I thought I had some understanding about gangs and gang members. Much of what I thought was wrong. So much of our education comes from news reports, rap, movies, documentaries and other external "reporting" entities. And far too often, they serve to satisfy a public's need to judge, to stereotype or to act as a voyeur into a world far more dangerous than their own.
So, on a Friday evening in October, I found myself watching Dashaun "Jiwe" Morris speaking to a group of active Blood gang members. Jiwe, now inactive, preaches a different gospel than the one outlined in his authoring debut, "War of the Bloods in my Veins." He encourages those younger than himself to end the violence in his Newark, New Jersey hood. Jiwe doesn't stop there, he also helps them shed or reduce the behaviors that are a detriment to their own progress.
Jiwe, by his own admission, is a work in progress as well. His evolution has been chronicled in the acclaimed documentary, "Brick City," a reality-based documentary that peels back the different layers of Newark, New Jersey. Jiwe is also working as a budding actor in a play (onehour2live.net) in which a gang banger faces his last day alive.
AllHipHop.com caught up with the man once known in the streets as Machete and realized that he's the change that was so promoted a year ago by a presidential aspirant.
AllHipHop.com: What made you decide to write your book, "War of the Bloods In My Veins?"
Jiwe: A combination of things. The death of a good homie of mines in Lil City E.O., then the birth of my daughter Dashana. Mind you I was in jail fighting 1st degree attempted murder charges. I was locked down in the hole for 23 hours a day. So that is the place where I began digging deep within, searching for answers no one had but God. I became furious, angry, miserable, sad, lonely, disappointed, and lost all at the same time. So with the suggestion of a counselor, I began writing. Initially, for therapeutic reasons. So from there, the idea to send out a message to provoke thought and change was created. I've always had big thoughts, so I figured, I could actually motivate people all across the country. The idea of that was satisfying to me. I've always been a leader, and I've led many down a negative and violent path, I decided to challenge myself in leading down a path of change.
AllHipHop.com: Can you speak on your involvement as a gang member, in particular since it is on the East Coast?
Jiwe: No different than most other gang members. Gang rallies and wars, placing fear in people, terrorizing, no respect for law enforcement, and countless funerals. Now my specific role, I was the set leader along with one other individual. My duties were no different than that of a high-ranking army official. What I said, went. I organized, sanctioned, and lead my hood then with what I call a gangster's mentality. That being my set came first. Everything was about my hood. And any violations towards my hood resulted in violence. I got in when I was 11 years old when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, but moved back to Essex county (New Jersey) when I was 13. My involvement with the gang picked back up at age 15 while attending Orange High School. So between the ages of 15-25 I dealt in violence and illegal activity on the streets. That's what consumed me, pushing my hood forward through death, jail, homelessness, fights, suicides, anger, and despair.
AllHipHop.com: How was life for you imprisoned, considering jail usually has a large gang population?
Jiwe: Prison was a lot of pain as well as profit. Walking into prison, I was given seniority immediately because of my status with the Bloods. I didn't want for much on the inside, and had soldiers with bangers (shanks) around me at all times. This was a safety precaution because there were rolling 60's and east coast crips from Los Angeles locked down with me along with a couple esa gangs (Latino), mainly Sureno X3's, and the Aryan nation. And we fought with them all, so any chance they got to put some metal in me they would take it. I had 3 attempts on my life from those gangs. Once in the shower, another in the chow hall, and the last one during yard while I was on the pull up bar.
"Prison definitely wasn't no cakewalk, so I had to keep me and mines lined up always because you never knew when it was going down."
So prison definitely wasn't no cakewalk, so I had to keep me and mines lined up always because you never knew when it was going down. However, this made me a target for the officers. They gave me a pretty hard time, sending my visits away sometimes, or not giving or sending my mail. Then they turned it up on me and 4 or 5 of them ratpacked me in my cell with their goon squad. They got physical with me. No face shots, all body work. I was confined to my bed for the next 3 or 4 days due to the pain, I felt like my inside were bleeding, I coughed up blood, and even talking hurt. They then repeated this attack once again, but not as severe as the first time. But with all this said, when they finally sent me to the hole, that place gave me the much needed and necessary time to focus on my life. That is why I say, "Pain is Profit." That pain I dealt with in that hole is where I found my strength and will to live. To fight for change. The profit I speak of is not currency, but wisdom and life experience.
AllHipHop.com: I have one of your t-shirts and on the back is says "PEACE." How has your mentality changed?
Jiwe: Well its still in transition as every other person is when changing from one extreme to another. I have with out a doubt become more patient. I thank my three beautiful daughters for that, and Neina, who has been very supportive and patient with me. She has been a rock in my life that's unbreakable. I've been trying hard to peel away the exterior mask of a gangster, a thug, or banger. I have children now and they could care less about how much power on the street I had, they just want their daddy home. So as for my mentality, I'm unleashing a lot of my old habits, and learning new ways to deal with things.
Jiwe talks about what he is up to and where he is going.
AllHipHop.com: What things are you doing in the community these days?
Jiwe: I'm involved in many of the progressive groups pushing peace in the city of Newark. But I do my own thing. I choose not to come up under any particular organization because I don't want to compromise my ways of dealing with the youth. My ways aren't typical but effective to me and those that are influenced by me. But I do a lot of work with the Street Warriors ran by the Street Doctor.
AllHipHop.com: What is your present situation with the Bloods?
Jiwe: I'm non-active. I don't promote violence anymore. However, living in Newark that can only be held with a grain of salt. I live a more positive life, and I use the respect the streets have for me as a bargaining tool to enlighten as many as I can with knowledge and hope. But I am hands on with my younger homies. I take them out to different events I do, I just actually finished hosting an event with the young homies from my hood here at the AllHipHop office here in Newark. Also I want to give AllHipHop a big chunky welcome to Newark.
So I deal with them through positive exposure, teaching them the importance of networking, and how to be resourceful. I don't want to be remembered for all the bad I've done, but for the good I'm doing now.
"I would like to see more positive rap though. Especially these rappers who don't even live in poverty no more, been out of the slums for 5 years or so, but still rapping about guns, drugs, and how many tops they gonna pop."
AllHipHop.com: In the news recently, the gang situation in Chicago has taken center stage with the brutal slaying of 16-year-old Derrion Albert. People want answers, solutions and they are even blaming rap. What do you think of that?
Jiwe: Rap is the outcome of many things gone wrong. Do I agree with all the messages the music artist put out? No, but I feel if "they" have such an argument about the music being put out, cut out the middle man (the artist) and hold these record labels accountable as they benefit from the very same music that's considered negative. I would like to see more positive rap though. Especially these rappers who don't even live in poverty no more, been out of the slums for 5 years or so, but still rapping about guns, drugs, and how many tops they gonna pop. Acting hard like they still on the streets puttin' in "twirk," knowing full well they live in Hollywood or West Bubble F**k somewhere with a maid or two, eating foods that hood dudes can't even pronounce. [To the rappers] Upgrade your music so they can stop blaming violence on music. Transition from where you came from into who you are, and don't keep settling to keep putting out that poison because its profitable. Because no matter how you look at it, these kids look up to many of you and I feel you have a moral obligation to the youth.
AllHipHop.com: Did music ever factor into your decisions?
Jiwe: Music was never a decision maker in my choices to do dirt, but music definitely helped bring out more anger and raw emotions in me. That's why I don't listen to certain rap anymore. I don't like going there mentally anymore. Its really dark there.
AllHipHop.com: Can you explain how college was for you? You even were a prospect for the NFL?
Jiwe: College was a new experience to me. I achieved some high athletic honors. I was named 1st team Black college All-American, 1st Aeam Associated Press All America, and Sports Network 1st Team All American. I led the entire country in kick off returns for touchdowns in 2002. I learned a few things, but at the same time I wasted a lot of time. It was very difficult for me to blend in with the civilians there. My mind was conditioned to interact with gang members and engage in gang activity. So often I found myself taking something pure, and putting the funk on it. I wrote on the walls to get that sense of comfort of being back in Newark. I was homesick most of the time. I put fear in people because that's how I felt you gained respect. I didn't smile much because the pain I was dealing with made it hard to.
I'm asked all the time how did I go to school and manage to turn it out. I had a great opportunity. I would always use the example that the same with trying to domesticate a stray pit bull. There has to be a transition period and nd I didn't have that.
AllHipHop.com: Do you ever have any regrets or things you wanted to change?
Jiwe: I regret all the pain and worry I caused my mother. I feel responsible for the gray hair she has. I've put her through a lot and only wish to bring her peace and happiness now.
AllHipHop.com: What do you want people to take with them after they finish the book?
Jiwe: To understand that many of us don't ask to live the lives we do, and its more than just saying I want to do better, but a solid support system is key in any transition.
AllHipHop.com: Any other things you wanted to add or finish with?
Jiwe: I ask that everybody go out and read "War of the Bloods in My Veins" its a story that will change your outlook on gang life, gang members, and the reasons we join, stay, and eventually decide to do better. If you have young siblings, a son, nephew, cousin, boyfriend, grand kids, etc, this book is a mandatory read for them.
And lastly, I will be starring in a stage play titled "One Hour 2 Live" November 12th at Essex County college. For tickets and info, check out the website onehour2live.net or contact me through my website at JiweEra.com. Thank you all for your continued support.
Forest Whitaker talks to Jiwe on the set of "Brick City."