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The “Bully of the Block” walked toward me with more swagger than any man with this many enemies should.  He looked me in the eyes and called me “DUTCH”, I was questioning why he was calling me this, but I would not want to offend this unpredictable character.

Growing up not knowing my biological father, and being introduced by my step-father as “Linda’s boy”, athletics became a channel for aggression.  Losing my senior year of eligibility to play sports, which was my outlet before self-demise, fueled me to become an angry young man.  My anger became explosively violent.

I am an Entrepreneur, but my business isn’t legal.  There’s a knock at the door, and when I answer it, I’m confronted by a man who just had a drug deal go bad.  He asks for a guy who was at one time my best friend, but now is working for me, selling drugs in the roughest neighborhood in the city.  The problem is, he is a “crack addict” himself, breaking the first rule, “don’t get high on your own supply.” He is selling drugs for me, so he can satisfy the demon that is so persuasive in his mind.

While I assure the man at the door he should never come to my house again, I feel my 1 ½ year old son wrapping his arms around my legs, as though he wanted to protect me from the dangerous tone in the man’s voice.  The last thing I heard was, “If your man doesn’t bring the “package” or my money, I’m coming back to burn your house down!!!”  I lifted my son to the safety of my arms, looked at the man and told him, “I will give him the message”, then closed the door.

I swiftly walked through the house, handed my son to his mother, and without missing a stride, I grabbed my “Louisville slugger” that was conveniently resting in the corner. As I walked out the back door, adrenaline pumped, and I was transformed like that “Green Marvel Comic” guy.  It is summer and the block is full of hustlers and girls that love them.  My focus is on the man that just made the courageous threat, but he has two friends with him in a truck.  I cocked the bat like a “clean up” hitter in a major league line up, ready to swing with the bases loaded.

I swung with rage and connected, like “Rocky”, intending to snap every rib.  The other two men approached, and as I swung on the next threat who was in line, the third decided to retreat to the driver’s side, start the vehicle, and desperately insist the others get in or he will leave them.  They did just that. As they drove off, several other thugs from the block began to throw their “Colt 45” and “Private Stock” malt liquor bottles at the men who dove into the back of the truck, upholding a certain loyalty to the neighborhood.

That’s when I looked with concern at a familiar face, the “Bully of the Block” walked toward me with more swagger than any man with this many enemies should.  He looked me in the eyes and said, “DUTCH!” I was questioning why he was calling me this, but I would not want to offend this unpredictable character. Again, he calls me “Dutch” and I crack a crooked smile, while the sweat on my face beads up, from my time spent in the batting cage. The Bully had just finished watching a popular gangster movie, “Cotton Club”, and “Dutch” was a Jewish deviant, a notorious New York gangster, who controlled drugs in the worst areas of Harlem, and who gained a reputation for brutality when someone triggered his temper.

I had now been given a name that gave me purpose, and I would not disappoint the namesake.  My life would mimic this new protégé, including spending time in prison.  It was there that I heard about a man who could help me change my life, and even though I didn’t love myself, I did love that little boy who loved hugging his daddy’s leg.  A man invited me to pray, and I asked GOD to forgive me, and help me, in Jesus’ name. It was then that I dropped the name “Dutch”, because I wanted to be a different kind of man.

Years later, I would become a bodyguard, at one point travelling around the world with Mark Anthony and Jenifer “J-Lo” Lopez, and driving expensive, exotic cars, as the driver for Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.  I now needed that emotional protective armor, so I anointed myself “Duche”, after noticing a friends misspelling of the name in his cell phone.

At the pinnacle of this career, I pulled into the American Airlines arena in Miami, FL and watched a hundred people swarm as “Diddy” exited the Rolls Royce, ready to host the VMA awards. I sat in the front seat, and thought to myself: “Life doesn’t get any better than this!” I then heard HIM whisper, “You are not doing what I created you to do, I told you, go and tell people what I have done for you.” I knew I wanted to obey that whisper, so I planned my first trip to speak to inmates in prison, and walked onto the yard, with 2,500 inmates at infamous “San Quentin” Penitentiary in Oakland, CA.

I would start speaking in prisons all over the country, and while in North Carolina, a man asked if I knew what my name meant, as I noticed written on his shirt the name “Ducheman.” He told me “Duche” was French, derived from the English word “Duke” but it translated as “Mighty Oak.”  I concurred, it fit and I felt it resonate in my heart.

Months later, I walked onto the yard at the Women’s Reformatory in Marysville, OH, and after being introduced to speak to over 700 women, they tuned in like law students watching a murder trial. The next 30 minutes, they would listen intently, leaning forward in their seats, crying, laughing, and being inspired, as I shared I was guilty of 38 years, when I prayed, and began learning how to allow GOD to manage my life. I shared I was a once an enemy of GOD, but now I am a “Mighty Oak”, who fights for women, children, the weak, and the poor. When I finished, women surrounded me by the hundreds, thanking me for helping them see they can hope again, by trusting Jesus Christ. I told them, “Lift your hands in submission” I then prayed for the blessing of GOD to fall on them, and they received it gladly.

When leaving, Brenda, a musician who opened for me with several songs, asked me if I knew a particular verse. Without answering, I looked it up on my cell phone.

Isaiah 61

The Year of the LORD’s Favor

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

  because the LORD has anointed me

  to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

  to proclaim freedom for the captives

  and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor

  and the day of vengeance of our God,

  to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

  to bestow on them a crown of beauty

  instead of ashes,

  the oil of joy

  instead of mourning,

  and a garment of praise

  instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called mighty oaks,

  a planting of the LORD

  for the display of his splendor.

That same voice that had whispered to me in the past, had now written the mission of my life on my heart. Indeed, purpose had now given me a name.

“You have a heart for the poor, and I will position you between great wealth and great poverty.  I will cause wealth to pass through your hands, to meet the needs of the poor. I will do this in you, because I will be able to trust you.”

Prophecy: Bishop Harry Jackson / Hope Church September 1996

I remember the eight words he told me, they would initiate a change in my life forever. He was holding a pocket-sized brown book, and after he handed it to me, I casually flipped through its pages, having no clue, and no intentions of reading it. I never would have imagined this small, undersized man, with no hair and too much belly, was the response to my mother’s prayer just 8 hours earlier.

I had traveled from Pennsylvania to 171st and Amsterdam in Harlem New York. Then I got a flight from Newark, NJ to Atlanta, GA. This could be any business trip, but I’m not involved in just any type of business. I have cocaine saran wrapped around my legs and torso, and I’m concealing it under a blue pinstriped Italian double-breasted suit. When my flight lands, I meet with my colleagues, exchange merchandise for money and proceed to the next city. I repeat this protocol, as I make frequent stops up the East Coast. I’m excited today, because I’m headed to meet my friends in college, where we will party all night and make my last transaction.

At 11pm, I have a 9mm pointed at my head and a state patrol officer has me “hog tied” face down on Interstate 85. My pockets were emptied, a stack of cash was retrieved, car impounded, and I’m on my way to prison once again. I get one phone call, it’s not to my father, never met him. It’s not to my step-dad, haven’t talked with him in over a year, it’s to my mother, the one person who has loved me unconditionally all my life. It’s 1am, and I hear in her voice the concern any mother has when her son calls in the middle of the night. “Mom, I got arrested again, I don’t want you to worry about me, I will call again when I can, I love you.” I learn later that after the call, my mother calls out audibly, “God, if you exist, please help my boy!”

By 2am, I’m in an elevator, headed to the 5th floor of the prison. When cell block doors open and close, they generate a “BUZZZZZ” noise that vibrates in your bones. You never forget it once you’ve experienced it, and tonight there is also a man screaming in the cell next to where I am placed. As I walk into my cell, I look through the window in his steel door. I see a mattress laid on the floor and an older black man laid on a hard cold metal frame, yelling like he was being terrorized by his own thoughts.

It’s Sunday morning, I hear that noise, as my cell door opens. My shirt is wrapped around my eyes to keep the light out, and I don’t get up. I can sense I am being watched, and reluctantly remove the shirt from my eyes and it’s him. The “crazy man” is standing in my doorway, waiting for me to arise. I decline! When breakfast is over, I feel the vibration as the cell doors close again, and I am relieved. It’s now 11am, time for lunch, and this time I get up and join the population for the first time. “Who do you think you are?” I was asked by the “Crazy man.” “You must think you’re Bad Bad Leroy Brown”, his voice demands. A confused look is all I can muster. I’m perplexed at the mess I have gotten myself into, I’m not entertaining him at all. Then, he maneuvers around me, where I’m seated with my plastic tray of undesirable food, and he strikes me in the core of my back, and repeats, “I don’t think you’re so BAD!”

I’m not afraid of human interaction, so my immediate reaction is to drive my tray of food into his head until I feel it bounce of the wall. Inmates begin to cheer and the correctional officers arrive quicker than the police when you place a 911 call. They separate us, 3 men are taking him back to his cell, then they turn to me and call me by my last name: “Vonada, you want to go to church?” I was puzzled, but didn’t hesitate to respond. “No, I don’t want to go to no F*@king church!!!” As I turned to walk away, I quickly reconsidered, then found myself turning 180 degrees in the other direction.

Church was a 6’ by 4’ prison cell, and only one other inmate came to service that day, he was in his late 30’s, African American, and his name is Andrew Kirkman. We were both wearing tattered bright orange jumpsuits that buttoned from the belly to the neck, and had the name of the prison in bold letters on the back. I ignored him, but we both watched as a short, tubby, bald headed, elderly white man had come to deliver a message of hope to the local county prison. He had no idea that 3 months earlier I turned Twenty One, 8 hours earlier I was arrested for the 3rd time in two states within 3 months. All he knew was that I wasn’t a willing candidate for his Sunday morning message about “ham dinner in Heaven.” Matter of fact, I wasn’t concerned about heaven at all, I wanted to know how to get out of potentially spending 38 years in prison, and how to be a better father for my son here on Earth.


Prison immediately impacts a person, right or wrong, good or evil, it makes a person think, and at this moment, my 1 ½ year old son Bradley, was the only one I cared about. The little man was talking, while I began huffing and puffing, ready to return to my 6’9” cell. I was sitting on the filthy prison floor, in dirt and dust, surrounded by a mine field of cigarette butts, does this man expect me to understand what I was reading from this tiny book? He then spoke abruptly to me, but with compassion and urgency and I looked up into his eyes, and I took interest in his last question, as though he could help me. Then these eight words followed, “YOU LOOK BURDENED, CAN I PRAY FOR YOU?” I sobered from my attitude, almost immediately, then responded, “Yessssss!” He then prayed, and I repeated his prayer, not quite sure what it meant. I do recall asking to be forgiven for the things that I had done, and in closing, I remembered saying “In Jesus’ Name, Amen!”

The man then left, I’m certain still excited about the prospect of “Ham dinner in Heaven”, and I knew that something had happened, because the heaviness of my burden had lifted. Andrew turned to me and said “Congratulations!” I replied, “Thank you” I guess. He asked with sincerity about my son, and my heart was pierced. The first time in a long time, I felt a tear, cold as a melting piece of ice, roll down my face. I called to speak with my son, his mother answered and I told her what happened, she wasn’t surprised. I then told her I asked GOD into my life, she replied, “You did whaaaaat?” This instigated a flashback to a letter I had received from her brother who was in prison, and signed, “God Bless!” I criticized him for becoming so weak he now needed GOD.

The prayer was cool, but I was content living life as before. So when the call came for dinner, I grabbed my cup of “Very Cherry Juice” and, as another inmate tried to cut in front of me to get a tray of food, I popped him in the face with juice, balled up my fists and prepared for battle. Then, I felt a firm hand on my left shoulder, that of an ally, and heard him say to me: “Brother, we don’t do that anymore!” I responded, “Maybe you don’t do that, but that’s how I handle business!” He smiled, guards decelerated the standoff, and I began thinking on my plan to get another attorney and try to buy my way out of prison.

Andrew returned 2 hours later, “I want you to come to my cell at 7pm!” My immediate reaction was, “Man, he’s gonna make me read out of that little Bible!” and I didn’t want to read, but because he was persistent and compassionate, I went to his cell. Andrew asked me to read the Gospel of John, chapter 3, and I reached verse 3: “ Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God!” Andrew asked: “do you know what that means? “Not really” I replied. It means when you prayed earlier today, you asked God to forgive you and that you would allow Jesus Christ to manage your life for you, at that moment, you were “Born Again!” I responded “you mean I have been forgiven for everything I’ve ever done, and I can live free of guilt?” “Yes”, he replied, and when you are confronted with the choice to do wrong, choose good over evil.”

This foundation illuminated my life and helped navigate my decisions, as I focused on life in the kingdom of God. It includes experiencing the whisper of God and, when worthy of 38 years in prison, grace and mercy helped me to be released in 2 ½ years. I was the only inmate to be transported by the department of corrections during the last 6 months of prison, to a 4-year University, where I achieved a 4.0 GPA.

I remember when I was introduced to the game of football, no one figured I would be very good.  As a matter of fact, no one had any expectations at all.  I remember I was scared to even show up at weigh ins, and meeting all the other guys who already knew one another from playing the previous year.  I was 10 years old, living in South Jersey when I became a Bellmawr Purple Eagle. That was the name of my first team I ever played on and we would lose only one game all season, the State championship. The score was 14-13, and I scored all thirteen of our teams points.

I remember my cast of misfit coaches, Irish, Italian, all having foul language and speaking to children as if we were all adults at the corner pub. We would start each practice with a lap around each goal post, then huddle into one large pile and recite these words,

“Our father, who art in heaven, hollowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us of our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever, Amen!”

We would say that before every practice and every game, but I had no idea who we were saying it to, or why we were saying it. I was clueless. You see, growing up in South Jersey, and being Irish or Italian, it was kind of your birthright to consider yourself Catholic. It was always perplexing to me. I would see them make the cross sign on their forehead and across the chest, and then turn and say powerful swear words in front of ten year old children, that left me not taking the prayer seriously. I didn’t grow up with a religious upbringing, so remembering this prayer today, is a sign of how impactful it was. I just didn’t realize it until many years later.

One of the most profound experiences I had, was when we went to play a scrimmage game against an inner city Camden team.  Camden has for many years been a very depressed community with a lot of crime.  I remember riding in my coaches car and listening to them say “Nger” this and “Nger” that.  I remember all of them revealing pocket knives and guns in their cars, suggesting if any trouble breaks out with those “Ngrs”, they were ready.

This was a new experience for me.  My neighborhood growing up wash all white, many different ethnic cultures integrated throughout, but I had never experienced this kind of talk in my own home.  The crazy thing about it for me, is I knew inside it was wrong. Wrong to call someone names because their skin was a different color. Wrong to imply that just because someone didn’t look like you or grew up in a poor area of the city, it meant they were criminal or somehow not equal to those who had arrived in the car with our team.

Well, we played that Camden city team. I remember walking onto the field and after looking them over, one of my teammates, an offensive lineman, saying, “where are the players our size?!?!”  The funny thing is, he was only asking what everyone else was thinking.  We got our butts whooped that night.  The entire ride home I listened to our coaches make excuse after excuse why we lost. Ummmm, truth is, because they extremely better.

We didn’t play Camden city during the regular season, but we did play all over the state of New Jersey.  We had accomplished a 2-0 season when my parents told the coaches we were moving to Pennsylvania in about a month. By the time of our move, we were 6-0 and I had become a pretty popular player, running for touchdowns in every game and getting my name and picture in the newspapers. I had become the star player of my team, but I had no idea what that meant.  All I knew was when we won, we would go to Ginos restaurant and I would order a Hero sandwich after the games.  My greatest challenge wasn’t running with a football, it was fitting an entire Hero into my little 85 lb body.

We moved in the middle of the season and I remember thinking I wouldn’t be able to play football anymore. Then my coaches pulled my mother aside and asked if she would be willing to meet them in the Poconos every Friday night, to hand me off, and they could drive me back to New Jersey to play our games.  We did this for the next 6 weeks.

I remember the first time my mother dropped me off, we pulled into the Howard Johnson hotel and restaurant and I began hoping they wouldn’t show up.  Then they did. Three of the coaches rode together in some small car, and when they pulled up, I began to cry because I had never been away from my mother. I still remember riding in the back seat of a small car with four people and huddling up in the corner, wiping my tears so no one would see.

At one of our home games, the team we were playing had a number of black (African American) players and one of them in particular was a really good running back.  His name was Leroy. I remember because everyone pitted me against Leroy, mostly because we were both running backs and both the most popular player on our teams. When I met Leroy, and I only think I did this one time. I didn’t see why everyone was talking so badly about him.  They could call him the “N” word, but there weren’t any noticeable flaws in his personality or character. Every criticism was about the color of his skin, and that just continued to confuse me.

Once the game started, I became more perplexed. I was just a boy playing football.  My mother wasn’t at the game, and I wanted to just get it over so I could return to the refuge of home.  I was having a good game, but Leroy was having a great game. The better he played, the more disheveled the fans became. Then suddenly, I became aware of the crowd chanting from the stands.  I didn’t understand the words at first, but then my teammates started to laugh and clue me into what our fans were saying.

Ewwwe ewwwwe, Ahhhh ahhhh, send him back to Africa

I do not feel the need to explain this terrible antagonizing anthem.  I found it then and still find it today to be an embarrassing expedition of blatant racist gesturing and a display of self-incriminating behavior.


A year later, I was living in my small rural town in the heartland of Pennsylvania. As I walked from my home to the school I was attending, I don’t think I passed anyone along the 4 block journey.  I was walking and spinning a football in the air to myself when I saw someone walking across the football field by himself.

I changed my direction and walked toward him, hoping I had found someone to throw football with and hopefully pass the afternoon boredoms away.  As we approached one another, I noticed he looked like Leroy.  He was a really good looking teenage boy, athletic in appearance and with skepticism, we said hello, and exchanged names.  I told him my name and he replied, “My name is Myron.”  I asked if he wanted to throw ball and he obliged. I think we threw ball for the next 4 years together and became best friends.

Myron invited me to his home, a 3 bedroom apartment, where he lived with his parents, two older brothers, an older sister. The younger brother and sister were twins. As I walked into the apartment to meet his family, my nose was pleasantly awakened by the aroma of southern fried chicken, collard greens, beans and corn bread… Whhhheeeeeeeeeeeeew…. I can still remember the smell of that southern fried chicken.

As I entered the dining area, which was connected to the small kitchen, I noticed a woman, not too large, but not small. She was round, but had an amazing smile and the most inviting way of saying in her southern twang, “Heeeeeeeeeeaaaaaay, How arrrre yooooouuuuuu?!?!? You want some Cheeeeeeeicken?” I replied, “Yes.” I would later learn her name was Hattie Rose, but everyone called her Ms. Hattie, and I would eventually call her “Momma.”

One by one Myron’s brothers and sisters came down the stairs and into the dining area, very excited to eat, and I said hello to all of them.  Big Mo, Craig, Paula, the twins, Pookie (Laura) and Bo Bo (Cliff) and Myron, who was called (Beanie).

As the commotion from grabbing plates and loading them with food was taking place, I suddenly noticed everyone becoming quiet and I heard large footsteps coming down the hallway. What happened next has stuck with me forever.  I saw a large black man turn the corner of the dining room, and he began to ask each of them if they had washed their hands. One by one, youngest to oldest, I admired their reply. “Yessir, yessir, no sir, yessir, no sir, yessir.” Then I listened to the silence as he commanded the atmosphere with his presence.  WOW, I had never responded Yessir to anyone, nor had I ever heard anyone say it in response to a parents questions.

I admired that, even though it was evident Myron and his brothers and sisters were not as easily impressed as I had been.  Then I heard a bellowing voice ask the question, “Who is this sitting at my table, and hasn’t introduced himself…. Oh my goodness, is he talking to me…. Please someone say something, my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth and all of a sudden my watering mouth had become dry. I finally got the nerve to answer, replying with my name. He then asked the table, “Who is he friends with, Beanie?”  Beanie replied, “Yessir!”  Well introduce your friend next time boy!” “Yessir!” I ate as many chicken drumsticks as I could.  It is still the best chicken I have ever eaten in my life.