt […]. I just want to be around my cousin. He was in a situation with a nigga that I know nothing about. Right? So like, I always say if you are in a situation, let me know. Because I ain’t trying to be caught in that situation. Especially when it’s a life-or-death situation right? And he ain’t telling me that so as we go on to the store, the nigga pop up like and I’m looking at my cousin and what the hell’s going on. […] Okay hold on. I run with him, fight or flight instinct. Everybody got it. You gotta run or you’re gonna stand there and try and get it. I get about it. I wouldn’t good right. And he left me. So the nigga now looking at me like because I’m only he see to popping, and he ended up shooting me four times.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 22:27
Derriontae was shot four times. He was struck in his hip, knee, foot and the side of his torso.
I just remember waking up with less than no time me pouring water on me telling me that she […] okay, I’m only gonna hold my weight the foot and then I start burning. That’s the pain like you don’t even know pain, is the fucking burn bro. Like your whole body on the inside boiling blood boiling your head banging, body twitching no. Do really honestly you can’t control it. So as he tried to get me to she trying to get me not to panic because she started saying blue. And she was like, Oh, you got shot. And Angela. Oh, I got shot. And then as she started her smoke, and it just whole it’s a whole situation you got to if you panic, it makes it a downtime worse. So I would say pretty much trying to stay calm but like I’m a child. So I got full […] how do you stay calm? […] I looked to my foot. Like I looked at my foot and I said hold on my foot. So I’m looking through my foot. Like I’m looking at myself. Like I’m literally talking about this person out like I’m looking at them saying oh, you’re dead. But oh ladies, they’re nasty. Like just be called like later on or what you talk about this year? Oh, wait, you might we’re gonna call my mom and tell her she’s dead. But then Eminem pull up.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 23:59
Deontay was taken to Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta, where he was treated for his injuries. But he had a long recovery ahead of him due to extensive nerve damage in his foot. This kept him isolated from his friends.
They know I got to play like oh yeah, I’m good, but deep inside like, I’m like, bro, listen, bro, I want to come out and play. Like, I want to play basketball. But if I get hit the ball hit my foot. I’m saying I’m crying. So that’s when I became a House person. So I send this in […]
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 24:35
On the one hand, Derriontae was just a kid who wanted to go outside and play with his friends and not being able to do that sucked. On the other hand, just the act of surviving made him feel pretty powerful.
Me personally, it kind of flipped me over because I used it as like a pride boost, right? Like it was like, okay, now I’m gonna […] like I got shot I didn’t I got stabbed right after that. And I ain’t die. Oh yeah, I mean fellas, […] no way and fuck, you’re gonna kill me.
Randy Smith 25:09
I’ve definitely heard those stories where the individual who has been shot feels resilient that they made it through this whole process.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 25:19
That’s Dr. Randy Smith. She works as a trauma surgeon at one of Atlanta’s major hospitals.
Randy Smith 25:25
They feel like you know, I’m, courageous. I’m brave. I went through that process. I feel like those stories for me are fewer than the other side where people are actually completely devastated by their gunshot injuries. I will say that I think media, music glamorizes being shot and it wouldn’t surprise me someone that’s an adolescent or a teenager would experience that by other teenagers. But I will say that that was a gunshot wound to the leg. A lot of times people have gunshot wounds and in to the head and to other various body parts that are much more severe. And there’s no glamour in being shot.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 26:13
20% of Dr. Smith’s patients are coming in with penetrating wounds from either stabbings or gunshots. That averages out to about 6 to 12 people every single day coming in for emergency services after a violent injury. She’s with them from the time they’re admitted and monitors them through the recovery process.
Randy Smith 26:33
And trauma is really devastating physically, but also like the mental toll people talk about not sleeping very well and, you know, not wanting to leave their house and they are very like alert and hyper vigilant as a result of everything that’s happened when they’ve been shot. It’s just a snowball effect, and recovering from all of those things because they’re all going to be intertwined and in you know, tangled up, I think it takes several months to year sometimes. And probably even beyond that depending on how severe your injuries are.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 27:10
Physically, Derriontae made a full recovery. But 12 years after being shot, he still hypervigilant, living in survival mode
is a lot of reasons why I carry a gun. I’m saying, you never know where you went where high situations can play up, right? And in our neighborhoods, niggas had guns, they feel like they can use them. And so they do, like niggas just use guns because they got them. Because I’m in a situation where you have my gun. And that almost been in my life.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 27:41
Just like we heard in Montana for dairy monta, carrying a gun is primarily about self-defense. It’s one thing that’s always made him feel safe. Another was joining a gang.
I’ve been gangbanging since I was 11. I got more was right. So like, like I got started shooting in my head that I didn’t even do, right? I know killer in general. So let me just erase that whole word from this, I ain’t no killer, so I’m not taking from a child. Right? Like, y’all would be safe, he will have to wear it, some saying, I’m gonna be honest, like, if we wasn’t if I sent you out in the car, like, I’m gonna let you out to […]. But he gonna be in trouble. Because I gotta get somebody I can’t let everybody leave.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 28:45
So just to explain what’s happening here. Derriontae is pointing at Erianna and Jackie and telling them they’d be fine. But our producer Keegan, the one guy on our team, he’d be in trouble. From the outside. You can imagine how this makes Derriontae look like that stereotypical bad guy with a gun. But again, this is a means of survival. Today, he is still connected with a gang. But that means something very different now than it did before.
So gangbanging in his knee, you need to finish it like onto my front line, right? And they get to us you’re gonna turn them back, right? That’s as gangbanging steady constantly got to prove yourself when it comes down to your gang and where you stand. But again remember […] solidify cool like I already came from like I didn’t did all this shit you want to do something like if nothing else, I gotta prove to myself or to these niggas even to the other side, other side already respect me enough to let me be me.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 29:44
Derriontae doesn’t have to prove himself anymore. So that these days it’s more about a bond, one that’s impossible to just walk away from.
So the one thing about the gangs is you can’t turn your back on gang like, you can’t, […] homies in his shit like, I don’t know, die for this shit. And so I can’t just wake up one day and say, oh, I’m tired of this shit. No, I can’t just walk away from it. But I can find a better way to do it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 30:12
So, what does a better way look like?
Agribusiness training program for formerly incarcerated at risk homes 18–24-year-olds. For show that’s exactly that’s the whole sheet of the website. No bullshit. But yeah, it’s, uh, let’s say a pro black program for formerly incarcerated people. We can’t say the ones at the bottom that don’t nobody really want to deal with. I’m saying the ones that come out of the system. That just pretty much get down to side.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 31:40
Derriontae hooked up with gangsters to growers in 2018, shortly after he had finished serving a two-year prison sentence for multiple gun and drug charges. Statistically speaking theory on taste in prison meant that he was at higher risk of ending up right back there, largely because of a lack of employment opportunities. So when a friend told him about the program, he picked up the phone and connected with the group’s founder.
My name is […] and I’m here with my six-month-old Anisa, nursing, hungry, hungry, baby.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 32:19
Words truly cannot express how busy Abby is at all times. When the team arrived at her house, she managed to clean up, get her two kids settled in chat with the producers and finish a conference call on speakerphone all at the same time. Abby is the real deal. She’s a trusted leader in her community. And she’s created a space for young people like dairy monta. They get paid work experience, Agricultural Training, along with group therapy and trauma counseling. She is doing everything she can to address the hurt, she sees all around her.
You know, our people are in pain. And that’s the number one thing folks are in pain. Yeah. That’s what we got to realize. All this is coming from some pain and money issues.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 33:10
Abby was looking at the root causes of gun violence in her community when she founded gangsters to growers in 2016. That includes food insecurity, and a lack of economic empowerment.
I just was like, okay, how can we pay young people $15 an hour? I know all these Black farmers, urban farmers that need labor, you know, how can we provide them with labor so we can create this self-sufficient food system that we keep talking about? And also expose young people that have been formerly incarcerated, expose them to like all the things that I’m doing? And then I’m doing yoga over here with my friends, you know, I’m watching these documentaries, you know, becoming politically educated, you know, so how can we, you know, also do the same thing for them and with them, and that’s how gangsters to growers came about.
Abby recognizes the power of a living wage, because she knows that without one, the trainees in the program might not have a chance at staying out of jail. Abby has made it her mission to give the trainees as many tools as she possibly can to break the cycle of poverty. They garden, they manufacture and they sell an outrageously delicious hot sauce called Sweet Soul. The link is in the show notes, buy some and they also get exposed to mindfulness.
So you do yoga every day you had therapy once a week. And Hip-Hop pedagogy occurs once a week, but you work on farm every day. Before the program, hell no, […] I got out of bed but on to my life. Wake up in the morning at 7:30 in the morning, being prepared to do yoga at 8. Yes, and I don’t know how she did like, she incorporated so smooth, right? Like she did like, oh know how she got us and grew because niggas actually did yoga. Like she hadn’t been working on farms, like when young farms.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 35:18
Having met Abby, I can absolutely imagine her talking even the most reluctant person into trying a downward dog or to she’s a force. Derriontae respects her for 1000 reasons. But the biggest one is that she’s always putting other people first.
Abby spent her she’s been on food stamps, make sure we ate her saying like, let’s say two ways you like that, like, when she ain’t got money to pay her rent, but she gonna make sure we get paid to pay ours. So it’s a million different situations that Miss Abby kind of understood and especially kids, like she understand the power of being outside and being like the power of growth.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 36:03
And sometimes growth can be messy. Like when Derriontae slipped up and was facing a new criminal charge shortly after joining the program.
She was right there like making sure that nothing went wrong […] go wrong. Like yeah, it was one of them situations like it was a situation where I felt like I had never been in for right. She actually gave me a call her number on it. And we just like call me. And when I called she asked him for […] on personnel did that my mom so pay you that I knew dad like I’m like, oh, yeah, she hard. And then I went to court, and I look back she right there alone. My mom. Oh, yeah, she lived like, every time. Every time it was one of them situation she helped me beat the chart for real.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 36:51
Abby is determined to give the trainees all the tools and resources they need to avoid getting into conflicts in the streets or ending up incarcerated again. That’s where stuff like yoga fits in practicing what it feels like to put a breath between conflict and retaliation. She’s also bringing in licensed reinforcements to help the guys work through their trauma.
Speaker 5 37:13
Always say, hey, control the controllable.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 37:17
That’s our […]. She’s been working with gangsters to growers for a few years now as their therapist or as she calls it, mental health fitness coach, a phrase she coined that I absolutely love.
Speaker 5 37:29
The only thing, the only person you could control is yourself. So at that point, it’s all about your reaction to things. Things that you say how you can escalate or deescalate a situation. It’s all starts with you. So I’ll constantly remind them with that and it’ll start to sink in after a while.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 37:50
One of the many people Ursula has helped a stereo Dante.
Speaker 5 37:54
And there’s some that has a sense of wanting to do something different, and making better choices, but not necessarily knowing how to escape the environment that they’re in. But wanting to make better choices and wanting to leave a legacy behind, which I think is great. I let them know that every day, they wake up with a choice, and a gift. So that gift is a chance and a choice. So every day, you have a chance to go after your dreams to make decisions that will affect you down the road and you have a choice as to what that’s going to be. And so every day I told them to look at that and to conduct their day based on the gift of having a chance and a choice.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 38:44
A chance and a choice. After the break we’ll see where Derrionte’s choices have led him today. We’re back. So before moving on, I want to give you a little peek behind the curtain. It takes a pretty long time for the show to get made. We’re usually talking to people at least six months before their episode ever comes out if not longer. And during that time, we take their tape and turn it into the story that you hear. Like I said earlier, we were so blown away by Deontay story that we were eager to feature him this season as a gangsters to growers success story, a perfect example of what grassroots programs can do to turn someone’s life around and curb community gun violence. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
I am so sad that Derrionte is no longer in the program. He is a shining star for us. He just brought so much value in he was so dedicated and took initiative. So just makes us all sad.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 40:07
We were shocked to learn that dairy on the shining star of gangsters to growers wasn’t even in the program anymore. And the only reason we found out was because I wanted to meet him. I listened to his tape, we all wanted to feature him more prominently this season. So the team reached out to schedule a call, which is when the truth came out.
I mean, it just habits you know, you got habits from being poor, and always trying to hustle.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 40:37
According to Abby, Derrionte was caught stealing money from the program. It was the second time it happened.
We don’t give, we’ll give a very honest, I got to sit down somewhere for a second. But we all give up on these young folks that come again and again and again.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 40:54
So this is where we are. He’s not kicked out forever, but he is taking a timeout. My plan was to get him on the phone and talk to him about what happened to get his side of the story. But again, things did not go according to plan. Derrionte join the Zoom call right after work. He was sitting at a bus stop eating ice cream. I was nervous since the whole point of this call was to ask someone I barely know some very uncomfortable questions. So I started off talking a mile a minute. How are you doing today? I mean, you’re eating ice cream. So you must be good. Like what’s going on? How’s life? Can you give us the rundown?
Oh, yeah. So I’m going back to school in May. So I’m getting ready. I’m preparing my life for that right now. Yeah, I got a job. But I’m at Dunkin Donuts to make some money. Taking care of my babies. That pretty much about it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 41:56
So yeah, everything was pretty casual. And then this happened.
Yeah, my brother got killed yesterday, too. I had to say that. Get that on my head. Yeah, he got shot.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 42:09
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You’re brother, your brother like your biological brother?
Yeah. But I’m trying to keep myself from doing something that I know I want to do. But I’m trying to myself, I don’t want to do it. Because if I tell myself, I won’t do it. Maybe I won’t do it as bad as I do now. Yeah, they want me right now.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 42:33
This was probably the most shocked I’ve ever been during an interview. Like, the shock still hasn’t worn off. I mean, how was he managing to sit on a Zoom call, eating ice cream 24 hours after losing his brother.
I had just seen him like two days ago, two, three days ago. And was so crazy. I got on Instagram, get a text message or call. I got on Instagram. And they told me and then I got a call saying the relationship and my brother had that was my brother like I don’t really know no more, to say that was that was my brother like, he was my older brother. And we spent every single minute we could together the person I spent most of my time with in my life. I’m 24 years old and 23 of those years was spent with him every every single time I could be with my brother. That’s the one person I want to talk to.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 43:34
I totally get that. Seven years later. And my brother is still the one person I want to talk to about everything. I also get the anger that Derrionte’s feeling. Except in my case, I was angry at heroin. And I didn’t have the option to get revenge on heroin, Derrionte’s in a different position. He can be angry at a person and he can do something about it. If he chooses to.
I want to use gun and saying why are you going to use gun in my brother, you know, somebody’s got to feel the same pain I feel right now, you know, but my brother shouldn’t be the only person that got to die. That’s honestly how I feel because all my friends that die like, so come my friend that died. They got killed. And I felt hopeless like helpless, I couldn’t do nothing. And that’s how I feel in this situation. Like I’m helpless and I can’t do nothing. And I’m like feeling like that. And when I feel like that it caused me to go into a different mode and the mode that he’s putting me in will make me use my gun. And I don’t want to use it. I really truly don’t want to do it. But my mind and my heart can never agree when it comes down to situation like that, like in my heart. Right now. I really feel like I want to do some to somebody but my mind is trying to convince my heart to let it go. Like just let it go and deal with the pain because I thought that’s what it is to like it’s a coping mechanism. So I started being sad, I’m mad, like I’m very angry right now. And they started being like, I won’t cry. But the tears don’t want the tears on file. So it just turned into anger and resentment.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 45:17
The first time our team met Derrionte, he said he doesn’t even grieve the dead anymore. Because he is so used to losing people this way. Anger is easier to access than sorrow. But right now, in this moment of crisis, he’s able to ground himself because there is a lot at stake.
When I woke up this morning, my baby was right beside me. So like, you know, like, it’d be one of them situations where you look at your child, and it’s a breath of fresh air, like everything that you had going on in your head, just all of a sudden don’t matter. No more is the person in front of you. So I literally, that’s what happened. But I’m not around here right now. And I feel like, that what keeps me saying, my baby, if I would have, but that’s why I did not to get real because of my kids. But that’s the only thing in my head. That’s the biggest reason, my mind saying don’t do it. Like that’s the biggest reason because if it weren’t for them, literally, if I had my kids, […]
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 46:19
Derrionte knows what will happen if he retaliates. He grew up seeing the same faces behind that big penitentiary wall for decades. His own Father is currently serving 100-year sentence and missed the bulk of his childhood. Derrionte doesn’t want to do that to his daughters. But it’s hard to battle with what he described as the program in his head.
Violence is something that always been in my life. And every time I go to something the only way the only way I can know how to get through it is to retaliate. However, it came to me so like, the person that shot me, I didn’t do not in tune. But you know, people did what they had to do to them. And I kind of feel like that’s how we are supposed to be that’s how I grew up like they always said for us so you get that like, but I don’t want to get back on target but I won’t get back but my heart do. So Oh no, I’m still I’m really stuck right now.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 47:26
Derrionte, may not be with the program anymore, but the program is still with him. here right now he has a chance and a choice to do better for his family to choose not to retaliate, which isn’t the choice he’s made for most of his life. Like Abby said, these are habits that were formed over a lifetime living in desperate conditions. And those habits are gonna take time to unlearn.
I’m gonna say you can’t necessarily base a program of how I’m feeling right now mainly because I only did the program since 2018. And still like I was in the streets for 15 years before that, you know, like so the majority of the time on my life I spent doing what I was doing I found the program kind of just help us learn ways to cope with it. If I wouldn’t have had did the program it wouldn’t be a debate like it never would have been in debate in my head I would have just straight gone and did so you know the program work because right now I’m debating it’s an it’s a dead-end street like even if I were to drive down the street that my heart won’t go down. He still no way to come back from me. You know, like he’s living one way. Day one Brian, my brother my brother back if I did go do something like the same time as Abby was saying nothing will come out everybody today people. Now my sister had two dead people.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 48:48
So here, even after everything that apparently went down between them, Derrionte is still quoting Abby, even if his actions seem to suggest otherwise, he has incredible respect for her.
She put the resources back into the community. Everybody needs that like because the main reasons we go around doing stuff we don’t are they crimes of life.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 49:16
As much as I want him to tell a story with a happy ending. I think it’s important to be as honest as possible. The truth is that I don’t think Derrionte’s actions are a reflection of the program not working. Like he said these are crimes of survival goes back to everything we heard from Dr. Payne and Professor Sharkey. These acts are the result of generations of inequity. You can’t fix that with one program.
People trying to survive, pay rent, pay their water bill or pay like beer give […] day kids buy clothes you know, like nobody I don’t know nobody industries right now they’re saying they want to be it I’ll have to because we needed something like I was tired of my life’s gonna cut off. So I want start doing stuff that I knew was gonna give me money, you know, and a lot of us can’t get jobs like we started out so young and kids federally so young by the time we do turn 18, we already got 10 felonies on our record, so we can’t get the job that we want. So we ain’t got no choice but to continue doing what we’re doing. I’ll go work for $7.75 an hour, and I still don’t equate to nothing. When I get 100 out of check at the end of two weeks when I can make 100 per hour, you know?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 50:26
For so many people born and raised in these communities, it doesn’t actually feel like you have a chance to succeed. If we want to go back to the fork in the road. Derrionte is basically describing two paths. One is a dead end with a minimum wage job, and the other leads right back to the penitentiary. So is there another path? I think if you asked Abby or Ursula they would say yes. But no one would argue that it’s an easy hike. The odds are undeniably stacked against formerly incarcerated young people who grew up with a lack of resources surrounded by violence. Our last big question to Derrionte was what would it take for him to get rid of his gun?
You got to just give everybody the same opportunities. They say everybody got the same 24 hours a day. But we all get decided 24 hours what I’d say opportunities in the day to make the 25 most that we can, right? So give everybody the same opportunities if I can wake up, and I know that I got the same opportunities as him he got the same opportunities as him and so on and so forth. I don’t need my god because I ain’t got to worry about somebody who’s on to me, because we got the same opportunities as each other like the same way I didn’t get up making me now you can get a man made. I’ll just gotta get up, dude. I’m gonna so you take away the need for violence, right? Like because violence is people feel like we need violence to survive.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 52:06
It doesn’t matter if you have access to school. If you haven’t been set up to succeed in school. You can’t work a regular job. If the jobs in your neighborhood don’t pay a living wage, and you can’t put down your gun. If you’re afraid to just walk down the street. There is no easy fix here. If we want to curb urban gun violence, we have to invest in communities and public spaces that have been thrown away and forgotten. We have to invest in the people who have been trapped in the gutter as Derrionte said, why the spike in urban gun violence. Look around. People are in pain and people are in more pain now than they’ve ever been desperate, afraid abandoned. Abby is working tirelessly, day and night to support people like dairy on day to break the cycle of poverty. But no single grassroots organization can do this alone. This is a great, big systemic problem that is going to take great big innovative initiatives. How we do it?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 53:40
LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. Jackie Danziger is our supervising producer. Our producers are Kegan Zema and Giulia Hjort. Hannah Boomershine and Erianna Jiles are our associate producers. Music is by Hannis Brown. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. We are thrilled to partner this season with the Candida Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, Levi Strauss and Co, and Everytown for Gun Safety. You can find more mental health and legal arms restrictions resources along with info about some of the voices on the show in the show notes and at lemonadamedia.com/show/lastday. If you want to hear more LAST DAY, we have two whole other seasons. Please go listen to them wherever you’re listening right now. And while you’re there, I implore you to take a moment to rate review and subscribe. It is the number one way that you can help the show. Join our Facebook group to connect with me and fellow LAST DAY listeners at www.facebook.com/groups/lastdaypodcast. You can find us on all social platforms at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @wittelstephanie. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. See you next week.