“I gave birth to this program in South Kansas City. My first participants were Crips and Bloods. It wasn’t the differences that brought them together, it was the pain. Watching them write for me made me realize this one thing: writing could actually, literally …set them free.” -Eric L. Jones, Sr.
Time stood still as my tender young flesh was ripped open from his blow. Pain …horror …and fear paralyzed my body …my soul. Before I could process what was actually happening to me, his arm went up and with tremendous force, the leather belt in his hand came down, tearing at my flesh once more. It was too much for me. I fell to the floor, my eyes looking up and pleading with this gigantic man hovering over me, “Please have mercy. I will never wet my bed again!” I received no mercy …no compassion …no forgiveness for something I could not control. Instead this man who I’d only known a few days, and was told to call “Daddy”, returned my gaze with eyes full of hate and rage.
My mother watched. I managed to do the only thing I could as I was hit again and again. I stretched out my hand to her to save me. She did not. She’d abandoned me again …this time she’d abandoned me to this man and his will for my life.
“Daddy” beat me every day …physically …mentally …spiritually. He beat me in every way, reinforcing his will for my while professing these words over my destiny, “You ain’t never gonna amount to $#%!”
As I continued to grow up.
By the time I was eleven, I believed daddy’s words spoken over me. I’d received them in my heart …mind …and soul. When I was sexually abused, I felt like I deserved it. I was nothing.
My educators said that I was smart and some even said that I was brilliant, yet I didn’t excel because I simply didn’t try. Why should I? My life would only amount to nothing.
For some reason I can’t explain, I wanted to be loved by my daddy …by anyone. When some of my peers gave me marijuana for the first time, I fell in love. I’d been introduced to my first pain reliever, and I absolutely loved her with all my heart. I nick-named her Mary Jane after a song my daddy played often. He loved Mary Jane too. This gateway drug was just the first of many pain relievers for me. She introduced me to alcohol, cigarettes, crack, lose and unstable women, and my favorite…the streets.
The streets guided me into manhood …and eventually prison. My drug addiction along with outbursts of rage and violence also contributed to many trips to jails in various cities and Missouri Department of Corrections. While in prison, I didn’t find God like a lot of other men …He found me.
One day while taking a shower during a two-year bit, I was wondering if God even knew I existed when He spoke into my thought life. “Publish my stories, and distribute them to the nations.”
“This is not You. If it was then You’d know that You have the wrong man.” I thought to myself.
“Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you.” Instantly, strength left my legs, and I dropped to my knees. “I am not worthy …I am a very sinful man”, I pleaded. “Write my stories son …and I will write yours. Surely in blessing you today, I am going to bless you tremendously, for I have seen you. Now abide in Me. I the LORD your God have spoken.”
I dried off, and went back to my cell. I knew my life would never be the same. In my cell, I noticed a Bible that had not been there before. I knew I was supposed to read it, but I didn’t know where to begin. All I knew was that I was supposed to read it. [Abide in Him]
I turned the pages and landed on Romans. I read Chapter 8 verses 31-39. In those verses, I read that I was more than a conqueror. This contradicted and negated what had been spoken me. I believed these words, and my thinking began to change. I began to write. I wrote every day until I was released from prison. I even helped men to write their families that couldn’t read or write.
After my Release
Now back on the streets, I submitted my book to nine publishers …I was turned down by every single one. I didn’t understand. Everyone that had read my manuscript said that it was amazing. Most of them believed that my characters where real, and that the story actually happened. I didn’t give up. I printed my manuscript, punched holes in it, and placed copies in three-ringed folders. Next, I glued a cover on each folder, and then I got out in downtown Kansas City and began selling my manuscripts to people at ten dollars a copy. I’d introduce myself as an up-and-coming new author. I’d tell them the synopsis, and then sign my autograph on every completed transaction. Writing had set me free! I didn’t have to steal anymore! I supported me and my family on book sales alone. I earned enough to self-publish, and soon earned the title of Best Seller on the internet.
Soon, I became arrogant and prideful. I exhausted myself, and not the One that had given me the power to obtain success. I had no foundation, no church. In return for my treachery, the LORD my God turned me over to a reprobate mind. Soon, I was in trouble again. I wanted to run back to my Creator, but I was too embarrassed, too ashamed.
I finally reached my breaking point butt-naked in the rubber room of a Joplin City Jail. I’d been smoking crack, and had violently beaten my wife. It was the last time I ever hit her. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I’d fought with the police that arrested me, and now this ice-cold cell had become my sanctuary. This cell was created intentionally extremely cold to subdue and break men like me that came into jail acting the way I had. I was so cold that I cried out to God, “O LORD my God, You alone are God. You are One and besides you there is no other God. If You still love me, please warm me up.” My plea had barely left my lips when His presence warmed and comforted me like a camp fire on a cold and rainy night. He didn’t speak to me …he didn’t have to. I knew He was there …He’d never left me.
A few days went by, and I was brought before the judge. We had history, this judge and I. I was afraid …I knew I would receive no mercy. When my name was called, I shuffled before him and stood there in handcuffs and chains. “Mr. Jones, what are you doing back here in my court room? What did I tell you the last time you stood before me?”
“Don’t come back.”
“Yet here we are. Son what is your problem?” For the first time in my life, I was honest with this man. I was so scared. The whole court room went silent, waiting to see how I would respond. “Sir my problem is crack cocaine. I can’t stop. I’ve tried so many times.” I raised my head and looked him in the eyes, “I’ve tried. I can’t stop. I wish I was dead.” Without even realizing it, I had just completed the first step of Narcotics Anonymous. I’d admitted that I was powerless and that my life had become unmanageable. I stood there waiting to be punished, instead this man showed me compassion. It was my first glimpse of what God was truly like …compassionate.
He gave me another chance and sent me to rehab. There, I got clean and began to write again. I began to find myself. From there, I got connected with a church. From the pulpit, Pastor Randy Garris became my spiritual father. I began to learn how to be a righteous man, how to be a man. Each Sunday, I’d cling to his teaching and instruction. I joined a small group and soon, my path crossed with Jay St. Clair. He was the first man to tell me “I love you.”
Jay opened a door for me to give away what God had given to me …writing. I no longer wanted to make New York Times’ List and promote myself. I wanted to help at-risk youth and families to tell their stories. I wanted to give individuals like me a platform to get what was on the inside…out.
The Day my Life Changed Forever
Three years later, I stepped out on faith for the first time in South Kansas City. As I sat at a stop light on Swope Parkway, a couple of young gangstas walked up to my care and asked me to buy a rap CD they were selling. I did, but before giving them the money, I asked, “Did you write the stories contained in this album. I ask, because I’m a writer too. I just deliver my stories in the form of books.”
“Naw, it’s the big homie’s CD. We just push’em to earn a lil money, ya dig?” Nodding my head I said, “What if I can show you how to write your own stories, edit them, package and produce them, and then make money selling them? We all have a story to tell. Would you?”
“Hell yeah!” they all agreed. “Then go get some more of the young homies and meet me in the park in two hours.”
Two hours later, I facilitated our first workshop. It didn’t even have a name. We met and participation increased until it was too cold to meet in the park. It was then that I understood that I was never designed to do this alone. So in 2010 during a recession, I formed TGIM Digital Publishing LLC, and launched Writing for the Soul Workshop™.
In one year, TGIM published the first book in the Pieces of Me Series by participants of Writing for the Soul Workshop™ from our site in Joplin, Missouri. If you’ve never seen an at risk youth sign their first autograph, let me tell you …it is amazing. On the day of release, our young authors sold out at Hastings Entertainment. Four days later, we were hit by the worst tornado in US history. Life for us was forever changed. So much loss …so much death. The pain only made us stronger; we clung to one another, and we wrote about our experiences. Participation grew by 113%, and on the anniversary of the tornado, TGIM released Volume Two in the Pieces of Me Series. The project earned Independent Best Seller. Over 70 youth here in the US and in Africa can now add to their resume for jobs and colleges, “I am a best-selling author.”
The fact that many of them are earning money when they sell direct is not even the WOW factor. The best part is that just like me …writing is setting them free. Free from fear, un-forgiveness, hurt, pain, shame, guilt and grief. Just like me, writing for them has become therapeutic. We get what’s on the inside …out. This is just the beginning of my story. It does not end here, but I wanted you to know what inspired me to form this company and create Writing for the Soul Workshop. Anyone who knows me will tell you that it’s really not me that created all this. They will tell you that all the credit goes to my Creator.