CELL PHONE A.W.N.I.A.A. contributors gather around the speaker phone for their first meeting with the incarcerated Darell Jones.
Convicted murderer Darrell Jones has accomplished more in the worlds of media, entertainment, and activism from behind bars over the past 25 years than most free people do in a lifetime. And despite perceived retribution from authority figures for his progressive bent, Jones, who’s currently serving life at MCI-Norfolk (and who maintains his innocence), continues to be a productive force, recently announcing his most ambitious project yet. Along with local advocacy group Press Pass TV and more than a dozen Boston rappers (plus some artists, including M1 of Dead Prez, from outside of Massachusetts), Jones is fast-tracking his message to the top of the political food chain by waging a viral campaign to demand that the commander-in-chief respond to his inconvenient queries.
“Mr. President,” Jones writes in an online letter to Barack Obama that inspired the participating acts to write original rhymes for his All We Need Is An Answer (A.W.N.I.A.A.) project (which is available for free download at obamaanswerthis.com), “I need to know . . . when you say you want black fathers to own their obligations to break the cycle of not being there for their children — are you also talking to those incarcerated?”
On cuts that range from enlightening to heartbreaking, artists including Hands Down, Letia Larok, and Gwop Gang MCs BR and Bad Newz reflect on the human cost of mass incarceration. Roxbury native Daniel Laurent (a/k/a DL) cut two songs, including “License to Kill,” on which he raps: “Knowing you can achieve is only a page away — all you’ve got to do is read/Misconception is that if you’re not Will Smith, Wayne Brady, or Jay-Z you will not succeed.”
“This whole country is built on song, from ‘We Shall Overcome’ to ‘O, Say Can You See,’ “ Jones, who used to perform as DJ 3rd Eye, tells the Phoenix by phone. Jones hopes his movement can raise awareness about the lack of fatherhood and moral coaching in prisons everywhere. “If the music and television of today are what’s killing our kids, then maybe the cure is inside something that is poisonous.”
Both Jones and his Press Pass TV collaborators are aware that their actions might be considered controversial. Following the 2009 release of a short documentary called Voices From Behind The Wall that Jones produced with the group Teen Empowerment, WHDH-TV Channel 7 and the Boston Herald reported that Press Pass TV Co-Director Joanna Marinova had been caught having sexual relations with Jones during a visit to the Old Colony Correctional Center. Both Jones and Marinova deny the allegations, and have suggested that the misinformation was leaked as payback "from the guards because the men were empowering themselves and that was seen as dangerous." (Marinova is currently suing the Herald and Channel 7.)
“For me, it’s about the truth and saying what really happens,” says Marinova about the documentary and her other advocacy projects.
Adds Jones: “The truth is important. . . . I know he’s a busy man, but [Obama] needs to read this letter. He said in New Hampshire that if someone had better ideas, they should bring it on. Well, we’re bringing it on.”