It pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me even before
I was born! What undeserved mercy! Gal. 1:15 (NLT)
Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you.
Jer. 1:5 (MSG)
I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born!
Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)
Excerpt taken from a popular magazine (PM) in Seattle, WA.
long last, this magazine was able to catch up with the man that a lot of folks
across the country say has one of the most electrifying stories about
miracles performed by his "living" God that have ever been told. His
story originates from the mean streets of Atlanta and then to New
Orleans. From New Orleans he heads northwest to Seattle, and from here he will
head back to Atlanta, which is his place of birth. You might say that this man has stepped out on faith
wherever he has ventured to and his God has been with him all the way, and
has performed countless miracles for him by meeting him at his every point
It is a story of a young man who came to realize that for some reason the specter of death always seemed to loom above his head from a very early age, even before his challenges with substance abuse. It is also an introduction to his story of a middle-aged man who struggled to maintain a functional addiction and now strives to share his cocaine-induced mindset to bring the reader into the hellish and brutal world of cocaine and alcohol addiction. Finally, it is this man's story about redemption, and taking flight in a newly found freedom. We meet briefly with Douglas in one of his favorite coffee shops where he has just come in with a handful of tracts that he passes out to countless people no street corners downtown and during major social events like ball games, concerts, and conventions.
He is also generous enough with his time to take a break from the demands placed on him to get his highly anticipated story written and submitted to the publishers as soon as possible. He promised to give us a condensed version of roughly what is going to be in the book so we prepare to hang on to his every word. We are honored to be the only Seattle magazine extended this opportunity, and delighted at the prospect of sharing it with our readers.
Smiling, Douglas beckons us to remain seated, and the interview begins.
PM: Yeah dude, where were you raised? I'm sorry, I don't know if I can call you that. Should I call you Mr. Watts?
DW: Hey man, its cool. I'm not down with that kind of pretension. You can call me dude, or Douglas, if you'd like, but I actually prefer Douglas. I've never been exactly with the status quo, you see. Anyway, I was born and raised in Atlanta over in the poverty stricken and segregated areas on the west side of town where mostly nothing but Blacks lived. However, I had quite a wonderful childhood because in those days children were the responsibility of the entire community, and there was very little to fear in terms of child molesters or other maladjusted individuals. I remember having a very keen interest in small snakes and other creeping crawlers at the age of 4 and 5 years, and even going into the kudzu fields to catch the small garter snakes. Kids had a lot of freedom in those days, and our back yard was actually an extension of the entire community. I was also quite fascinated with fire and its destruction, and on more than one occasion I received a whipping for demonstrating my uncontrollable interest in it.
My folks and relatives told me that I had fallen from the first floor of our apartment building as a toddler but had not been seriously injured, although some people would beg to differ. I have been trying to understand that one for years, and am only now beginning to understand why I lived through it. It simply might have been because of small kids having more flexible bone that probably saved me from a nasty fall. I may have even fallen into a patch of grass, but the particulars were not told to me.
When I was around 4 or 5, I was hit by a car, which actually happened to swipe me in a way that knocked me down, and broke the bottle of coca-cola I was supposed to be getting for my aunt from the store. She had sent me on an errand to the store about a block away, but required good judgement in crossing the two lane street the store was located on. I was a very precocious child, and my relatives trusted me to do a lot of things small kids my age now would have no idea of doing. When I was taken home by an adult I was crying, not because I was in pain, but because I thought my aunt would be mad at me for dropping her coca-cola.
My mother later arranged a
house call with the now famous and renown Dr. Yancey, who checked me out and gave
me a good bill of health. I look back over my life and see these two incidents
as the earliest period of time when it seemed that something did not
want me to continue living on this earth. Even then, the purpose of my life here
on earth had caught the attention of a powerful force that seemed to act against me, and
prompted a non-stop campaign to shorten my life as quickly as possible. It turned out that the
goal of this force would continue over the years, even until now. However, I only try to objectively
chronicle these events, allowing the readers to draw their own conclusions about whether or not
God's angels were watching over me even back then.
PM: We hear you lived in some pretty dangerous hoods, dude, I mean Doug.
DW: Yeah, Vine City and a slum called Lightning. They were both ghettos, although Vine City, the neighborhood that was called home to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had areas in it that were pretty upscale, and was where he lived. As a kid I remember walking pass his home en route to the county health clinic for an appointment, or Washington Park for a swim. Mr Alonzo Herndon's mansion was located in Vine City as well. He was the founder of Atlanta Life Insurance, one of the leading black insurance companies in the country at that time. He also was the namesake of a stadium just a stone's throw away from his home which hosted college as well as high school football games. I have sold everything there was to sell at that stadium. I can remember as a kid in kindergarden when my friend and I went to confirm a rumor circulating around school that there was an alligator in one of the fountains at Mr Herdon's mansion. It was pouring down raining that day after school and we dashed from school to run the block or so to his house, located near the EA Ware school grounds.
When we got there we were dripping wet without an umbrella, rung the door bell, and boldly stated that we wanted to see the alligators that were in the fountains. The maid, yes maid, who was black, openned the door and warmly received us into the grand palatial foyer. She looked down at us with a big smile on her face, took our wet rain coats, and said make yourselves at home as she lead us to the drawing room to be seated. She asked if we wanted milk and cookies meanwhile, and if we lived nearby. We told her we did live nearby but our parents did not know we had stopped at this house. She seemed truly entertained by the idea that we would venture out into harsh weather to satisfy such an odd curiousity. No doubt she probably had fun with us. She arrived with the milk and cookies and took a seat opposite us. She then very politely informed us that we were mistaken, and that there were no alligators in the fountains. We asked how many rooms were in the house and things like that while we sat eating and marveling at the wallpapered room.
finished eating, she told us that we must be going because our parents were probably worried
about us. Since it was still raining very hard, she suggested she call us
a taxi. She asked to pay for the taxi but we told her our parents would pay for
it. We both gave our addresses and waited for the taxi to arrive. The taxi
dropped me off first because I lived closer. My mother came out with a look of
surprise that her eldest son was sitting in the back of a taxi with another 6
year old kid. She angrily paid the driver who then sped away with my friend
to deliver him to his parents. I don't know about my friend, but I know I was
spanked for not coming straight home from school. I remember this like it was yesturday, and still
get a kick out of it because I was only 5 or 6 years old with the maturity of
someone much older. Most kids I know that age today can barely tie their shoes,
spell their names, or navigate through their own yards. I knew my address,
and could walk the 4 blocks home from school all by myself, if I had to,
which I did routinely. I guess because we had more freedom, we developed in much
more sophisticated ways than kids today.
In Vine City, my folks sold moonshine whiskey when I was between 4 and 8 years old, although it was probably longer. Both my folks were hustlers and didn't work legally but my stepfather was also a gambler and I remember the family packing for the move to Detroit at age 6 and waiting for him to get home. I was all excited about it but when he arrived and the fighting between him and my mother started, I found out that he had gambled all the money away. My mother's money! She cried and cried about it for days. I don't think she ever really forgave him or trusted him like that anymore. We later moved to Lightning and this was indeed the turning point in my life as far as any kind of normalcy was concerned.
Lightning was the community from hell. I can remember standing up in the back of the truck that was loaded with all our worldly possessions driving into this never before heard of land and wondering what kind of cool adventures lay before me in our new neighborhood. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was soon to encounter, and that would do more to shape and shake my young life at its very core. Before moving there, I had an innocence about me that was snatched-away from me, never to return. Of all the communities in Atlanta for a kid to grow up, why did it have to be this one?
I will never forget hearing my cousin say, "Guess what, we moving ta Lightning." Little did I know that any Black community that adopted the name had to have a reason for calling it that. You immediately think of being struck by lightning, and the consequences of such an ordeal. Lightning, by its very nature, leaves everything in its path charred and resonating with the left over effects of its highly charged presence. This includes people and things. The Lightning community epitomized this fact, and has left me still resonating with the effects of once living there. Some folks say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, and when it does, is as rare as miracles. Folks also say that when lightning does strike twice in the same place, or when a miracle happens, it's God's way of saying, "Hello, do I have your attention now?" It's kind of a calling card where God allows the odds against something good or bad happening to be reduced to zero.
It's like putting his personal signature on something, and leaving no doubt that it was Him that did it. In the south, church folks used to say, "it reeks of God," or "God's hand was all in it." The bible even says in Psalms 29:7 that, "The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning." In my life, one of the things I think this means is that God uses the hardships that shaped me and formed me from my up-bringing in Lightning to help me to find my way in life now. I find myself constantly drawing on life-lessons learned as a direct result of living there. Sometimes these lessons "flash" before my mind's eye just at the right moment in my life when I need them.
Another way I see it is in all the miracles God has worked in my life that were just as improbable as lightning striking in the same place twice. It may seem strange but I can't help but think that the two interpretations are somehow related, and the obvious similarities, in terms of their impact on my life, is no coincidence but contrived. It's by design. Yeah, it's like I have flashes of Lightning from my days growing up in that community, and I experience flashes of lightning figuratively striking the same place twice, indicative of the many miracles God has performed in my life. I hope I didn't put too fine a point on this thing. I seem to be struggling to make myself understood.
Well, little did I know just how much meaning these expressions associated with the word "lightning" would have on me throughout my life, and how flashes of Lightning - the community - would continue to strike my life and threaten to leave me permanently charred ... forever! Do you know what I mean?
PM: Hey dude, that's a very interesting interpretation and clever spin on "flashes of Lightning", and a very creative way of phrasing it. Yeah, we get it. It seems you're playing on words here but then there is an unusual correlation between the two just as you mentioned. I'm sure that's your intent. Is Lightning where you began to get into all the trouble, and where you almost lost your life on a number of occasions?
DW: Yes, yes, that was good, wasn't it? Humm, it just came out ... finally. Maybe I should make that the title of the book : "Flashes of Lightning." Oh yeah, due mainly to peer pressure, I quickly became a problem child and started getting into a lot of fights, sniffing glue, drinking, smoking weed, and was soon in and out of juvenile institutions. However, none of this started to happen until my stepfather died. I had a lot of respect for him because he was a mean man, but he was a great dad in his own way. He was a strict disciplinarian like most dads back then. He contracted Muscular Dystrophy and later lost the ability to walk, and finally to move most parts of his body. The way his body deteriorated, and the hope he had of getting well was such a tragedy. This man was cut down in the prime of his life at the young age of 33, just like Jesus. He had been admitted to the VA where he, ironically, died of pneumonia. I was 13 at the time, and was quickly on my way to nowhere.
In another twisted kind of way, his death paved the way for our mother to receive his pension from the military and buy us a home, and move out of Lightning. In a way, his death gave me life. I know it did. If I had continued to live in Lightning, I would of had a much different outcome. My father's life was sacrificed for mine. I truly believe this. I loved him dearly, and I was crushed when he died. He had been my friend. I could talk to him, and he would listen to me. I admired him very much, and wanted to be a hustler just like him. In many ways during my early years I guess I did become just that - a hustler. Although the amount of time my family actually lived in Lightning was only about 7 years, it was during the time when I was most vunerable to being negatively influenced by my peers. The thing that bonded all of us was hustling, fighting, and getting high. I didn't like fighting but it was something I was pretty good at, and something that was inevitable. The people in Lightning had such an influence on me that even after my family moved away, I was still captivated by what I had experienced there and continued to go there on a very regular basis. In spite of having moved away to a less hostle neighborhood, developing intellectual abilities and pursuits, I was still deep down a product of Lightning, and continued to think that way for years.
And, yes I did almost lose my life on a number of occasions but as I told you guys, I will make the specifics of those deadly encounters, the cocaine use in my later years , the self-destruction, and the later deadly encounters in my life available on my website on a separate link called my story, which is a condensed and unedited version of my upcoming book. The way that this whole thing started was that one day I was feeling particularly indebted to God for all the times he had delivered me from death and destruction. I started writing down what I thought would be a relatively short list but as God brought back to my remembrance all he had been doing for me, the list got longer and longer. Suddenly, I was astonished with all the memories flowing from my mind in a seemingly non-stop rush of thought. Since I had always lived my life looking ahead, my retrospection into my troubled past overwhelmed me and brought forth a torrent of tears as I began to praise and thank God for having mercy on me.
I knew then that I had to make public all that the Lord had done for me. I began to elaborate on the various instances with historical context and a chronological flow. My next step is to give this draft a creative appeal that will draw on my talents as a writer. What I was concerned with initially was capturing the moment of each miracle, and they were all miracles, before I lost a single thought of what had happened, and how it had happened. Remember, this interview is supposed to be a promotion for the upcoming book and a link to what I already have available on the website. The link I mentioned contains a lot more detail than I will speak of here and, for the benefit of your readers that are interested in some of the specifics, I will allow them to explore my story at their convenience. It's an unedited rough draft of what I have written so far but is not the conclusion of the book.
Anyways, like I was saying, after cycling through the Atlanta and Decatur juvenile institutions, I eventually graduated to the adult prison facilities especially erected for young toughs like me. I attended Booker T. Washington high school and eventually became a big disappointment to all my teachers and friends that knew me capable of much more than being a thug and hustler. At school I was very popular for all the wrong reasons and didn't do half as good in my classes as I could have. Academically, I used to straddle the fence, so to speak, because my life, at least my social position in the pecking order, depended on it. I had status among those thugs I ran with so from time to time I would do just enough to fit in with these low achievers. Oddly enough, the practice of this unbalanced social arrangement would come to work against me after a criminal conviction in which my sentencing would be based primarily on the kind of people I associated with. I later learned that close association with thuggish kinds of people does have its disadvantages, especially in a court of law.
Before receiving my diploma, I spent 4 months at a county work camp - a chain gang is what they called them - and was not allowed back into day school after I got out of jail. I continued my revolving door approach to jail for a number of minor offences and served another 6 months at a work camp where I got into a number of fights and almost lost my life. However, I left prison a much more craftier criminal than I had been when I arrived each time. Before I got there, I had only been a small time gambler that cheated at dice and cards, a pool hustler, a petty thief, armed robber, and a small time flimflam-flam artist. Upon my release, I was much more refined in these areas, and also boasted other criminal skills that would bring me notoriety among my peers and a lot of money, but would also propel me into a world I would find almost impossible to escape from, and even more impossible to live through. My life had taken a turn for the worst and I was not prepared to deal with it at all.
PM: What did you do after prison?
DW: Within a couple of months after I was released from prison, I was given 6 years in a Federal Correctional Institute regarding something I had been previously found not guilty of in a Georgia State Superior court. I was later cleared of the conviction due to a judicial ruling after serving 11 months and 22 days of the sentence due to an appeal filed in U.S. Supreme court by my public defender on my behalf. He was really out to make a name for himself, and my case helped him to establish himself as a brilliant appeals lawyer later on. Before he died, he had become a very accomplished attorney and had also argued other appeals cases successfully. My record was eventually expunged (erased). It's a good thing too, because with the felony on my record I would not have had many options in my already limited life, and pursuing a college education would not have been a reasonable thing to do. I don't mean to glorify my prison life, as you might guess, but I introduce it because of its pivotal importance in my life with regards to this US Supreme court ruling. God's hand was all in this, and a miracle was in the making. Lightning was about to strike twice before my very eyes, and change the course of my life forever. This was truly a miracle of staggering proportion.
PM: You're right about that. I hear that the U.S. Supreme court only reviews about 1% of the cases that come before it. Were you amazed when you found out about your release? Did you know how improbable it was for you to expect to be released by the Supreme Court, or to even have your case heard?
DW: Yes, to your first question. I was amazed because I was not expecting it to happen. I was so happy to be released because the sentencing guidelines demanded me to do about 42 months of the 6 year sentence. The public defender had kept me informed of what he was doing, and the fact that my appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had been denied. I had no idea what I was up against when he appealed to the highest court in the land. I had nothing to lose at this point so I was all for it, and when he asked me if I wanted to continue on with my appeals, I simply told him I did.
The answer to your second question is no. I didn't know what I was up against. I had no idea about the statistical improbability of actually having my case come before the bench. After it happened, in a way, I just thought I had kind of beat the system, and I really wanted to sue the government but he talked me out it. He said something about it being smarter to let sleeping dogs lay, which I didn't understand at first but have since come to appreciate. I am only now beginning to realize the monumental implications of the decision the court made and how it would impact my life, and do hope that I have proven myself worthy of having the court give me that rather scarce opportunity for making a new start. Without it, my life would have been dramatically different, I'm sure.
Plus, recently I found out after researching the opinion of the court that it was not because of me being granted a double jeopardy ruling that freed me, as I had thought. It had more to do with the administrative policy that the justice department had mandated it would operate within. My case simply fell outside of this administrative boundary, and should have never been pursued in the aggressive manner it was by the U.S. District court. The higher court in effect corrected an administrative error the lower court had made. It was over-zealousness on the lower court's part. Can you believe that? An administrative error.
I am still reeling off that one. For my attorney to realize, and use, such a subtle, and seemingly irrelevant strategy, is just mind-blowing to me. It wasn't even a matter of law, it was a matter of administrative policy. Absolutely incredible! That man could not have come up with that on his own. He would of had to have help from something greater than himself to pull that one off. Now, I had no idea that lower court cases could be overturned because of matters involving policy. You mentioned I stood about a 1% chance of getting my case heard at all. Well, what about the chances of having it heard, then getting it over-turned based not on a matter of the law, but on a matter of the justice department's own administrative policy? I would classify this one as a super miracle for all practical purposes. Like lightning striking in the same place three times! God's hand was all in it, including his feet if you ask me. Wouldn't you say the same? God was really trying to get my attention man.
PM: Good gracious! Yeah, I see what you mean ... with the lightning striking twice concept. It does seem pretty improbable, and even impossible considering the odds of it happening. I guess you could call it a super miracle in light of the facts. I don't know what to say. What happened this time after you got out of prison? Did God get your attention?
DW: Not at first, and it seemed he never would. Well, by this time I was 22 years old and began to feel out of place at the penal institutions because I felt that I was much smarter, intellectually, than the prison staff that supervised me, and that just did not seem right to me. I began to entertain thoughts of there being a better, more meaningful way to go through life but I just didn't know how to find it. I felt empty inside and I tried to fill the void with what I thought I needed. For some reason, I had an instant attraction to positive messages in the form of music, philosophy, and art. The interval between me starting to attend college and spending my last time in prison was about 18 months, and mostly consisted of me burning the candle at both ends with women, cocaine, alcohol, pot, selling illegal substances, and being an active participant in Atlanta's ultra-dangerous but alluring criminal street life. I was setting myself up to fail, and fail miserably in spite of the break I had been given.
This kind of life style, you might say, was already predestined for me for the most part by the neighborhood environment I grew up in, and because I grew up in a household from an early age where alcoholic beverages were sold in our home regularly on weekends and after-hours to the local petty hustlers, pimps, whores, drug sellers, con players, gamblers, flimflam-flam artists and other unsavory partakers of dives and the night life. These folks became my role models unfortunately and I was headed straight to Hell because of them. I eventually became the kind of person that looked at educated people with contempt and considered them "squares" who were being played by the "system". I thought that I was a "player" in my world and would not have it any other way. The idea of working a regular job or attending college was repulsive to me. I was truly a product of my environment and had the bumps and bruises to prove it. Believe me, you did not want to mess with me, or in most cases if you were a square, you did not want to even cross my path. I was toxic, man. I mean pure poison. Totally incorrigible, and irredeemable.
PM: How did you ever end up in college then, if it was so repulsive?
DW: I have no idea. It kind of just happened ... accidentally, ... serendipitously. However, now I know it was all part of a purpose for my life. Having somehow developed and nurtured the desire to read, and the ability to draw over the years, I started to draw large murals of famous black musicians on the bedroom walls of my apartment using a thick leaded pencil, and then I used a cloth to smudge the lead to create a shadowing effect. The pictures were so realistic until some of the ladies I would have overnight in my bedroom would feel uncomfortable because they said that the pictures were looking at them. I have to admit that in a darkened room they really did come alive. I started to show them to all my friends and they were an instant hit. Everybody thought I had hired someone to draw them, but when I told them I had done them all, they didn't believe me. Immediately, I knew that I had a gift that maybe needed to be developed so since I had a lot of day time on my hand, I thought that attending school would be the wise thing to do.
I enrolled in a community college to study Fine Arts as a way of utilizing the daylight hours I had before getting busy with my nightlife. On the surface, I told everyone it was to develop my art skills, but my underlying motive was to get involved in something legitimate that I could use as a bargaining chip should I ever get arrested for any of my criminal activities. This made it less repulsive, and more of a business strategy, you see. At the time, I had a very lucrative criminal enterprise going and I was as active as ever in Atlanta's cash-cow nightlife.
However, my misguided intentions, and my contempt toward formal education soon began to evolve into something more attractive. It seemed to take on a beauty that I found irresistible. My negative attitude towards it started to become replaced with a sincere willingness to learn what I was being taught. It started to become incredibly interesting, and I was hooked. And, I dug it! I got it! In a lot of ways, it was not unlike the informal criminal education I received in prison where you kind of went to various "players", who were the professors, to get educated in the criminal field of your choice, and you sat listening to some proven player in the field as he lectured, demonstrated, and illustrated the basic fundamentals of the craft. We called it "getting game" in prison, and in college it was essentially the same process, except now the application was legal, and quite beneficial to one's legitimate financial prosperity and psychological development.
Also, I realized that everything that I thought was against me, holding me back, designed to keep me down, turned out to be a con, a fraud if you will. And, some of the very people perpetuating this fraud unknowingly were my family and friends who were constantly telling me I was wasting my time. I began to see education as a viable means of escaping the street life I was caught up in, and as a way out of the web I had so cleverly spun myself in. It was a sure way out of ignorance. It seemed everybody thought me sell-out for trying to rise above my circumstances. They tried to convince me it was hopeless to even try to escape a fate similar to their own. I was the only one who began to see my hopelessness for what it was, and that it was all "smoke and mirrors." It was an ingenius con game being played on me to make me feel trapped. The result of lifting the veil of ignorance from my head was comparable to the curtains being pulled back by Toto, Dorothy's curious little dog in the Wizard of Oz. The fraud was exposed! I could see the little man behind the curtains pulling the levers and pushing the buttons of my vision and imagination, convincing me that escape was futile.
"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" commanded the fraudulent "great and powerful Oz." (That's one of my favorite movie lines.) Opps! Too late. Like Dorothy and her friends, I had already taken a peek and discovered the source of the fraud. In my case it was me, my family, and friends on the other side of the curtain of hopelessness. Yep, it was me too. At least now I could see it for what it was and begin to do something about it. There was nothing really stopping me from succeeding in life but me. I was the gate-keeper of the road to my success, and nobody else. I soon realized that I gave even more power to the real forces acting against me by living behind a curtain of ignorance. I knew education was the key so I persisted, in my own way of course. I still had to be me. I felt I had style and finesse, and I wanted to keep it without allowing education to "brainwash" me. So I did continue to keep my persona, except when it was inappropriate. I was unlike any Art major or Engineering student you ever seen. I had style, and man, I had a blast! I loved college life.
My life-long appeal to troubled kids, black kids, and adults alike is not to allow themselves to be deceived by the smoke-and-mirror illusions that are determined to get them to buy into the nonsense of accepting that are defeated, that they can't become anything even if they put their mind to it. Don't let the world "play" you for a sucker! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! The man with the smoke and mirrors, who is pulling the levers and pushing the bottons of your mind. The man orchestrating this elaborate illusion of hopelessness and self-defeat is mostly coming from inside you. Satan is the biggest con artist there is and the world I grew up in had an expression "game recognize game", which means my old nature could identify his game for what it was because of how deceitful I had been. I could plainly see that unless I took advantage of going to school, I was going nowhere, even though I was making lots of money at the time. This is important because we are most vulnerable when to Satan when we are most hopeless, and education, though far from being a cure-all, can help us to at least feel more hopeful about ourselves, which acts as a temporary firewall until we receive stronger armor to resist Satan through faith in Jesus Christ.
PM: That's an interesting way of looking at it, and very well said. And, that line from the Wizard of Oz just happens to be one of my favorites also. Let's see, I kind of got lost in your eloquence back there. I would love to pursue that line of thought ... man! Where was I ... O yeah, who would you say was your favorite professor? Or shall I say, who was your favorite "player" in college?
DW: Ha, ha. That's easy! My favorite player, I mean, professor, was Mr. John Michael, my mathematics prof, and is solely responsible for preparing me for the world in which I was soon to enter. His uncanny and humorous ability to break down my internal resistance to math, and his high expectations of me helped me to appreciate the beauty of math from Algebra through Calculus, and then on to Differential Equations where I had the highest grade average in the class, and only myself in the entire class was exempt from taking the final exam. This was no small feat considering that I never took notes in a math class. I was encouraged not to take notes by Mr. Michael.
He wanted us to think about what was being taught in class as he illustrated on the chalk board, and not take notes to rely on when we did homework later, when the concepts were no longer fresh in our minds. All I can say is that it worked for me because I made A's and B's in mathematics, physics, and chemistry; and most of my electronics classes taking a similar approach. Let me put it all into perspective for you. Differential Equations is basically the culmination of algebra, trigonometry, and calculus as applied in pure mathematics. It's where all the math is pointing to as the theoretical end of the journey, as far as the math needed for the practical application of problem solving within an engineering construct. In effect, the success I had in this class was my crowning achievement regarding my grasp of the mathematics I had taken up to that point. Of course there were other more exotic and complex mathematics to learn from advance electronics classes like La Place Transforms and Fourier Integrals and Series for dealing with complex waveforms and the complex S-plane. Whew! That was a mouth full.
I even had one professor that I was taking my another math class from. It was the sequence to the differential equations class i had taken before and, as usual, I declined to take notes. Apparently he took issue with this and called me into his office after class and first asked me if I was having trouble with the complexity of the subject matter. He then felt the need to educate me on the importance of taking notes in such a class. When I told him that I had never taken notes in a math class from remedial algebra to now, and had done quite well, he seemed very indignant, and in no uncertain terms told me that he wanted me to take notes because he said he was concerned with how it looked to the other students. I guess he had a point because I pity the fool who tried to perform this feat without being properly focused.
On more than one occasion, I had been accused of being confused by complex subject matter because of the intensity of my concentration. To the observer it looked like I was totally confused and perplexed. My eye-lids and brow would squint as and my eyes darted around, unceasingly gazing at the writing on the chalk board, my mind absorbing the information like a sponge and putting it together to achieve a clarity of the concept that was undeniable. I could see it, and it would excite me to no end because I could see it in that way. No one else in the class could see it that way. I guess I never thought about the ones who tried to imitate me because they thought it was cool not to take notes, and to project the image of someone being able to immediately digest the material on the spot without having to rely on notes to perform the homework. I don't know what it was that I had done that allowed me to excel this way except that Mr. Michael had suggested it.
You might say it was God-given, and lying just beneath the surface waiting to be summoned by someone like Mr. Michael. Later on, I saw on the news this guy who had completed 4 years of college in 2 years without taking a single note. That's how it was portrayed anyway. I guess that does take a special something that most people don't have. I was aware that I had it, at least with math-based subjects, and very aware that most others didn't. That's how I separated myself from the herd. That was my mystic in college. All the students marveled at my ability. Some of them tried to do the same but with disastrous results.
Once, while doing homework for an advanced electrical engineering class on the subway, I ran into Mr. Michael and he asked what I was studying because he had noticed the math I was doing. It involved La Place and Fourier integrals and transforms, and Complex Variable Theory. It was the most advanced utilization of math for an electrical class at the school I was attending, and happened to be the differential equations class I mentioned earlier. His comment to me was in the form of a compliment, and he told me that I could consider myself a mathematician. It is the highest compliment anyone has ever paid me regarding intellectual pursuits. Incidentally, I did about 75% of my math homework on public transportation. I learned to just filter out the people and noise so I could focus on solving the problem. There I would be, like a man possessed, frantically trying to balance my notebook and write at the same time. I had precious little time to get as much done as possible. Man, I would get so excited sometimes. I would start talking to myself out loud as though it was something personal between me and the math problem, something like a contest of wit, a strong determination on my part not to be eluded by the very elusive answer to the problem.
At times this preoccupation would get the attention of the people close to me and they would all look to see what I was doing that could so completely drive me into such a frenzy, having me totally oblivious to their presence, and produce the unmistakably ecstatic expression of victory and emotional gratification on my face. I would sheepishly look up sometimes, after coming out of such an exhausting fit of passion, to the wide-eyed, bewildered stares of the onlookers as if to excuse myself for having just made love on public transportation. I mean, it was pure passion man. I had passion for mathematics as though it really was like how Mr. Michael said it should be. He had told us to treat our math book like our wife by taking it everywhere we went, and give as much attention to it as possible. We were told to fall in love with it, and always be trying to find new ways of loving it based on our understanding of it. I did just that. I made love to mathematics - passionate love. I was also a feature writer for the school newspaper and served on the student government council while in college. I tutored Mathematics, English, and Physics for various departments, and also did it privately.
I was an honor student several quarters. At times, I think I spread myself out too thin and spent more time helping others with their particular difficulties, and not enough time with my own. I would struggle with keeping a balance between helping others and taking care of my own responsibilities throughout college, and at times suffer for being too helpful to others. The fact is, privately, I was trying to prove to myself that I was deserving of being released from prison the way I had been. I felt that I had to earn it every chance I got. Kind of like in the movie "Saving Private Ryan", where Tom Hank's character whispers to private Ryan with his last dying breath, "Earn this!." Tom was holding Ryan personally accountable for all the lives sacrificed during the battle to save his young life. I somehow felt the same way. As if lives had been sacrificed for me. As if the Justice department, my step dad, the folks who didn't get the breaks I got, and God himself had whispered into the ear of my being and said , "Earn this." I am still trying to earn it. Now more than ever.
When I last visited Atlanta back in 1994 I ran into an old school mate I had tutored calculus, and he told me if it had not been for me he is not sure he would have finished college because he had to get through the calculus. I not only tutored him for the school but he was one of the students I tutored privately. He had really struggled with it but I think I succeeded in pointing him in the right direction. He simply needed to study more, or be prepared to pay me an enormous sum of money for my services, and I was not cheap. Apparently, he took the less expensive way out. I was glad that I could help, and told him so.
I would even venture to say that there are many more people I helped that could probably say the same thing. I found it to be very fulfilling at the time I was doing it and I still consider it one of the most selfless and ennobling things I have ever done in my life. I sometimes felt that I was there at that moment in time to help those people. Strange, huh? I mean, what if I had not been given that break by the Supreme Court? Not only that, but what about everything else? I can think of a dozen or more situations that were absolutely critical to me being in the position to help these people. And about the people that these people are able to help as a direct result of me helping them? It goes on and on, everybody depending on someone else. That's how I like to think when it comes to determining how successful I am, or have been.
I don't like looking at success in terms of how much stuff I had or have accumulated. Accumulating stuff is not what attracted me to an education. I could have gotten that without an education, and was doing quite well before I started to attend college. I don't look at it in terms of how other people see it because they only have a superficial view of how I was able to do what I did. They don't know how much of me went into getting through school, succeeding in my profession on an intellectual level, dealing with the problems of race in the work place, or about the persistent spiritual battles I am constantly waging. You see, people can attain the same heights and the same stuff, but they don't get there necessarily by employing the methods, or the same blood, sweat, and tears. There's a little known expression by Frederick Douglass that goes:
"Measure me not by the heights to which I have climbed, but by the depths from which I have arisen."
Although Mr. Douglass is the author, this is what I think of when I think of my success. I like to think of it in terms of how far I've come spiritually, educationally, and intellectually. The fact that I'm still in my right mind after all I've been through is success enough. If I were measured by the depths from which I've arisen you would find that my particular accomplishments are comparable to one ascending a height of meteoric proportion. After all, it's where we start in life that determines the distance of our journey, and my journey has been considerably longer than someone whose journey started at mainstream America and transcended to the stone's throw distance of a PHD. It took me a comparable amount of time just to even reach the mainstream plateau, and from there I surged on to obtain a bachelors degree. This may be a small feat in the eyes of some but I assure you the journey was long and perilous, filled with uncertainty and doubt. However, I never doubted my intellectual ability to be anything I wanted to be. I only doubted my ability to stay focused on my intellectual pursuits without succumbing to my old nature of being a hustler, and the excitement of the urban street life.
Most people tend to cheapen their accomplishments by equating them with how much of the American dream it affords them. To a lot of Black folks it is really cheapened when all of your effort to get through school, or to get that dream house you've been saving 25 years for to find out that some of your neighbors are criminals who have never worked a day in their life. The insane thing is that these people will get just as much respect for "making" it as you will. I refuse to cheapen my accomplishments in that way. I care less about what a person has than under what adverse conditions was it attained?
In effect, what did you pay for it? How much of you went into acquiring it or accomplishing it? What were the legitimate risks associated with obtaining it? What were the forces acting against you that were created an impasse? These are the criteria I embrace when assessing my success, and the success of others. But success means different things to different people because its very definition is subjective in nature. If you were to ask me if I am successful, or have I lived a successful life, I would like to answer it for you.
PM: Well, Douglas, let me ask you the question. Are you successful? And, have you lived a successful life?
DW: Yes, to both your questions. Sure, I once thought that to some measure I was successful because I could buy a lot of the things that seemed to speak of my success. However, I wasn't buying anything that anybody else couldn't buy who had the money, regardless of what they did to get the money. It reminded me of the days when I sold cocaine and attended all the right parties and other functions with all the so-called "squares" who worked for a living and used these social gathering as a kind of announcement that they had arrived. Well, maybe they had but if being there meant that exclusively, then one has to deduce that I had arrived also. My money and status got me cart blanc inclusion just has surely as theirs had gotten it for them. No one made a distinction about what you did to belong there. All it took was money and status, which was simply having the right connections. I got just as much respect - if not more because I had the cocaine and weed - as anybody else in these social gatherings, and I didn't have a degree, a new house, or a fancy new car.
I simply had money and the right connections. This kind of subjectivity associated with success was not about to dictate to me how I should view my own success. I shun such artificial pomposity with every fiber of my being. I am successful because I see myself as a catalyst for an even greater success in the lives of others. Effectively, it's not how successful I am but how successful I can cause someone else to be. Does my life multiply the success of others during our encounter? When it's all said and done, it's about how many people whose lives I have touched in a very positive and necessary way, who have gone on to make major contributions to mankind that I could only dream of making. And what about the lives that these people have touched as a direct result of me touching their lives? That's real success my friend!
It's a chain reaction man, and it keeps multiplying exponentially throughout time. What matters is whether your touch has been a positive one or a negative one. I can't help but think that the things that have happened to me in my life have happened for the enrichment of mankind and not only for this one man. What difference would it make, and what a waste of energy on God's behalf if all of the breaks I've gotten in my life were only for the purpose of wasting them on my selfish material enrichment? Is this why my step father died? Is this why I have been spared death time and again? Is this the reason my public defendant went through all the trouble of bringing my case to the attention of the US Supreme Court?
Is this the only reason I met Mr. Michael? No, my success has to be greater than the collecting of material possessions. It has to be about more that just me because it's not about me! It's about those whose lives I have touched, and the ones I have yet to touch. It's about the transference of my positive energy and knowledge to others so that they can be all they can be for the advancement of mankind, and hopefully come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. I refuse to believe that all of the series of events that contributed to me becoming what I am today had anything to do with how I measured up to the superficial expectations of others.
I would much rather have the kind of success that affords me a modest living but has enabled those whose lives I have touched to have an even grander standard of living, or make a much greater contribution to mankind than I will. I know this all sounds a bit metaphysical but I just don't think that everything happens to us just for us. Rick Warren's opening page in his book, "The Purpose Driven Life", says, "It's not about you." I take this to also mean that my success in life, and the lives of others can't be summed up by my personal timeline but by all the timelines of others that are beneficially impacted directly or indirectly by my life. It's kind of like a sub-atomic chain reaction, where a single relatively slow moving free neutron, (that's me), is absorbed into a mass of a heavy element that splits into other lighter elements and releasing other free neutrons that are themselves obsorbed, repeating the process exponentially. This causes a chain reaction originating from the single free neutron. This process is called nuclear fission and is the basic fundamental behind the energy released during a thermo-nuclear explosion.
Now, that's real power man! The kind of success I am looking for has to do with the overall timeline, or chain reaction if you will, of the countless people whose lives my single life has impacted and caused to accomplish substantially grander things far beyond anything that I could accomplish myself. You might called it a kind of cumulative degree of success. That's the kind of success I'm interested in. My website, and my book, when it's released, will be some of the catalysts I use to create even more chain reactions of my success. Even after I've gone on to glory, I expect the reaction to continue to sustain itself until the end of time. Man, you can't beat living your life to attain this kind of success. It's an awesome way to think about living, and about the purpose of life. It transcends posterity, and even personal legacies. I think it is creates a new paradigm shift in the way that we view our lives, and impact on others that our lives have, whether good or bad.
I was using positive things to make my point but negative encounters could also be capable of creating sustained chain reactions of negativity of there own. How would feel to know that long after you were dead and gone your negative impact on people's lives was still self-replicating itself throughout all eternity? That's the power of sin, and why God is so adamantly against it. It spreads like wide-fire and increases exponentially wherever it is allowed to exist. I don't mean to preach, and I didn't mean to put too fine a point on this but I hope I've answered your questions.
PM: I guess you have. I never looked at success in that way before. I mean, I thought it was something that was to be enjoyed or declared by the individual or by others. Now I have to reassess my own sense of success. And yeah, that's quite a long way from Lightning, prison, and the street hustler's mind-set. Where you actually came from is probably equivalent to getting at least a PHD, or being involved in something at the post-doctorate level. It must have been quite a burden for you to live up to. How did you pull it off? Did you know any engineers when you were growing up, or did you research the field and decide that's what you wanted to do? Tell me all about it.
DW: Heck no. I didn't know any engineers, other than the train engineers we used to see on the railroad tracks in our neighborhood. That's what most people I knew thought I was trying to become. Well, actually I did know of a few but not personally. Those guys looked too much like nerds for me to want to be like them, or even get to know them. I think that's the thing kids find so distasteful when choosing a role model. They want to know that they can bring enough of their style and persona to the career and still be acceptable. I'm not talking about the anti-social stuff like language, mannerisms, clothes, and hairstyle. Some of this you can bring into the classroom but certainly not into the boardroom, so to speak. Sure, they will, and should, grow out of it but that's what they think at first. That's what I thought. I thought engineers were just too square, too un-cool. It wasn't until I realized I could become an engineer that I saw it in a different light. Heck, the engineers were getting all the chicks! That's all it took for me, I'm afraid to say.
There were some real benefits from studying engineering and tutoring, like impressing the girls. Through what I jokingly like to refer to as serendipity, though I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt it was all planned, and not totally existential in nature, I see my artistic development over the years as a necessary stage in my life to prepare me for the next stage. I eventually ended up studying Electronics Engineering at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta due to my grasp of mathematics and physics, and at the suggestion of Mr. Michael, and never again used my art talent to propel me through life. Again, I would like to point out Mr. Michael being the single-most person responsible for me studying engineering. Had I never met the man, or had he never succeeded in getting through school and overcoming all of the burdens associated with being a Black man growing up in Alabama, I would never have been introduced to the world of mathematics.
I now know that to be a fact. I owe my mathematical prowess to God, but to a lesser degree, I owe it to this man and everything that his manhood and vision could combine to make him. Unfortunately, I would no longer pursue art as a career, or as a personal interest. At least not in the way I had before. My drawing and painting interests would be replaced by all things technical. I soon found out that I could not satisfactorily do them both. I had to make a decision because, like two women competing for the same man, they could not coexist together. They were both very jealous mistresses. I satisfied my artistic urges in other ways like theatre, poetry, and writing. However, the drawing and painting I immediately discontinued because of their demands placed on me.
As for your other question. No, I wasn't clever enough to research the field, and I admit I didn't have a very accurate understanding of what Electrical Engineering really was, but I knew that it was a hot field and the pay was great, and as an added benefit, all the girls wanted to date engineering students. I could definitely appreciate that! I guess I kind of blindly stepped into it. OK, not entirely. While I was an art major, I happened to attend a fraternity party over on Georgia Tech's campus. I was slow dancing with a young girl who asked me what I was studying. In one of my deepest, sexiest voice tones, I told her I was an art major at blah, blah, blah community college. With a look of disbelief, and a sudden stop to her dancing, she looked up at me intently and asked, " you're not an engineer?" With the confidence of a two year old, I said, "no."
She immediately pulled away from me and headed off into the darkness, leaving me standing alone on the dance floor stymied, stunned, and confused. Almost immediately, I decided that I wanted to be an engineer. Man, if the engineers had it going on like this I wanted a piece of the action. I was sold. However, it turned out to be a very demanding program and left me with very little time for a social life, or having a steady girl friend. I finished school in August of 86 after devoting roughly 6 years to being educated at the post-secondary level (though the actual time I was enrolled in college was from Jan 1977 to August 86), and went about the business of pursuing work as an Electronics Engineer. I guess I "pulled it off", as you say by the grace of God, and by using due-diligence. Along the way, I grabbed at every positive thing that I could find inspiration and comfort from.
I was blessed to be able to appreciate some of the positive music groups like Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Commadores, and Stevie Wonder, who were constantly churning out great tunes that fed my spirit with positive sustenance. Kahlil Gibran was another source, as well as the many of the profoundly positive famous quotations I would happen to come across. I remember, quite distinctively, two quotes that I would find comfort in from time to time when graduation would seem particularly far off, or elusive:
"Man is himself, and every other thing that his manhood and his vision can combine to make him." (T.S. Eliot. )
And the other:
" I started to think about me, what I could do, and what I could be. " author unknown.
In spite of all of the intellectual accolades, I would soon discover that my intellect could not save me from myself. I would quickly find out that I had been practicing a kind of idolatry, worshipping the god of intellectual dexterity, and had the arrogance and conceit to prove it. Now that I was adequately prepared, God would topple the first domino in the chain leading to my downfall and pave the way to my new life. A life where He would refuse to coexist with any other god. My life was about to turn upside- down, inside-out. I was about to take the ride of a lifetime, go to hell and back. What would soon happen to me would remove all doubt about there being a devil, a God, and a Jesus. My life would never be the same, and my fate would be sealed forever. In the end I would find redemption, and real freedom.
One thing I want to be sure to mention, something I haven't mentioned yet is the psychological pressures involved in pursuing my degree. The peer pressure was an ever-present force, and it was not to be taken lightly. The dirty little secret that exists in the Black community, especially the Black underclass community which constitutes the majority of the Black people who take public transportation in Atlanta, is the open contempt a lot of us have for all things intellectual. Of course some would disagree but I stand by my words. So do a lot of books written by Black authors like Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man", which considers it a very troubling peculiarity. Anyway, I would receive some of the most contemptuous stares from Blacks while riding public transportation. I mean the kind of stares designed to intimidate and discourage, to isolate and mock. It's like the stares are saying:
"How dare you nigger to think that you are better than us. Why do you just have to make it seem like we are just so stupid. Why can't you do that in private? Do you have to let all the White folk know that we can't read, or have very little interest in reading, which is why we aren't reading anything. You just have to do what the White folks do, don't you? You better try to get paid now like us because tomorrow ain't promised."
I could go on and on. No, they didn't open their mouths and tell me that but their eyes and body language spoke it to me loud and clear. However, I was not going for it. I would put on my best blinders and continue doing what I was doing. The fact that I had been a tough kid myself definitely helped because I wasn't worried about them doing anything to me in the least and would adjust my body language accordingly. I would take the position that they could all kiss my behind, and go to hell for all I cared. I considered them to be suckers.
The very same suckers I used to prey on when I was in the game. Now they had the nerve to try to tell me that there was no future in educating myself. In a sense it was a battle of the wills, and I was adamant in showing them I was not giving in. I did my homework every chance I got and never let nothing or anybody stop me from doing it. I was not giving up my seat for anyone if I was doing my homework. I felt that this was the price everybody had to pay for me to take on all this nonsense just to get an education. Sometimes people would genuinely show their affections and support when they would see how committed I would be to what I was doing because they would see me for months, and even years, doing the very same thing. Studying. It's interesting because I see a lot of young kids when I take public transportation now that seem to be struggling with the same pressures I did but are not as determined as I was.
I would see them quickly close their book when they would board a train or bus, or would close it after receiving some of the same stares I used to receive. Sometimes I will even open a book or take out my laptop just to give them some encouragement. It's crazy that I should have to do this. Even now they still try to give me the same stares but I pay them no attention. Sometimes I look at them as though I'm deep in thought, breaking out into a smile that suggests I am reading or doing something that is very fulfilling or entertaining - two state of minds that Black folk are definitely attracted to.
PM: Those are great quotes. Very inspirational. I can see how they would could be used to comfort you when you were down. You must have drawn on them regularly when you took public transportation or whenever you felt you needed to defend your choice to educate yourself. That's too bad you had to endure that kind of hardship in addition to excelling in your classes. Were you eventually successful in finding that kind of work once you graduated?
DW: Not at first, but in time I would. Anyway, by the time I finished school, I had been employed as an Electronics Engineering Technician for a local company in Atlanta for about 18 months. I knew immediately that I had finally done something in my life right because I took to the electronics like a duck to water. I could have done it for free, or even paid them a small fee to let me come around a play with their equipment. I was a natural and simply was overjoyed at the idea that I actually got paid for something thing that was so much fun. I later found work as an Electronics Test Engineer after I got my engineering degree. It was lacking in all the rigorous academia and was somewhat more intuitive and qualitative rather than quantitative, i.e., you no longer needed to synthesize designs because you were free to use the many application notes from data sheets that assisted with designing electronics devices into circuits. This was called "cook booking" the design, and is the industry's de facto standard. The world of electronics as we know it today would not exist without it.
PM: Hummm, sounds complicated anyway. I guess at this point, you were on top of the world, huh?
DW: Not at all, and I just couldn't understand it. In spite of all of my achievements, I was still empty and unhappy with my life. My self-esteem was very low and I lacked purpose in my life. I was going nowhere, and had become a slave to drugs, alcohol, and other risky things. I was self-destructing, and the money I earned was only fuel for the fire. It was actually a curse. I was lost, but I couldn't admit it because of my pride and arrogance. It was at this point that I considered suicide a very logical way out. Logical in the sense that if I had achieved all this success against all odds, and still nobody cared that I had, and I didn't even feel good about it myself, then what was the use in living any longer with the emptiness and pain of my choices. The one condition for me committing suicide was I had to do it in the form of a drug over-dose, as if somehow this would make it all right, or at least less painful. Every time I tried to do it I would chicken out and not use as much cocaine as it took in order to over-dose me and end it all. It was very hard for me to succeed at it, needless to say. I guess, deep down, I did want to live. I just wanted to feel like I was alive, without having to use drugs or alcohol.
Deep down, I didn't like myself because I thought I was un-deserving of my accomplishments, or God's love. Why me? What was so special about me? I had been such an awful person and thought I was the least person deserving of good fortune. I knew countless people who were more deserving than I was but were receiving the short end of the stick, in a manner of speaking. The question of why I had been singled out for academic and professional success, when I thought I was the least deserving, would haunt me for a long time. Much later I would constantly find myself breaking down into tears and asking God, why me, Lord? Why me? I would have these tearful episodes because things were starting to happen in my life that just didn't make sense. It was as if I was getting some kind of free pass to escape the kind of death and destruction that should have taken my life a long time ago. The puzzling thing is that I knew it should have destroyed me. Why I was being sparred when people all around me were paying for their mistakes, or unfortunate circumstances in some of the worst ways, including death. I just could not figure it out. I kept asking, why me? What's going on here?
You know, the eerie thing about these potentially life-threatening situations was this: I had the feeling that somehow these bad scenarios were being controlled by some greater power than myself, and without actually seeing anything I could almost sense the effect of their presence. I intentionally say "their" because I got the impression that there were indeed two forces acting in opposition to each other. It was like I was caught in the middle of a chess match, with the pieces being moved all around me as part of some masterful strategy, in a kind of cause and effect way. I could sense people around me being influence by powers that they seemed to be oblivious to. As if there was some kind of battle being waged to control these people's minds. As though there was something acting behind the scene to control the outcome of these life-threatening situations. It was like my life was somehow dependent upon how this sort of thing was played out, and who won that particular match. Strange, huh?
PM: Ooooh. That sounds kind of scary. Were you scared? Did you know what was the real reason, or did you think maybe you were losing it?
DW: Well, yes, as far as the things that would happen when my life would be miraculously sparred. I would just come away from it all shaking my head in disbelief and talking to myself out loud. But when I would cry about what had been happeningto me, interestingly enough, when I would finish crying my heart and eyes out I would experience a warm comforting peacefulness that would envelop me and seem to tell me everything was all right. And for some strange reason, I knew it would be. I also knew that if I tried to share this kind of thing with anyone I would be labeled a nut so, for the most part, I kept it to myself. I just couldn't believe I was going crazy because in every other respect, I was just fine. I was able to function normally. At least I could function at my profession. My social life ... well, that was open to interpretation.
I mean, after you walk away from death, and what should have been misfortune so many times you start to say, ... hummm, as Arsenio Hall would characterize. Actually, I think I would have been crazy not to think that something was wrong. You have to understand that it wasn't just the brushes with death. It was the puzzling way in which I was losing absolute and total control of my life. I didn't seem to have enough control to do any of the pleasurable things I had always done before, like drinking and drugging , without ending up in God knows where with a needle in my arm, or a crack pipe in my mouth. I was out of control, and feeling helpless made me cry out to God. My son's mother didn't make it any easier. But that's another story, for another time.
PM: Yeah, tell us what happened there, I mean as far as you reaching the breaking point. I hear you went through a lot and almost ended up doing something you would have regretted a long time. How did you come to do the right thing?
DW: I won't get into that right now, but I will say that it too is also covered in detail in my story. It's a very sad chapter in my life and I almost did do something I would have lived to regret for a very long time, provided I didn't take my life in the process.
PM: OK, OK, we can tell you're anxious to get back to writing your book so let's wrap up with a couple more questions. Tell us what really turned your life around as it is now. Just looking at you I would never have thought you had lived such an unsavory, dangerous, alcohol and drug driven life. I just don't see that in you, or hear the anger in your voice. You definitely don't carry yourself like that, and I guess that's the point: a new life.
DW: Yes, that is the point. Let me also say that I'm not perfect but I have a friend in Jesus that I didn't have before, and he helps me to get through this life much better, with greater joy, and peace than I ever could on my own. What I mean is that Jesus was always wanting to be invited into my life as a valued friend but I kept him out. Now that I've invited him in, my life is so much more manageable and worthwhile. Word! However, to answer your question as to what specifically happened in my life to turn me completely to Jesus, I will only say the following:
It all started back in November 1991 soon after my son was born. Well, you see, after trying to have a family with my son's mother, Bee - not her real name - , she had me thrown out in the rain by the cops for no other reason than her being influenced by the women she worked with whom she had told that she had gotten back together with me, and that I was unemployed. However, she failed to tell them that I was drawing unemployment and had given her some money to help out, and that we had come to an agreement on how much I would continue to give her until I found a job. We both were happy I had moved in that Friday, and after she came home from work on Monday that's when all hell hit the fan.
I tried not to say anything but she persisted in such a loud manner that the neighbors called the cops for fear that someone would be hurt. I thought to myself that the women at work had gotten to her for sure because some women don't respect a man if he's not working, regardless of whether he's getting unemployment money .She told the cops that she wanted me out of her house, and that I was not going to lay up on her without working. The cop was female and was chompin at the bit to make an arrest. Bee came back to the back room where I was gathering my things and looked at me with the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen and smiled devilishly at me. I was cut to the quick emotionally, and put out into the rain with only my TV set and a few clothes in my arms.
My heart was broken into pieces, and tears flowed down my cheek, hidden only by the pouring rain that fell on my face as I walked to the bus stop in a state of shock and stark disbelief at what had just happened. I became bitter at the whole world. Put out on the street had been my reward for trying to do the right thing and now I was angry at Bee, and just about everybody I knew for what happened to me. Everyone was going to pay for my pain. Now I would get my revenge by beginning an accelerated process of self-destruction and reckless abandon. I started to smoke crack every chance I got, drink as much liquor as I could hold, and just walk around with a hopeless attitude that told the whole world to go to hell.
I was up to no good, and those that knew me knew it was best to avoid me. I was seriously thinking about doing something bad to that woman but just could not bring myself to do it. I was spiraling down so fast that I don't think I ever had a sober moment over the course of two months. I didn't look like myself and had an odor to me from not bathing regularly. I took all kinds of scandalous, drug-addicted women to bed during my crack binges, and they probably smelled just as bad as I did, which maybe is why they never complained about me. I think I even had a death wish but for some reason I was sparred death. Man, I got caught up in some very deadly situations and I go into all of this in greater detail in my story.
I was beginning to hate Bee more and more for doing what she had done to me, and I was planning to do something about it. I knew what I was capable of if I was drunk enough. I was thinking about getting drunk and going up there and taking care of the problem once, and for all. Just throw my life to the wind for old times sake. It was late autumn and I went to have Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter around from the hotel I was staying in, and while I was there I heard a Christian audio tape playing that seemed to be talking to me but I tried to pay it no attention.
I was only there to eat, and then leave. The next day, since I had spent all my money earlier in the week getting high, I had nothing but time on my hand and slept most of the day. When I woke up it was as if I knew that I could not allow the thoughts that were in my head to be acted out. Due to the state of mind I was in, I could very easily hurt Bee real bad but I knew I could not allow myself to do it. However, I couldn't figure out how to resolve the issue. I eventually accepted the fact that there was no way out except to totally, and completely surrender my life to God, to call on the name of Jesus and ask Him to come into my heart and take control, to admit I was not living according to his will but I wanted to desperately. I knew that this was the only answer, and that I had to do it quickly because I was trying to destroy my life, Bee's life, and my son's life in the process - all in one swipe.
PM: Please continue. This is beginning to sound as though your plea was quite urgent. I'm getting chills up and down my spine just listening to you. Good God! Please forgive me, but what happened then?
DW: OK. That night I got down on my face and stretched out on the floor, and cried out to Jesus to come into my life completely, and to take over my life so that I would not do the things that were in my mind. I cried like a baby and pleaded with Jesus, and asked Him to please forgive me for living the way I had been living. I continued to just lay there on the floor sobbing when gradually I felt this warm sensation that I was intimately familiar with, and had found comfort in before during times of tearful frustration. It was as if the very nature of the little room changed somehow and the smell of the room changed also. It smelled sweet, like a rose. I was afraid to look up, so I just lay there with my eyes closed and I could feel this unmistakable presence in the room with me.
It was a presence that caused me to think about love and peacefulness. It began to softly ripple through my body like gentle warm waves of pure love. I recall slightly moving my body, undulating it as a result of the immensely peaceful sensations I was feeling. It was like my inner body and mind was being transformed into something that was foreign to me, yet felt so natural, so familiar. When I finally got up off the floor, I knew something had happened to me, but I didn't know what. I felt happy. I felt a sense of joy and peace I had never known before.
PM: Wait ... whoaaa, ... let me gather my senses. So what happened after that experience?
DW: After that experience, it seemed I no longer thought the same way. I found it easier to not do the things I had been doing before, and I eventually stopped doing most things like smoking crack, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and going out to clubs chasing women. I stopped doing the things that interfered with God's purpose for my life. Those things just were not as important to me as they once were. I would continue to struggle, mostly with God actually, in other areas of my life that were not good for me but at least now I would have a friend in Jesus and he helped me to deal with them, and to eventually overcome a lot of them also.
However, the struggles with God continues because, like I said, I'm not perfect but I have found real help for all the shortcomings I have. Jesus helps me to surrender my life more, so I struggle with God less. That's something I could not do alone. Besides, struggling with God is really me struggling with God's purpose for my life. The Bible says, " For many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21 NIV. I guess this means my struggles are useless. It sure seems that way.
PM: I guess you're right. However, don't you think you're taking a huge risk by telling people all about the unsavory lifestyle you once lived? I would guess that it will alienate you from a lot of people, and some of those will be the very ones you attend church with. Why would you want to take such a risk? Don't you care about the way others think of you?
DW: The first sentence from the book by Rick Warren, "The Purpose Driven Life" opens with, "It's not about you." I take this to mean that whatever personal objections I may have concerning how others view me as a result of knowing my naked past is to be endured for the sake of fulfilling my purpose, and saving someone from a similar fate. I have to put aside my pride or how others feel about me because of the importance of advancing the kingdom of God. If God can use my past to save only one person from destroying themselves, or condemning themselves to eternal separation from God, then I think that alienation is a small price for me to pay. It's not about me! There was a time, not so long ago, when I would never have been able to do something like this. I would have considered it insane, illogical, and a kind of social suicide. Only through Christ was I able to do something as radical as this.
PM: What exactly is it that you want our readers to get out of this interview? What's the point of all this, besides promoting your book?
DW: Man, the heck with the book. The point of it all is this: God loves us so much, in spite of how awful we are, or think we are. He wants us to be aware of his attempts to draw us to him, and to eventually come to him. When we do, he knows that at times it's not going to be easy, and many times it will involve unpopular choices but he gives us the strength to dare to be ourselves.
I would, however, like to take this moment to give others the benefit of my wisdom, my trials and tribulations, and the lessons I've learned as a result of fighting against God and his purpose for my life. I would like to present myself as a living testimony of what the Lord can, and will accomplish in a person's life. After reading my story, nobody should ever see their lives quite the same. Nobody should ever again think that God is dead, that he no longer works in the lives of people right now.
And, I promise you that absolutely no one will come away from it with the same desire to return to a life of living apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. I challenge anyone to make a liar out of me by proving me wrong. God is real! Jesus is real! Satan is real! The eternal consequences of our choices in life are real! Please accept Jesus Christ into your heart today so that you will spend eternity alive with God, and so that you too will come to know what God's good purpose is for your life. He has a purpose for our lives and wants us to fulfill it so we can have joy, power, and self-control in this world. It's all about accepting, and submitting to this understanding that gives us real peace with God. God is working on a cosmic level and doing things we have no concept of and for him to desire the fellowship of us puny little humans is beyond me but then who would not want to be allied with such a great and loving God. It is our reasonable service. Nuff said. Gotta get back out there and save one more for Jesus ...one more for Jesus ... one more for Jesus!
PM: We thank you so much for sharing with us, and wish you the best with your book.
DW: No problem, and I'll give you guys a call when my book is ready for the store shelves. I'll also post a message on my website so stay tuned. This urgent appeal is for you guys too, so don't think you're not included. I'm actually talking to you all. I want the best for you guys. Think about it, and have a most wonderful day! It won't be long!
That was my story back when I lived in Seattle for over 15 years . I came home to Atlanta in July of 2006, and effectively picked up where I had left off in Seattle. Though I've had no more exciting magazine interviews, I have continued to journal much of my life, as a kind of therapy, and to chronicle much of the spiritual warfare that continues to define my life. Being a witness to the continuous manifestations of God's devine intervention, as well as seeing the wiles of the devil that are designed to knock me off of the course that God has destined for my life, often leaves me in a constant state of astonishment. Many times I look with amusement, as well as amazement, as the two forces of good and evil do battle all around me, and many times even involving me.
Since I have come back to Atlanta, I have taken up pursuit of yet another career. After firmly establishing myself as an Electronics Test Engineer for 10+ years; a Network/Systems Administrator for 5 years; I am now solidifying myself as a Sharepoint Develper/Administrator, of which I possess an MCTS and MCP certification. I am currently employed as a Senior Software Engineer at one of Atlanta's most prestigious corporations. Much of the events leading up to this transition will be - though not currently - presented here on this website for your viewing pleasure. So much has happened to me that is deserving of being added to my arsenal of testimonials, and I'm very anxious to get them posted here. Please bear with as I endeavor to revamp this site, as well as its contents. Since I no longer have the time to develope this site personally, I will however supply the finances to "get her done!"
Of course the book has been on hold also, but I'm in a much better position to get back started on it and continue until its completion. Your patience is again greatly appreciated. However, don't think that you will need the patience of Job before you get the chance to enjoy it. Thanks for joining me, and may God richly bless you all!