“A convicted killer. A journalist. An enduring friendship.” That’s how The Atavist is promoting this story I’ve written for them about my twenty-year relationship with Tony Davis, who was 18-years-old when he killed an 13-year-old during a drive-by shooting.
I first met Tony in 1993, when I was a young journalist seeking to put a human on the growing problem of youth violence starting to plague inner-city communities around the U.S. I'd use the murder that he committed as the focus of the resulting book, Drive-By, though not because of Tony but because of his co-conspirator Junebug. In Drive-By, Tony and his dysfunctional family were the bad influence that spurred Junebug's mother to work the after-hours cleaning crew at the the post office and remove her moody, sensitive son from harm's way.
But a funny thing happened. We kept in touch, me and Tony. At first it was because he had no one else in his life but over time I accepted his collect calls because I enjoyed talking with him. It was fascinating to watch him grow and change. Intent on showing that this one awful act would not define his life, he has toiled to better himself. He basically dropped out in the 8th grade to start work as a drug dealer but he's earned his GED and he's now well on his way to earning his associate's degree. He earned a transfer to a medium-security prison and since then has seemingly signed up for every self-help and support-group program offered there, from Narcotics Anonymous to a victim offender reconciliation group. Last year he helped organize a breast cancer walk on the prison yard, raising $10,000. He volunteers with a program that helps younger inmates adjust to prison life.
This is our story--our life together as Tony went from source to friend. But mainly "Stray Bullet" is Tony's tale: as The Atavist put it, "one man’s fight to cling to hope inside of a criminal justice system that seems bent on extinguishing it."
The Atavist, by the by, is a site co-founded by a New Yorker editor and New Yorker/Wired writer and dedicated to the notion that long-form narrative can thrive in our Internet age. Backed by Marc Andreessen, Eric Schmidt (Google), and Peter Thiel (Facebook), among others, it offers a cause for optimism in bleak times for journalism. The only catch: you'll need to buy the piece to read it. On the upside, it's very multimedia, as the site stresses: "You'll get access to the story right now in our Web reader and our iPhone and iPad apps, all of which include a full audiobook [read by moi], additional sound, video, maps, timelines, and more."
At $2.99, a bargain at twice the price!