When a young man grows up with advantages—a good home, good parents, and educational opportunities—the last thing one would expect him to do is to embrace the thug life. That’s exactly what Anthony Dixon did. During his years as a student at Florida State University, he straddled two worlds: the world of an academic and the world of the streets. And the streets led him to a place he didn’t want to be.
Dixon went straight from his university graduation to state prison, where he spent five-and-a-half years examining his life. And what faith and introspection taught him took him all the way to the hallowed halls of Indiana University, where he earned a PhD.
Written in a gritty, compelling voice, this cautionary tale boldly crosses class and generational lines, appealing to teens adults alike. His story will change the way you think about the life choices you make.
I am far from your average ex-convict. I was raised in a middle–class household. My father recently retired from a university after teaching for 35 years. My mother retired as a principal of a public middle school, while both of my siblings attended college on academic scholarships. In fact, given my background and upbringing, the odds against incarceration were in my favor. The question then became how. How did someone like me find myself incarcerated? I realized, while I sat in the county jail awaiting trial, that I did not just end up there. I was on the road to prison long before I actually got there. It was not one bad decision one night. It was a culmination of events; and if I truly wanted to make this my first and last time, I needed to figure out what happened. As far as my childhood was concerned, I realized that there were several factors and two major events that shaped my early troubles.
The first major event that occurred in my childhood was our move to a farm. When I was six years old, my father moved us outside the city limits to a rural farm in the county. Although I was six, I remember parts of that day vividly, but what I remember most was looking out of the back window of my aunt’s VW Beetle crying, as my friends waved briefly then continued to play.
The immediate negative effect of our move to me was most evident in my oldest sister. She was beginning high school, so the move “ruined” her socially. She began to find a scapegoat to vent all of her frustrations. Unfortunately, I became her scapegoat. We would have terrible fights. I could remember always trying to get a punch in before I got tossed across the room and my face scratched up. My other sister and a cousin, to this day, still remind us of the night I threw a fork at her only to be beaten and tossed. Many years later, she revealed to us that she would have nightmares about me retaliating and was often afraid to come home from college because she was afraid of what I might do to her. I realized later in life that she did not really have hatred towards me; she just vented her frustrations with moving and living in the countryside on me. In her eagerness to leave the countryside, she began going to summer school so she could graduate a year early.
My younger sister found another way to cope with living in the country: she mentally escaped by reading. After my oldest sister left for college (I was ten), I would begin to stay in the room with my younger sister, but that lasted for only a while. I would play any game that she wanted, as long as she did not leave me by myself. I remember finally getting fed up playing with dolls. I really wanted a brother to play with, so I attempted to make her into my brother. When that failed, my resentment led me to begin to vent my frustrations out on her and we fought constantly until high school. I was jealous that she had spent so much time with a “sister,” while I yearned for a brother. In time, playing with me became secondary to reading. Also, I recognized that reading was her “thing to do” at home and began leaving her alone while she read. We did not become close until high school.
The television became my escape. Other than that, I simply endured loneliness. I watched any and everything that I could between 6 am and 12 pm. The show Jeopardy became my favorite. I still watch it religiously today. I remember in college, I had people sitting around my apartment drinking, smoking marijuana and trying to beat me at Jeopardy. Even in jail, I had other inmates watching it with me.
Anthony E. Dixon, PhD is a native of Fort Valley, Georgia. In 1994, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in History with a minor in African American Studies from Florida A&M University. In 2001, he received a Master’s of Applied Social Science from Florida A&M University with a concentration in History. In 2001, he received a doctoral fellowship from Indiana University’s History Department where he majored in the African Diaspora. His studies included African American History, and African History, with a minor in Library Science/Special Collections and Archives. In 2002, he received a Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship to Michigan State University’s Summer Cooperative African Language Institute, where he studied the African language Bamana.
Get to know Dr. Dixon:
Where was Dr. Anthony Dixon raised?
Dr. Anthony Dixon was raised in Fort Valley, Georgia, a rural town in Southern Georgia.
Dr. Anthony Dixon received his Ph.D. from what prestigious university?
After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida A & M University, Dr. Anthony Dixon earned his Ph.D. from Indiana University.
What was Dr. Anthony Dixon’s “street” nickname?
During his days as a violent criminal and drug dealer, Dr. Anthony Dixon was known as “Pretty Tony.”
What incident led to Dr. Anthony Dixon’s decision to stop selling crack?
Dr. Anthony Dixon stopped selling crack as the result of a life-changing experience: looking into the desperate eyes of an addict that reflected more a cry for help than a desire for drugs.
What bone did Dr. Anthony Dixon break in a car accident while fleeing police?
While Dr. Anthony Dixon was fleeing the police with two accomplices, he was involved in an automobile accident and broke his leg. One officer observed, “He’s going one way and his leg is going the other.”
What was the length of Dr. Anthony Dixon’s 1995 prison sentence?
Originally sentenced to the maximum 15 years in state prison, Dr. Anthony Dixon served a total sentence of five and one half years.
What type of classes did Dr. Anthony Dixon teach while incarcerated?
Having discovered a love for teaching, Dr. Anthony Dixon taught GED classes to other inmates while incarcerated.
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