BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Joseph E. Dames III road to redemption was not an easy one. The young, black man seemed destined to become another staggering statistic of failure within the African-American community. He was raised without the steady guidance of a positive male figure, his education was scant and he was lured in by the streets.
“I was raised in a household dominated by women,” Dames explained. “A woman can do the best she can, but she cannot teach a boy how to be a man.”
Dames, also known as Junior Man, began his downward spiral into crime as a young teen, and by the age of 17 faced charges for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and violation of probation. He was sentenced 25 years to life.
However, his story did not end there. Dames’ deep introspection of his life propelled him to write his first book entitled “Collecting My Thoughts,” which is several short stories that reveal his pain, multiple incarcerations, transformation and the eventual path of inner revelation that led to his recent success.
“My village broke down,” explained Dames on his descent into the criminal justice system. He credits his grandmother Ruth Perkins and late step-grandfather Armond Neal for doing the best they could to instill in him positive values.
Like many young men, he was influenced by older men in his neighborhood, teaching a false reality. His rap sheet began at the age of 14 with a charge of auto theft and catapulted to aggravated assault with a weapon at age 16, and then at 17 was charged as an adult for murder.
Dames was housed in various prisons throughout the state, including Sumter Correctional Institution, Tomoka Correctional Institution and Moore Haven Correctional Facility. He was released in 2010.
“I was going to die if I didn’t decide to change,” Dames reflected. “I was there with dudes who had been in there as long as I’m living. I had to change my way of thinking. Change or die.”
Dames remarked that he was his own worse form of destruction.
“I was thinking about death and prison and it manifested itself,” he stated. “I was locked up mentally long before I was locked up physically. I was moving like a thug and acting it out. I was incarcerated mentally.”
Dames’ grandmother saved up enough money for him to go to college, but instead, he took his education from the streets.
“I played myself cheap. I had been out there playing with the devil, and I had to pay.”
In prison, he found that he loved to read and was a good writer. In 1996, Dames began sporadically writing “Collecting My Thoughts.” He completed it in 2006 and published it in the same year.
He credits a fellow inmate for being a positive mentor and influence in his life.
“He taught me knowledge of self and God,” he explained, “to be upright and a man of God. Do what you can do. I fed off his strength.”
In prison, he wrote letters for other prisoners and helped them get their GED. “I was helping brothers get out of the dark mental state,” he said. “Sometimes, they don’t know they’re in it.”
“Collecting My Thoughts” is an anthology of 17 short stories and one poem entitled “Redemption” that tells the author’s journey revealing his raw feelings, emotions, and issues that plague black men every day.
In the story “Peace to the Dead Homies,” Dames remembers and prays for the souls of those who are no longer with us, while in “The Prison Within,” he stresses to guard your mind against mental confinement at all cost.
“It’s a strong testimony,” he stated about the book’s effective message. “It’s a million more 16-year-olds that went through what I did. They can stop, think and change their life. It can also give counselors more insight into the community they’re [working] with.”
Dames is now a successful owner of two businesses: Oasis Landscaping and Oasis Towing and Recovery. He’s a motivational speaker and facilitates sessions entitled, “The art of listening to your spirt,” “The importance of boys having male role models,” and “How to make impactful decisions.
He shared his message for teens and young adults, “I went through the trenches, but you might not get that lucky to survive the system. Life is about decisions, and you live with what you choose.”
Dames hopes that his book will inspire those who may be on the verge of losing their way, or those who’ve already lost it and are struggling to get back on track.
“‘Collecting My Thoughts’ is my story of redemption and a compilation of short stories that will walk readers through my journey of evolution.”
To order a copy of “Collecting My Thoughts,” visit josephedames.com. To contact the author, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.