For nearly a decade, Dashaun “Jiwe” Morris has been using his experiences as a former banger to reform gang life all over the globe. Through his quest, the Newark, NJ native has touched countless lives and been an inspiration to many more. But just as with any human being, Jiwe has flaws. In the midst of his brilliantly concrete community work, the famed street soldier’s allegiance to the “gangsta” life hauled him right back to a place with which he’s all-too familiar: a jail cell.
Now, as a free man who’s fully turned his life over to the hands of God, Jiwe is prepping for the debut of his sophomore novel, Don’t Let My Tears Fool You. In this exclusive interview, Miss CM chopped it up with the famed community leader to get the deets on his new book, his recent jail stint, and his two cents on the current state of violence in urban communities.
CM: Let me just rewind things a bit for people who aren’t familiar with who you are. You were first introduced to the world as a prominent figure on the Sundance series Brick City. How did your role in that come about and why do you think people became so drawn to you after seeing you in the series?
Jiwe: My role came about because I invited [TV producers/filmmakers] Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin to Newark to see if they were interested in a documentary myself and a friend were working on called Soldiers of Darkness. After that meeting, we came up with the idea for a bigger series, which was titled Brick City. I think fans were really into me because [the show] kinda focused on just the Mayor and all that City Hall political garbage, while I was in the trenches fighting to save the lives of these youngsters. Guess I stuck to what was real while Cory Booker did what most politicians do, and that’s talk a good game; build up the Downtowns while the inner city areas stay ruined.
You’ve done a lot of work in Newark, and worldwide, to instill hope and peace within our communities, as well as aid in changing the face of gang culture. Why has this been such an important mission for you?
For a few reasons. One being I helped create the gang culture here in Jersey. I am a founding member of the bloods in NJ. I, along with 3 others, was the first flashing red rags in the state. I was part of the original problem here. I have been through quite a bit and was fortunate enough to survive and change my life. It was at that point that I felt obligated to be part of helping to buildup and restore much of what I helped start and tear down.
Do you feel like any progress has been made in regards to creating positive changes in the culture?
Progress? In all honesty, yes and no. When it comes to my contributions, I believe progress has been made in individual portions. I’ve impacted many lives, but as a whole, I don’t see the progress. I’m aware of the politics in Newark and it’s just as wild and violent as it was back then [when I was coming up]. So as a whole, I don’t see it. But on individual bases, absolutely. I have families upon families, individuals upon individuals, that can attest to the changes made by their loved ones due to my involvement.
What do you think can be done to ignite some real progress on a general level?
What can be done? Well, there’s so much, but for starters: [We need to resolve] the lack of jobs [for felons]; [create jobs] that can actually help one survive and take care of a family. Those jobs really don’t exist once you have to select ‘I am a convicted felon.’
As someone who follows you on social media, I know that you’ve always been pretty active on your timelines. But for a while, it seemed like you had disappeared off the face of the planet. You later revealed that your absence was due to the fact that you’d caught a short prison bid. How is it that you, such a popular community figure, ended up back in jail amid all the positive work you were doing?
A warrant was out for me in East Orange for 3 attempted murders. FBI swarmed my house in Atlanta where I was arrested and sent to the county jail and sat for 6 months. Then I was extradited to Jersey where I bailed out a month later. The charges were eventually dropped and my case resolved.
Obviously, the streets still had a hold on you to some degree, and that’s one of the themes that your new book touches on. Why do you think it’s so hard to let go of that ‘gangsta’ lifestyle once you get involved in it? And what lessons have you learned from your recent experiences that you can share with young people who may be going through some of those same battles you faced at the height of your prominence?
Its hard to let go of anything that’s a part of you. If you have been smoking cigarettes for 25 years, you don’t just up and quit. If you’ve been writing with your right hand all your life, you don’t just become a left-hand writer. When you have become accustomed to anything for an extended period of time, may that be positive or negative, it takes a good while to grow beyond it or be delivered from it.
What I will share with the young people: Stop trusting these niggas in the streets you think are your friends. It may seem cool, it may seem genuine while y’all are out there causing destruction, smoking and drinking, having sex and partying, but when it all comes down to it: When the smoke clears and the dust settles, it will be your mama there to back you; it will be your baby mother or your wife taking that 3 to 5 hour trip up and down the highway to visit you for 15 minutes; it will be those people that are crying in their beds at night while your friends are still partying, still living the life that they were living while you were out [on the streets with them]. So with that being said, stop investing all this time in people who really don’t care about you, stop mistreating and taking advantage of the ones that do love you.
Preach! Now, about your new book. I know going to prison in the past played a major role in the creation of your first novel, War of the Bloods in My Veins: A Street Soldier’s March Toward Redemption. Is going to jail this time around what inspired you to ink Don’t Let My Tears Fool You?
Jail is definitely what inspired this book. It’s where God came in my cell in the middle of the night, picked me up of that floor, wiped my face, and breathed new life into me.
Give me a little background on what readers can expect from this new novel?
They can expect transparency. Unlike my first book, I wrote this one without any restrictions or concerns about how it would make me look vulnerable.
Besides cooking up new novels, what have you been up to these days? Are you still mentoring and speaking at major events?
Yes, I’m still at high schools, middle schools, and jails. It’s my passion. Along with that, I am working on a new movie set to hit theaters next summer called Crossed Lines.
Oh, cool. What’s the movie about?
I basically play a character who is an inspiring rap superstar, but my dealings with my first cousin pretty much keep me away from chasing my dreams because he is into the streets and dragging me along with him. I then move to Atlanta to pursue my dreams.
Do you have any plans to continue mentoring and traveling for major speaking events in the future? If so, will you be using your book, or I should say the lessons that influenced this new book, to help inspire and caution young people who live the street life?
Public speaking is a lifetime passion of mine. I draw directly from my books with all of my speeches.
What’s the official release date of Don’t Let My Tears Fool You, and where can people get it?
The release date is Sept 23rd, but only for those who have been invited to my [Jiwe] comedy roast special/book release party. For the general public, September 24th is the official release date. The book will be in various stores nationwide, you can purchase through Barnes & Noble, and/or you can order directly from me at firstname.lastname@example.org.