Share more about yourself and the environment you grew up in as a child…
How did you get started?
I grew up on the Eastside of Detroit. My mom was a single parent. I would see my pops, but he wasn’t really engaged. There was a lot of violence in my neighborhood, which forced kids to become adults quickly. We used to have boys and girls clubs until one summer, they took away all the basketball rims. The boys and girls clubs shut down. They took some of the equipment out of the parks. We couldn’t play on anything or go to the park to play basketball; we started acting in a way that wasn’t conducive to a positive environment. Luckily, I was able to leave home without a criminal record.
What was your ah-ha moment that set you on the path you are on today?
I was not planning to go to college but a friend encouraged me to go. It was then that I realized the world was a lot bigger. I started learning about criminal justice, which got me into working with A&E and doing that show 60 days inside a prison.
You have a book titled, "If You Want Peace, Prepare for War." Tell us about that.
My book is a cumulation of notes that I took while I was living inside of the prison program for 60 days in A&E’s television docuseries, “The Jail: 60 Days In”. I talk about different stories that occurred and relate them back to stories of my past.
Tell me more about what you want people to learn from this book and how you want it to make their life better?
I want people to learn perseverance. No matter what, you are always going to have war going on. In order to get to peace, you have to deal with it. You're going to be happy; you're going to be sad. You have to go through it and experience it; in a sense, almost enjoy it. I want this book to be motivation for anybody. We are not our labels.
You're a criminologist expert. What do you think is the mindset of this group of people that other people might not understand or know?
The mindset. Some of those people in the jail were just like everyday people, like me and you. They're part of the human race, part of our society. This one guy was in jail for almost two months because of parking tickets. A lot is the circumstances.
Everybody wants to be wanted. Life circumstances, whether it's losing a parent or some other trauma... people can't cope with a lot of those troubles that we have from our childhood. A lot of people who are incarcerated are people who are not able to control those impulses and may be violent, or angry, or unable to communicate positively.
For example, when I was in prison, I forgot that I was a student. I felt like I was never getting out. I started being more aggressive. My mindset even started to change because that's the culture that we had there.
I was only there for two months. But it takes 30 days to build a habit. Your mind just kind of shapes to the culture that you're around. We are products of our environment. Being in that toxic culture made a kid who was working on his Masters, forget that he was even working on his Masters.
What does the phrase "prepare for war" mean to you?
“Prepare for war” to me, means pre-planning for life so that you have everything you need for whatever you're going to do. War doesn't always mean fighting; it could be waking up every morning and going to work, or dealing with an illness that you had for 10 years and you still getting up every day to deal with it. War could be anything that you have to do and you don't know what the outcome will be.
If you could mentor someone at a crossroads where they could go one way or another, what are the tools that you would tell them to use to keep them on the right track?
Follow your gut. You're the only person who knows what's going on with your life or how your life can go. Everybody can look on the outside and tell you what they think you should do, but nobody actually knows you inside or how you actually feel. You know what feels right or what you enjoy doing.
Our past doesn't always make our future. We can become different people. We can evolve and add tools into our utility belts to help us become better people. We can better live in this society to be more cohesive.
How do you stay in control when the culture around you is really toxic?
Therapy. That's the only way. Once I got out of the jail, I went back to class and I actually got into a situation where I was being aggressive after being in that culture for so long. I felt embarrassed being around other people, because I was so used to walking with my chest up. I felt that anything that you did was almost disrespectful if it wasn't the way I thought it should be done.
Therapy was one of the biggest things that helped. I believe you have to talk about your trauma, be able to voice it, and be able to comb through it more. Put it at bay.
Is there anything else you wanted to share about the message of the book and who it's for?
I lost one of my little brothers in 2010. We were supposed to be roommates going off to college. There was a point of time where I lived with my grandma, until I was about seven years old. My grandma was a foster parent and he was one of the foster kids. So he was one of my foster brothers growing up and we shared a room.
My grandma introduced us to the book “The Art of War”. That was one of our favorite books that we got from her. That book could have just been something my grandma said that I forgot. But because of our banter that we had as kids and going back and forth, it stuck with me.
The book is in memory of my brother. He was a lot of inspiration as we talked through “The Art of War” and learned those different techniques. He helped me instill the concepts into my mind. That's where the title and the inspiration from my book came from, after living 60 days in jail.
What do you people can realize from your experience?
This world, our society, and our culture could be so much better. Let's imagine if we could be better. Anything that's ever been created started off as an idea. It started off in somebody's mind and then it was created. That's the whole reason I did an animated cover. I just wanted to disarm people and help them suspend reality as it is now, to imagine how it could be. We can love each other and be understanding of each other's feelings and thoughts. We don't have to be so divided.
Dion Shepherd, Jr. grew up in Detroit as one of nine siblings. He was able to leave home without a criminal record and is about to receive a Masters in Criminology, Law and Society. He counsels youth in juvenile detention centers with a focus on bettering neighborhoods and the lives of at-risk youth. In 2016, Dion started working with A&E Network to help with development and participate in their award-winning Docu-series 60 Days In. He is the author of the new book, “If You Want Peace, Prepare For War.”