"Q&A With Tony Lewis Jr."
Book: Slugg: A Boy's Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration
Author: Tony Lewis Jr.
Tony Lewis Jr. is a community leader, work force development specialist, re-entry expert, and champion for children with incarcerated parents. Mr. Lewis has fought relentlessly over the past 16 years to uplift and empower men, women, and children impacted by mass incarceration.
His work and advocacy has been featured on CNN, BET, Elite Daily, and in the Washington Post. He is the winner of many awards including the Steve Harvey/Ford Motor Company “Best Community Leader” award and the Presidential Call to Service award.
- Do you see incarceration rates increasing or decreasing over the next 5-10 years?
I believe incarceration rates will increase over the next 5-10 years based on the tough on crime policing of the current administration. On top of that, this administrations "jobs package" for rural America will be anchored by the prison industrial complex. Building and staffing prisons will create jobs and an economic boom for poor rural communities across the country (particularly in Appalachia and the South). Therefore it will be beneficial to some for those rates to increase.
- Why is it important for young people of color to read your book?
"Slugg" is a road map for survival for people of color. It is a human story that covers a wide range of topics from morality, gun violence, spirituality, the power of education, police brutality, death, trauma, sound decision making, mental health, love, mass incarceration, and community service. It will educate, inspire, and above all empower people of color to be their greatest selves.
It's for people that are not from a similar socioeconomic or racial background, the book will allow them to see the humanity in our communities and debunk many of the negative stereotypes and myths about who and what we are as a community and as a people. It will provide context, rationale, and understanding for the decisions that are made in our communities.
- What are some ways you hope to inspire the youth with your literature?
My greatest hope is that from reading "Slugg" a youth will realize their divine power. I hope they will be encouraged and uplifted. I hope that "Slugg" is proof that you can overcome and survive anything as long as you believe in yourself, work hard, and exude patience.
- Have you ever spoken with someone who is incarcerated that has read your book?
I actually speak to people that are incarcerated (juveniles and adults) all the time that have read, "Slugg." They say it is one of the best books they have ever read. A lot of day-1 readers have said, "I couldn't put the joint down."
- What are 3 character traits that all leaders should embody?
Compassion, Vision, and Fortitude.
- What is your plan to help decrease the incarceration rate?
My plan is to continue to help the formerly incarcerated not recidivate. They are a huge piece of the puzzle. If we can get them positively engaged and gainfully employed they will cause a paradigm shift in our most vulnerable communities.
These are the parents, aunts, uncles, big brothers and sisters that the next generation will model themselves after. If they set the proper example, those behind them will choose a similar path. In order for that to happen, however, hiring policies will have to change and that is where I will continue to focus my work.
The other end of it is to support youth in vulnerable communities, provide resources and support that will help them make sound decisions and not put themselves at risk of incarceration.
- We recently did an author interview with Darien Harris author of "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin" and his question for you is -- How do you think your book has impacted the local community of DC?
I think "Slugg" has made reading cool in DC for a demographic that you may not normally see walking around with a book in their hands. I think it has inspired writers, it has motivated people to tell their own story in hopes of connecting with others for the sake of inspiring and comforting the reader. Lastly, I think it has created a deeper sense of pride for Washingtonians because "Slugg" is seen as not just my story, but OUR story.
- Can you talk about the survivor's guilt you must have faced being the son of a kingpin and also do you believe that writing this book has been therapeutic for you?
All of my adult life I have felt like I was on a plane and all the people I have loved and regard for have perished. So survivor's guilt is a part of my daily life and was the primary motivator for writing, "Slugg". it was truly my attempt to explain how I survived. Where I come from, you die prematurely due to violence, go to prison, contract some deadly disease, or you lose your mind.
Nobody grows up, goes to college, gets a good job, and lives happily-ever-after where we come from. I got close to the latter while never leaving my hood, that's unheard of and it comes with so much responsibility. Writing, "Slugg" was a cleanse for me and it provided a lot of clarity for me, I came out of the process more focused than ever, and very clear on my purpose.
- Did you ever get the urge to follow in your dad’s footprints or did you get instantly turned away from that lifestyle because of the arrest?
The footprints my dad laid were the way of life in my community and in my family. So "urge" is an understatement! In many ways, I was born on that path and I walked on that path, but my dad was the person that always advised me to forge a different path. That was his greatest fear that I would become him. The issue became, 'how do you do something else when this is all you ever seen?' Not just from my father, but every man I knew.
- Many people have labeled you as a D.C. superhero because of some of the many positive endeavors you have done for the city, can you explain what you are doing in 2017 and beyond to uplift D.C.?
I am working to ensure DCPS develops a systematic intervention to support children with incarcerated parents. I am working to develop an initiative that will allow inmates in DC Jails to have video conferences with their children's teachers. I am also the Chair of Mayor Muriel Bowser's commission on Re-entry and Returning Citizen Affairs, so I will continue to advocate for gainful employment and housing for the formerly incarcerated. Most importantly, I plan on having "Slugg" become a part of school curriculums in DC and across the country.
11. How important do you think it is for rappers should as Jay-Z to talk about their upbringings to the masses? (For example "Marcy Me" on his latest album, 4:44?)
"Marcy Me" is actually my favorite track on 4:44, I think it is super important to talk about where you come from in a very honest and candid way. We have to be strong enough to give the realities and not glorify the carnage. When Jay says, "I'm from Marcy houses, where the boys die by the thousands," or, " I came through the bushes smelling like roses, I deserve a trophy just for that." I feel that same way because I also came up that way.
T.I. applauded Jay-Z because he is not just speaking for himself, he is speaking for me and anyone else that survived a similar environment and is alive to talk about it. If you are not from a place like Marcy or Hanover then you get a chance to see all that we were faced with growing up in that environment, and hopefully, you have a deeper appreciation for who we are and what it took for us to make it there. Ultimately, I pray you are inspired to help in some way. I hope "Slugg" gives people the same exact feeling.
- What is the best book you have read in 2017?
It came out late summer 2016 but I finished it early this year, "Blood In The Water" by Heather Ann Thompson, it is phenomenal and she is phenomenal.
- What was your writing process like for this book?
It was challenging on many levels. First, I had to revisit so many deep, dark places from my past. Secondly, I collaborated with author Kevin Reeves from Chicago, so we wrote the book via a long distance relationship. After thousands of conversations, texts, emails, he came to DC for one of my big service weekends. We slept outside to raise money for homeless youth and we did my annual turkey giveaway.
I would tell him stories and he would write, then I would write passages myself, then there are parts that we both wrote together until we kind of became one voice. It was arduous but we got it done and I am super proud of the final product. Through this process, I gained a brother in Kevin. I am so grateful to him for walking this journey with me. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for him as a writer, he is incredible.
- What is some advice you have for getting through writer's block?
Take a break, don't force it, and do something that gets your creative juices flowing. For me, it was always listening to "Reasonable Doubt" (Jay-Z's First Album).
- Do you plan to write more books in the future?
That's a great question, I go back and forth, but today I will say yes, and I am actually writing an essay currently. I cannot wait to share it with the world! Thanks for the opportunity and the support.
Places to Find More From This Author:
Facebook: Tony Lewis Jr.
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