I have been incarcerated at SCI Dallas since January 31, 1991. I was arrested on December 6, 1989 on homicide charges and have been in prison ever since. I was 31 years old at the time and I received a life sentence for first and second-degree murder.
I was incarcerated once before for six months on a trespass charge in 1978. I was two years out of high school. I didn’t like it, so I decided to turn to a new way of living. I didn’t get high or drink because my mother was an alcoholic. I was born in 1958 to Edessa Lee Ellis and Kenneth Vernon Jones. I have five brothers and three sisters. I was the baby boy and Angie was the baby girl.
When my father died in 1962 I was just four years old and my mom had a really tough time raising eight kids on her own. My older brother eventually started joining gangs in Philadelphia, and eventually went to jail. My mom was out drinking all the time, and very little attention or parenting was shown to us kids. Mom just had it too hard.
When I turned ten years old my grandmom came and got me. She took me to live with her in the West Oak Lane section of Philly, along with my aunts and uncles that I never knew I had. The were known as “The Good Family,” while we were known as the bad side because my mom didn’t go to college or have a good job.
Everything was going good for me while living at my grandmom’s. I went to Cederbrook, Wagner, and Martin Luther King schools. I was at a two-year school at the time, attending 8th and 9th grades, then I went to Martin Luther King, Germantown, Pa., for the 10th through 12th grades. The funny thing about that was when I was in Martin Luther King, I noticed that I couldn’t read like the other kids or write anything for that matter, and it bothered me a lot! I asked my grandmother why, and she used to tell me how some people learned slower than others. Then the school put me in a Special Education class. From that point on, all throughout high school, I would get teased, but it was something that I learned not to pay any attention to.
My grandmother and aunts worked all the time, and my life became sheltered. I didn’t have many friends, or girlfriends for that matter. After I graduated from high school in 1976, my mom had a stroke. I hadn’t seen her or my other seven siblings since I was ten years old. My grandmother took me to see my mom in the hospital. She looked like a little baby with the tubes in her body, and it felt very strange. I didn’t cry because I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. After a few months or so, when my mom was being released from the hospital, my aunts and grandmother sat me down to talk about my mom. There was no one to take care of her, she was paralyzed on her left side from the stroke, so I was asked to go live with her to care for her. I was scared to death because I hadn’t seen her since I was ten years old. I’m eighteen years old now. Not knowing what to expect, I told my grandmother that I guess this means I’m on my own now. She told me things will work out, and that she would always be there for me, just call. Then I cried and left. That’s when my life changed forever.
I became a labor worker for a private contractor. I worked for him for five years before I was finally offered a job at Containers Corporation. During the course of working contract work, I had two daughters by two different women. I was so proud, and my life was really full. Helping my mom recover by doing therapy, taking her for walks, and bringing my two daughters over made her very happy, and she wanted more grandchildren.
After I started my new job I was only there for a year when I came home one night after work and found my mother and a girlfriend of hers drinking. I got so angry with her. I came to find out that this was not her first time since she had her stroke, so I decided to move out and get my own place for me and my lady friend. Things started to get back in order. I accepted the fact that my mother was drinking again, although it wasn’t crazy like before. She could cook, clean and shop, and all was well. My sisters and brothers started coming to see her with their children.
At this point I was twenty-three years old, and I still didn’t get high or drink. I told my lady friends about me not being able to read or write, but I’m learning every day, and thank God they understood and respected me enough to also help me. I really felt blessed. I didn’t hang out much because most of my friends were partying and getting high. I felt it clouded your true judgement. My lady friend liked to drink, but not too much, and she liked going out with friends. While she did that I spent time with my daughters, which were not my lady friend’s kids.
We were trying to have a child, and she already had a boy which I was helping to raise. My lady friend wanted to get checked to see why she was not pregnant yet. I was wondering also, so we made an appointment with a doctor. A few months later she got what she wanted. I came home from work and she would normally have a glass of wine, but this time she didn’t, so I asked why she wasn’t drinking. She laughed and said because we are having a baby. It was raining that night, so we went out in the rain and danced and I cried and laughed. It was great, and life was good. I now have four handsome sons and three beautiful daughters, as well as a very good job. I was a family man. I didn’t care what anybody said or did, I was who I am until my twenty-fifth birthday.
My lady friend and I had a big argument because she had just told me she met someone she liked very much. I said did we break up or something? How long has this been going on? She said it’s not serious. Are you kidding me? I was crushed and hurt deeply, so I went out to clear my head. I must say I did allow my emotions to cloud my judgement. I started getting high, and since that was my first time doing crack, it felt good – too good. I did tell her what I did, so I gave her the bank book and the check book, and then I left.
I got high for five years. One day I saw my sons and their mother coming out of a McDonald’s. They didn’t see me, thank God. I was dirty, stinky, and high. Yet I cried and decided right then and there I was going to change. That’s when I met a friend of the family. He was telling me about a school that he and a few friends were starting, dealing with computers. I told him that I couldn’t read that well, but he said don’t worry about it, you won’t be alone.
I went for a month or two, and it was really working. Then one morning I was on my way to school and I noticed the police outside. I didn’t run, I went to class, and that’s when they came and got me. I never saw the streets again. I was found guilty of first and second-degree murder. There’s more to it than that, but that’s for another story.
This story is about how coming to prison saved my life. Boy did it change me for the better. I went to school in here to learn how to read and write better. I’m on an eighth-grade reading level now and still learning. I read everything, and it’s a whole new world for me. It beats laughing at the funnies, the pictures that is!
I got a job in the infirmary (hospital) in the prison. They started a program called “Hospice Care.” I learned how to read blood pressures. Man, this was the best program they ever could have done. I wrote an essay on it when I was in computer school for a year and a half, thanks to my granddaughter. I held classes about hospice, watching someone take their last breath, which was a helluva experience. But what moved me more than anything was how I was capable of comforting someone in need of support and love to pass easier. That I would not trade for the world.
During the course of eight years learning about hospice, I signed up for the T. C. (therapeutic community) program. I signed up for that because I was a Peer Facilitator for the unit manager staff for my unit. My job was to teach character development and citizenship programs. This was a class of twenty young inmates who received a graduation certificate upon completion of the ninety-day program. Some couldn’t read and they felt embarrassed when they had to go to the T.C. program, so that’s why I joined, so I could help them and myself at the same time. That’s how I became a peer facilitator. I wanted to share what I have learned and build their confidence. I have since joined all of the drug and alcohol programs, and held classes on the twelve-steps as well as relapse prevention and addictive classes. Getting high truly messed me up and destroyed my life. It is something I will never do again. It tore my life to shreds and ruined my family, too.
I was later chosen for a new program called “Victim Awareness,” which was the most intense experience I have ever felt in my life. I will never again take life, or anyone else’s life for granted. I am very sorry for the pain and loss of life to the family and friends that loved them, and for the pain and heartache I caused my own family and friends.
I have grown so much since coming here in 1991. I am a role model to younger inmates, and they look up to me and listen to me. I encourage them to change their life while in here. I am not the man I was when I came to prison. I am a much better version of myself. I have been blessed with the chance to change and I have taken full advantage of that. I work in the kitchen here, I am a dedicated cook, working eight hours a day preparing food for all to eat. Each day I wake up with a renewed energy to continue to change. I have many friends and a large family whom I desire to go home to one day. I have children, grandchildren, and a family that needs me home. I ask for forgiveness in this life and the hereafter, Amen.
I thank you for listening to my life lessons and my own personal transformation, along with my growth during the course of it all. I will never stop trying to do better. I hope one day that we are recognized for our change and accomplishments. God Bless You All.
I am Derek “Tiny” Jones, and I Am Not A Monster.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can write to encourage my friend, Derek Jones, a “lifer” at the State Correctional Institute at Dallas, PA. You must use a plain white envelope, and you must put his DOC # directly after his name on the first line of the address. You must use a return address, or it won’t be delivered to him…but, if you prefer, you can use my ministry return address: Prison Mentoring, Box 310, Hilltown, PA 18927
Derek Jones BH6206, SCI Dallas, 1000 Follies Road, Dallas, PA 18612