Du’ Ron Fisher: Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
By Nuala Lincke-Ivic

" [S]elling mattresses for a living is probably the lamest thing on the planet. But I know that there is something more.... That’s why I attend college and study hard…"

 

When I meet former students, I often don’t recognize them until I look directly into their eyes. I guess this curious phenomenon is related to my job as a teacher. As a teacher, I am always looking at students’ eyes—because there, in their eyes, I can find out if they understand what I am teaching them, how they feel about what I am teaching them, if it’s useful: a road map to knowledge. And of course, it’s there, in their eyes, that I glimpse their personalities. The eyes truly are the windows to the soul; even if the blinds are shut down tight on these windows, the blinds will open eventually, if only for a moment, and I’ll see the student there, through those windows.

During the semester 22-year-old Du’Ron Fisher was a student in my English 28 class, and I would look over at him, a quiet, listening presence in a sea of 65 other students in one of those theatre-type classrooms, all the seats angled down to the back wall of the classroom, where I paced back and forth in front of a large computer screen, trying to impart particles of wisdom about the thesis and transitions, the blinds were usually shut down tight over the windows. Now and then they’d snap up, and I’d see him there, through the windows. Sad. Smart. But when he smiled, he’d smile with his eyes, and I was relieved to see his smile: It was like a lamp that had been switched on behind the windows, lighting up his face, and for a moment he’d appear to be what I wanted him to be. Young. Carefree.

In all three of the photos of him that Du’Ron sent me for this interview—published on the first screen of this magazine—the blinds are up. In the first two photos, he’s visiting his father Ronald Fisher in a U.S. penitentiary, where Ronald is serving a life sentence for intent to distribute crack cocaine. In the first photo, he’s a delighted child, happy to be with his daddy, both of them holding an identical reddish-colored book with the words “Holy Bible” clearly visible on the cover, and father and son are dressed nicely—Du’Ron’s white’s socks and sneakers are immaculate. The season appears to be Christmas; they are standing in front of a wall with red wrapping paper taped to it; clearly a backdrop for photos. In the second photo, also with his father in the penitentiary, Du’Ron is a young teen, and he is heartbroken, gazing forlornly out at us. In the third photo, Du’Ron is by himself, not in the penitentiary, sitting on a step somewhere in the outdoors with his hands folded together, as if in meditation: the young artist, gazing resolutely, calmly, at us, with determination. He will make his way in this world. He will succeed.

At the beginning of the semester, in my English 28 class, I became curious about Du’Ron—the smart, sad eyes—and I waited eagerly to read his first essay. It would be good, I guessed—interesting, something out of the ordinary. And I was right. Du’Ron is a wonderful thinker/writer. Indeed, I published one of his essays—about gangs in L.A.—in this edition of West. What I learned in that essay also led to this interview about Du’Ron’s father Ronald and the “hustla”/gang life.

On Sept. 18, 1991, when Du’Ron was two years old, and his father Ronald was 27-years-old, Ronald was arrested for intent to distribute crack cocaine. After a jury trial, Ronald was sentenced to life in prison. According to Ronald, he was sentenced to life in prison based on hearsay:

I was convicted during trial and found guilty, based on a testimony of an individual who said that he had sold me drugs. His testimony was what the jury found me guilty of, my said offense, which resulted in a LIFE Sentence.

Before his trial, Ronald was offered a reduced sentence of five years if he offered testimony regarding another individual’s alleged drug-related crimes. He refused to do so. As of this date, he has served 20 years in prison. He believes he is in prison because “I am black, [and] it was naturally assumed that I sold crack.” The guilty verdict shocked him, robbed him of his belief in the U.S. judicial system:

I had honestly believed in our judicial system and had faith and hope that I would win this case, adjudicate any guilt, clear my name again, and start all over with my life. I had no idea how wrong I was, until there came a guilty verdict. At that moment, I knew that our judicial system, [our] Constitution, was totally prejudiced towards the black race.

Is he correct; is Jim Crow still alive and well, doing its best to distress and destroy the minds, hearts, souls, and bodies of African Americans and other non-white people?

According to an April 22, 2012, CBS Sunday Morning report, there are nearly 2.4 million people in prison (“The Cost of a Nation of Incarceration”). Of this number, “African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total…incarcerated population,” according to the NACCP “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” A cursory look at statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) seems to confirm this contention. Per the BOP prison statistics last updated on November 24, 2012, the total prison population that the BOP manages is 218,020. Of this number, 89,099 (37.2%) are black, 76,079 (34.9%) are Hispanic, and most of the rest are white (fewer than 4% are categorized as Asian or American Indian). “Quick Facts” from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that the estimated population in the U.S. in 2011 was 311,591,917, and of this number, an estimated 13.1% were black, 16.7% were Hispanic, and 78.1% were white. Do the math. African Americans—and Hispanic people—comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the prison population. However, we must remember the post hoc, ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) fallacy; we should not immediately assume that racism is the direct and only cause for Ronald Fisher’s incarceration, nor the cause for the incarceration of other black or Hispanic people in U.S. prisons—they may have committed criminal acts that caused them to be incarcerated. Therefore, we need to examine the individual facts of Ronald Fisher’s case and the cases of all other black and Hispanic people in U.S. prisons. Nevertheless…these statistics do tell us that we should explore the relevance of institutional racism to Ronald Fisher’s case—to his life—and to the lives of all black and Hispanic people in U.S. prisons. Of the 218,020 people in BOP-managed U.S. prisons, 91,192 (47.5%) are in prison for drug-related crimes. According to the April 22, 2012, CBS Sunday Morning report, “Blacks use drugs at the same rate as whites, but go to prison more - nearly 3 out of 4 people incarcerated for drug possession are African-American” (“The Cost of a Nation of Incarceration”).

As a society, we need an answer to this question about how institutional racism—Jim Crow—may play a role in the incarceration of African Americans and Hispanics for drug use, and the story of Ronald Fisher, Du’Ron Fisher’s father, might provide us with a useful perspective when we ask this question. If a jury found Ronald Fisher guilty of intent to distribute crack cocaine based on the testimony of one person, why did the jury believe that this person’s testimony was credible? Who was this person: an upstanding citizen with no criminal record or a person who was suspected of or convicted of a drug-related crime? If so, why would a jury find this person’s testimony credible? And…we need even more information about this person: Did he or she testify against Ronald Fisher in order to receive a reduced prison sentence—the kind of deal Ronald Fisher rejected, and which resulted in a sentence of life in prison, according to Ronald Fisher? We need to examine the process by which Ronald Fisher was sentenced to life in prison, make sure that he received a fair trial—to ensure the integrity of our judicial system. There are bigger issues than Ronald Fisher’s emancipation riding on the Ronald Fisher case—although one man’s life, spent in prison, does not seem like a small matter, at least to him and to his son Du’Ron Fisher. Whether or not Ronald Fisher is, in fact, guilty of intent to distribute crack cocaine, his life sentence seems draconian—and illogical—not in the best interests of society.

When Ronald Fisher was incarcerated, Du’Ron Fisher’s life was affected very negatively; like Ronald Fisher, Du’Ron Fisher became one more little boy who grew up without a father—a potential law-breaker, according to the Gang/Narco Division website of the LAPD (“Gangs”). When we lock away young men like Ronald Fisher for life—if they are guilty of intent to distribute crack cocaine, and have a prior criminal record—yes, we are protecting society (mothers, daughters, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, fathers, sons, sisters, brothers) from the very serious peril that illegal narcotics present to families, but we are also depriving children of their fathers. We need to consider if life in prison for intent to distribute crack cocaine is, as I contend, society’s draconian punishment to drug dealers and its illogical attempt to protect itself from them. Indeed, what is the primary intent of incarceration: punishment of criminals or rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society? Or…is the purpose of the penal system in the United States to generate government (taxpayer-generated) income from inmates to ensure its own survival; is it the most successful and powerful business enterprise in the United States, one that, for its own survival, requires a continual supply of this commodity: prisoners? For the good of society (which is for our good), let’s begin—or continue—this conversation with ourselves and others.

Following is my interview with Du’Ron Fisher, the son of Ronald Fisher. In this interview and in “My Father’s Story” (click on Essays), Du’Ron discusses the affect of his father’s incarceration on his life.


Interview Questions:

Nuala Lincke-Ivic: In your essay about your father, you write: “I’ve been living my life through the stories of what others would say about him.” How well do you feel that you know your father today; how much do stories still play a role in your image of him?

Du’Ron Fisher: I feel like I don’t know him well at all, and that’s what’s so bad about it. Since he’s been in prison most of my life, he only knows a portion of who the real Du’Ron is, and I only know a small part of who he really is. As screwed up as it sounds, sometimes I think that I would rather him stay there, because I fear that once he gets out, that he will be disappointed in who I am, or we won’t get along. I can say that I know who he is, but can you know someone whom you have never lived with? I have experienced having friends or family members whom I’ve gotten along with well, but once we lived together, the relationship changed, and there were things that we didn’t like about each other, and I don’t want that to happen to me and my father. But of course I want him to get out, and get to have the relationship that we never got the chance to have. The stories that people tell me about my father still play a role in the image I have of him. As a matter of fact, today I went over my aunt’s house for Christmas, and there were a lot of family and friends whom I saw that I haven’t seen in a while, and this one lady whom my father dated previously told me a couple of stories of him, and how close they were, but my grandmother told me she was kind of psycho and a stalker to my dad, so you never know who’s telling the truth or not. This is a concept that I’ve had to deal with all my life.

NLI: Did you and your father ever talk about the anecdote you describe in the passage that follows?

The life that my father was leading was becoming a threat to my life as a young child. One story that I remember in particular is how one of my father’s rival gang affiliations in Texas was upset with my father over some sort of transaction that they did a drive by on the house that my family was living in. This gang shot the whole front side of the house severely, I was still an infant at the time and my bedroom was in the front of the house where the most damage was caused, and if I would have been in my room at the time I would have been dead, all because of the street life.

DF: I don’t recall my father and I talking about the situation that happened with the drive by, but I’ve talked to my mom and my grandmother about it, and this is a true story, so If my family would have been at the house that night, then I could have possibly been injured or dead from the incident.

NLI: Your description of your father’s childhood is poignant; he had a very rough upbringing: “My Father was raised by a single mother who had five sons and one daughter. All of the children had different fathers except two of them, and my dad was the second to youngest child.” Do you think that we should hold people accountable for the decisions they make in their lives—such as to sell drugs to people who are somebody’s son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, uncle, aunt, grandparent—if they had the kind of childhood your father had? I’m thinking of these lyrics from Tupac Shakur’s song “Dear Mama,” which are his justification for selling drugs:

I shed tears with my baby sister
Over the years we was poorer than the other little kids
And even though we had different daddy's, the same drama

When things went wrong we'd blame mama
I reminisce on the stress I caused, it was hell
Huggin’ on my mama from a jail cell
And who'd think in elementary?
Heeey! I see the penitentiary, one day

I needed money of my own so I started slangin’
I ain't guilty cause, even though I sell rocks
It feels good puttin money in your mailbox
I love payin rent when the rent's due
I hope ya got the diamond necklace that I sent to you

DF: I believe that people who sell drugs and participate in such activities should be held accountable for their actions, no matter how bad [or] tumultuous their upbringing was, but where I disagree with the legal system is having someone serve time for an unfair amount of time. My father has served more than enough time, and something should be done to prevent the court systems from continuously convicting people so harshly. People like my father may have affected somebody’s son, or sister, but the convictions of people like my father are affecting the children that call these men and women their parents. This is a cycle that has no winner, because everyone is affected, but my father has learned his lesson, and it’s not fair for him to still be imprisoned for something that happened two decades ago.

NLI: In his great novel Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky seems to indicate that we cannot run away from our conscience, that to be whole we must confess to and atone for our wrongdoings:

What is it, to run away! A mere formality; that’s not the main thing; no, he won’t run away on me by a law of nature, even if he has somewhere to run to. Have you ever seen a moth near a candle? Well, so he’ll keep circling around me, circling around me, as around a candle; freedom will no longer be dear to him, he’ll fall to thinking, get entangled, he’ll tangle himself all up as in a net, he’ll worry himself to death!

Do you think that jail is a place that aids in this kind of self-reflection, which aims to rehabilitate someone who has broken the law? Or…is jail merely punishment, society’s vengeance?

DF: I learned in history class that prison was reformed around the time education was reformed because the prison system was savage at the time—I think in the 1800’s. The invention of the penitentiary, which stems from the word “repent,” was a concept that called for prisoners to sit in a small cell by themselves, which would allow them to reflect on the choices that they made and repent for the sins that they committed. Prison was supposed to rehabilitate the prisoner, but eventually the concept of the penitentiary has changed and turned into something ugly. Prison is about profit; the more prisoners a state has, the more money there is to be made, even though tax dollars go toward building the prisons, but capital is definitely involved in the way the system works now. Prison is now just punishment, and is something that is used to make an example of the men and women who are involved in…lives [of crime].

NLI: In your essay, you write about how the testimony of your father’s so-called friends caused him to be incarcerated. And you condemn their actions, telling us “there is a code to street life that requires no snitching.” According to you, “these people broke the code.” However, you point out that because your dad refused to “rat out his friends,” he is still in prison. Do you think he made the wrong choice? Should he have offered testimony that caused his friends to be imprisoned—because his incarceration indirectly led to your mother making choices that caused her to be incarcerated, and his incarceration also affected your life very negatively: “I feel that if my father never would have gone to prison, then I would be a totally different person who would have been more assertive, and wouldn’t be afraid to fail.” Do you think that there are times in life when we should place our own needs above honor?

DF: I believe that my father made the choice that he felt were right, and I can’t say if he made the right choices for him. I know what I would have done, but I’m pretty sure if he had the chance to do it all over again, then the outcome would have been different, because his choice still affects me and my family to this day. My father has a best friend who was convicted the same time as him, and his friend never told on him, so I can’t see my father snitching on his best friend even if he had the chance today just to get out, because their friendship was and still is genuine, but I can’t say that about the people who went against him. Obviously they were never friends to begin with. I think there are times in life when we should place our own needs over others, because it’s a dog-eatdog world, and if you don’t watch your back, you’ll become Caesar and your friend will be Brutus and you’ll be regretting not being vigilant about whom you surround yourself with.

NLI: You make this powerful statement in your essay: “I was close to following in my father’s footsteps. The thought of selling drugs just to get fast money crossed my mind more than once. What I’ve come to realize is that as hard as life is, getting caught up in the streets, gang life, is not worth the consequences that one must endure.” Was there one specific incident in your life that led to this epiphany?

DF: There isn’t just once specific incident that led me to this decision, but while I was in high school in Texas I would be out late at night with my friends going to parties or just hanging out, and we would always be approached by the police. When they would approach us, they would ask for the regular, license and registration, and then would ask to search us and the car that we were in. So there was this one time I got caught with alcohol in my car while leaving a party, and I got a ticket. But over the years of being treated like a potential criminal, I realized that I am a target, and when I dress a certain way, and my car looks a certain way, then I am at a higher risk of getting caught up in the legal system. So I just made up my mind not to go down that road because I’ve been around people who are involved with distributing drugs, and they were always on edge, and have been to jail or prison, and I knew I didn’t want that for myself.

NLI: You believe that institutional racism is the root cause for the incarceration of so many African American and Latino males. You write that “[s]tatistically, I should be behind bars just like my father, but I always knew that I was better than what people predicted for me.” Tell us who predicted that you would be behind bars one day; how was this message communicated to you?

DF: No one specifically came out and said that I would be in the same place as my dad, but when I went to alternative school , it [this opinion] was displayed in the way I was treated by the faculty of the alternative school and the regular high school that I attended once I got back.

NLI: If your father were to be released from jail right now, how could society help your father so that he leads a happy and successful life? What tools would you like him to have?

DF: If my father were released today, society could help by providing therapy and rehabilitation. I’m not sure of what kind experiences my dad had to endure while being incarcerated, but I think that it would be beneficial for him to be able to talk to someone about what has happened for the past twenty plus years. One of my family members was released from prison after serving almost twenty years behind bars, and once he came out, there were things that affected him and still continue to affect him in his life outside of prison. I feel that if he would have had this help, then things would be a bit different for him. There are even people who haven’t been to prison who need some sort of therapy, but they never receive it, and they’re running around with all types of mental disabilities, so this would be something that I feel would be beneficial to my father. I also feel like society should be empathetic toward people who have gone through this experience. I think society and the work force have turned their backs on people who have been in prison and have put a stigma on ex-felons. You can’t give the man everything, but this would definitely help him. I would [also] like for my father to have ambition, and the will to succeed. These are the tools that I believe he should have, and I believe he already has this in his heart. It shows from how successful he was before he went to prison, but I just think that he chose the wrong profession to get caught up in. I also want him to have self-discipline, not to feel like selling drugs is the only way out of poverty, because I’ve watched documentaries about men being released from prison and having to build a new life from the ground up, and the temptation to go back to that life was always there for the taking.

NLI: If you were to have a son one day, what lessons would you like him to learn so that he leads a happy, successful life?

DF: I would pass down the story of my father, and other relatives [who have lived lives] like his story, and I would take him to organizations that would show [him] the [legal and penal] system and cycle of the criminal life, so that he could witness firsthand how the life behind bars is not a life to lead. I would teach him that if you want something in life, then hard work, determination and an honest life …will get you to your goal.


December 2012 Letter from Prison: Ronald Fisher to Du’Ron Fisher

Dear Du’Ron:

I received your letter today, and like always , was glad to hear from you. How are you doing? Sounds like you are doing great. I am doing fine. Thank you for the money that you sent me. I am so glad you didn't grow up like me. I love you and pray to God, thanking Him for blessing me with a son like you every day.

When I was your age, I had to hustle to eat, join a gang to be someone, never finished high school, played dice a lot on the streets. and I moved to Texas, where you were born. Hustlin’ is was what got me locked up in 1991, and hustlin’ got your mother locked up in 1997. I've been hustlin’ all my life. That was my life style and my eventual downfall.

You've got to stay in school and work hard for what you like, or what you want to make in life. Sure it takes a lot longer to get what you want in life. But like they say, “slow money is show money.” All in all, this avoids you from getting into the pitfalls of hustlin’, drugs, gangs, all resulting eventually in prison or jail.

Gambling will make you need more money. After you have lost all that money, you have to gamble to get it all back, if you’re lucky. Usually you're not lucky; you just get greedy and lose it all. Look at Michael Vick. He was making all those millions playing professional football, but could not stop hustlin’. Making money in the streets might take you a few years to make it, but [it] only takes one dumb five-minute mistake to lose it and end up in jail or prison. You have no idea how many inmates are doing LIFE in prison for one bad mistake.

Do you remember Tommy Burn (a.k.a. Twisted Black?), the one who made the song the “True Hustla”? That song was written about me. He is now in prison serving three (3) consecutive 30-year terms in Texas. I wish I could have had a conversation about my life and saved him from falling into the same trap I did. The last time I saw him, in 1990, he was going to college. He told me that he was out of the game and was going to college to study art. So, I gave him a new car off of my car lot (a Camaro convertible) and some money to help him get his art degree. I have enclosed an article of his arrest. His arrest was like mine--guilty by word of mouth (rats).

If Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive, he would be totally against the mass incarceration/warehousing that this country supports and these outrageous drug laws and drug penalties.

PBS Channel has a new show coming out about incarceration in the black community. The hosts are John Legend, Russell Simmons, and Danny Glover. I have sent you a copy of more “Black Men In Prison Than were Enslaved II”; in that article there is [reference to] a book called The New Jim Crow, written by Michelle Alexander. See if you can get that book and read it.

I hope you like the articles I have enclosed. I really liked your letter. Write me soon. I sure do love you. Will talk to you on the phone. Stay good. I am so proud of you

Love,
Dad

Hustla Anthem”/Twisted Black


December 2012 Letter from Prison: Ronald Fisher to Nuala Lincke-Ivic

Dear Professor Nuala Lincke-lvic,

My name is Ronald J. Fisher, and I am currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. At the time of my arrest, I was 27 years old, I was self-employed, [the] owner of two Group Homes, which housed individuals classified as "mentally retarded." I was also married at the time and was a proud father of five children. On Sept. 18, 1991, my entire life was turned completely topsy-turvy. On that date, I was taken into custody by the U.S, Marshals, and was charged with/indicted with various alleged criminal offenses. When questioned by the D.E.A., I informed them that I was completely unaware of any of the alleged charges. I then proceeded to trial and was convicted of all charges and sentenced to LIFE in prison. (Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine Base/Crack Cocaine carries a ridiculous amount of time, but because of my prior history of criminal activity/prior offenses, I was enhanced to a LIFE SENTENCE). There were never any drugs in my possession. They never found any drugs in my possession or on my properties, nor were there any drugs, amounts [of drugs], or actual drugs presented or produced during trial. Nothing concrete or substantial whatsoever. I was convicted during trial and found guilty, based on a testimony of an individual who said that he had sold me drugs. His testimony was what the jury found me guilty of, my said offense, which resulted in a LIFE Sentence.

I had honestly believed in our judicial system and had faith and hope that I would win this case, adjudicate any guilt, clear my name again, and start all over with my life. I had no idea how wrong I was, until there came a guilty verdict. At that moment, I knew that our judicial system, Constitution, was totally prejudiced towards the black race. And since I am black, it was naturally assumed that I sold crack. My story, and/or wrongful incarceration, is among the thousand others of those inmates that are housed/warehoused/incarcerated behind these concertina fences, armed guards, and brick walls. If I had taken their deal and plead guilty, I would have only done five (5) years. But because I fought my innocence and went to trial and lost, I was punished with the maximum sentence, that being LIFE.

Since I have been down, these long 20 plus years, I have discovered that there are many advocates out there fighting for our rights, fighting for our unconstitutional sentences, and that with HOPE, there may be a final ending or even a light at the end of this long tunnel in getting some help/action and /or relief. They are already changing the sentencing guidelines with regards to Crack/Cocaine Based Offenses, realizing that Crack/Cocaine Based Offenses were prejudiced towards blacks [more] than anything, and outrageous time/sentences were handed down by evil and vindictive judges and U.S. Attorneys. It's a start. What is crazy is that this unconstitutional judicial system that we have in the Department of Justice has been going on for years. The DOJ has been getting away with murder. There was a Federal District Judge [who] was to give out over a million years in time/sentenced years. That is totally evil and absurd. How can Federal District Court Judges PLAY GOD and get away with it!!!!!!!!!!

Sincerely,
Ronald J. Fisher

P.S. on the front page of the USA today dated:12/14/12
their is an article about (HOW SNITCHES BUY THEIR FREEDOM)

Federal Prisoners Use Snitching for Personal Gain


Other Work:


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