09 Nov DeJuan DJ Verrett Author of “An Inside Job”
De Juan “DJ” Verret grew up in Long Beach, California and in the gang infested streets of Los Angeles. From the time he was a young child, he recalls being trapped in the belief that he was powerless to break free from the only life he knew in his neighborhood. The repetitive behavior of getting in his own way, over and over and over landed him in federal prison at 19 on drug charges for a 19-½ year sentence. These years in prison were nothing compared to the prison of DJ’s mind.
It was only shortly before his release on November 1, 2006 when DJ surrendered the hold that drugs and alcohol had over him by asking God for help. The power of the shift in his thinking and the ability to find true freedom through living a disciplined life free of drugs and alcohol has given DJ an amazing life. He is married, the father of twin baby girls, has a house and a dog and lives in a neighborhood where the biggest challenge is finding parking and even that’s not too hard! These are simple things that some people take for granted, but not DJ. His gratitude and appreciation for all of his experiences has shaped a remarkable human being.
The subtitle of your book is “From Life in a Maze to an Amazing Life,” tell me about that…the maze?
Life in a maze consists of living a toxic and unhealthy way of life. There’s no way to get up and try to get your self out. You just keep going all around the circle, continuing to perpetuate a negative, toxic way of life. That’s what the maze symbolizes. But there is a way out.
As a child do you remember having goals? Dreams? What were they?
Yes, I did. I think every child has one. I wanted to be a fireman. Like most little boys, I loved the fire trucks, the lights, the sirens, but that quickly vanished.
How do you think you got so far away from your dream?
When I became a certain age, I became aware of my surroundings and my points of reference didn’t have those goals and aspirations to be something. My points of reference were the guys in the streets. So my dream of being a fireman when I was a little boy quickly vanished, because my points of reference changed, they were now with the guys in my neighborhood.
When did you know you had a drinking/drug problem?
That’s funny. (DJ laughs)
Why is that funny?
When I was in the penitentiary I was drinking in the day room with a friend of mine, we called him Maniac. He’s sipping on wine and I’m on my third cup. Now I have 14 years left and I’m sitting next to him and he has life and 30. And we’re the same age, but he’s never getting out. I ask him “Why are you just sippin’ on it?” And he says, “I’m just trying to get a buzz.” I realized at that moment that I drink different from my hommies. Because I have 14 years left and I’m trying to forget right now, not be in the moment. That was my first inclination that I had a problem. I thought, “OK, it’s not the amount of time…because I have 14 years left and he has life and 30, so that’s not the reason.” I realized right at that moment that I drank different from my fellows.
I drank to forget…to forget my misery and my poverty. I wanted to change how I viewed life, how I was living and my part in it. Drinking was my way out, just like getting high was my way out. I didn’t have to forget, I could numb out, and that’s universal. But I became dependent on narcotics and especially alcohol. When I drink I have the inability to make the proper choice, I always make the wrong one and so the result was always toxic and negative.
Describe your surrender.
My surrender came on July 2, 2005, while I was incarcerated still. I went to the day room and I nodded out. I was already in prison at that point for 16 years. In the day room I heard the guys say, “Hey Ghost, wake up hommie.” (they called DJ ghost for his lighter skin). Then I heard them say to each other, “Dude, that guy has always been like that,” And they laughed. That reverberated through every cell of my being. It was true! I had always been like that, ever since they knew me. So I’ve got a bunch of convicts talking about me, while I’m in my nod, I can hear them saying, “DJ has always been like that.” I surrendered and I said: “If there’s really a God (because I did not believe in God), if there’s really a God, help me because I cannot go home like this.”
Because you were just about ready to get out, right?
I had only 10 months left.
What do you know about relationships now that you didn’t know when you were growing up?
I had to learn how to have a meaningful, personal relationship with myself before I could have one with anyone else. Once I accomplished that I could have meaningful relationships. That’s why I am married today.
When you see a young man, a young teen struggling with addiction, what do you tell him?
They always walk up to me and I let them know there’s a different way to live. Believe me, I understand because I have been there. I had deeply ingrained negative thoughts – bone marrow deep. But through some profound soul-searching, I turned that internal flashlight on inside to reveal them. I let them know that I was once where they are. I tell them it’s possible to reconstruct and re-create their whole way of life, they just can’t drink or use.
What words of encouragement can you give a young man who is incarcerated for a significant amount of time to help him get through it?
The first thing is acceptance. It’s the wreckage of the past that must be cleared up. It’s a jagged pill to swallow but it’s very, very doable. I tell this story when I go back inside the jails. Inmates say, “I’ve got this amount of time left, how can I be useful?” I tell the story about a remote place high in the mountains away from society. There’s a group of men who live together 365 days a year; some leave and carry a message of change and some stay there forever until they make their transition from this world. I tell them this place is called a monastery and these men are monks. They teach people. The young ones come in and the elders school them, they teach them that they can be useful. The elders say, “While you’re in here for the next 10 years, 15 years or life, you have a message to carry. The first thing you have to do is learn these tools. I can give them to you, but what are you going to do with them?”
Tell me about your music? What does it mean to you?
It’s being creative. Writing music without the influence of alcohol or narcotics, I never thought I could do it. I do have club music but I want to write songs of meaning – nothing frivolous. I wrote a song titled, Out of Myself. “Getting outta myself – by going into myself and if I don’t that’s the end of myself. Now, I have a clear mind, I’ve got those clear eyes, I’m in a clear space and I’m about to shine.” That’s everybody’s story, is getting out of your self by going back into yourself. That’s my music. That song right there is personal, but it’s also universal. It relates to everybody who actually hears it, because it’s a journey on the inside.
Based on what you know now, being a sober man, if you could go back in time and share some knowledge with your parents/mother/father, what would it be?
I don’t know my father to this day and I’m okay with that. But I would go back to my mother; she was a 17-year-old girl raising a baby. And she didn’t know a lot. What I know now – I’d say, “it’s okay you had to work with what you knew how to do, and I know it’s a struggle to raise a baby by yourself when you’re a baby.” I would let her know that it’s okay….everything’s alright…I turned out okay.
It’s an amazing accomplishment to start, let alone finish and publish a book, how did that feel?
It was a major sense of accomplishment. Now this is where the subtitle of my book comes in…”From Life in a Maze to An Amazing Life.” I never imagined that I would actually be able to write a 500-page book, to be an author and to write my life story to inspire others. The change that results from abandoning the life my negative thinking has created, so that I can live the one my soul intends me to live is possible. It’s beautiful when people who read my book get back to me and let me know how they relate to the stories. It was funny, a couple of months back I got a message from a woman in Paris on my Facebook fan page. She said that when she read my book she related to the “prison of her own making.” That she had everything but she was still unhappy. She found herself in the bathtub with a bottle of gin and a pistol and said, “I cannot kill my children’s mother.” And when she read my book, she read the story of me in the bathtub with a pistol and a bottle of gin, where I said, “I cannot kill my mother’s only son.” When she read that she thought, “I am not the only one.” She lives on the other side of the world and she related to that story. I’m really happy that my experiences can help others to make their changes and to identify that we are not alone.
You have kids now, how will you educate them about addiction as they grow?
First of all, I am truly blessed that I can be the father to my twins that I never had. From my experiences I’ll be able to guide them through life. Especially when it comes to the adolescent teen years of experimentation. I’ll show them, “This is what they don’t tell you. They say, ‘just say no,’ but I’m going to tell you WHY. This is the ugly side of the game, the ugly side of addiction where drugs and alcohol can and will take you.” So my experience will be my greatest asset when it comes to my children. It’s all about education.
DJ’s life is spent in service. Whether he is speaking in a school in his old neighborhood, to at risk youth and adults or sharing his story in prisons, his message is one of hope: “Come as you are, but don’t leave as you came.” His life is a powerful demonstration that no one needs to make the same poor choices he made, there is always hope. And so the circle of DJ’s life takes a different form, another turn, from one of fear to one of freedom.
D.J.’s book is now available at Create Space