From serving life to living life

Elizer Darris (Travis Lee/MSR News)

Ex-offender exemplifies power of personal change

At age 15, most individuals are thinking about what clothes and shoes to wear to school, taking driver education to get their first car, and being the coolest kid on the block without crossing parental authority. One individual, however, faced an entirely different situation, one that would change his life forever.

Elizer “Eli” Darris sat down with MSR as he went back down memory lane into his teenage years. Residing in Minnesota in 1998, Darris reported how he lived life as an adolescent. “I was involved in gang activity. There was a large fight,” Darris recalled.

It was during this fight that Darris’ life would be changed. A man lost his life. Darris was offered a reduced sentence if he would testify against the others involved in the assault. He refused and was sentenced to life in prison.

“I [threw] my whole childhood…away at that point.” They immediately locked him up with the grown men.

“They don’t wait for you to get stronger, bigger or faster. As soon as I was certified, I was in the adult county jail, and as soon as I was convicted at 17, I was placed in the adult correctional facility at St. Cloud.”

Despite hearing he was going to die in prison, and ultimately believing at first sight he would, Darris still kept faith. “There [were] a few times I looked at my future, my existence, and pondered this would really be my life every day: the constant orders, yelling and screaming, the constant fights.”

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“I’ve never ever seen one juvenile come through the corrections facilities who was Caucasian get life.”

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He saw that most of the individuals getting a life sentence were African American, Native, Hispanic and Hmong. “I’ve never ever seen one juvenile come through the corrections facilities who was Caucasian get life.”

Darris remembers the experience as violent and turbulent. “It was tough. There were days I thought about taking my own life,” he said.

He finally altered his thinking by listening to older inmates locked up for 15-plus years. “They gave me wisdom to begin putting away my destructive ways.”

Three things helped him to get through the ordeal: history, heritage and culture. “When I began studying who we were as a people, what we have done, I was pissed off at some of the history they left out,” said Darris.

While taking college courses during his incarceration, he also learned about the school-to-prison pipeline, and the process of elimination among students even at elementary grades to determine whether their future would involve college or jail. “Pursuit of education became my salvation, and also a weapon to fight against the misinformation placed in my head.”

While serving his life sentence, he decided to study law and start the process to appeal his case. “I zoned in on critical issues with my attorney and convinced her to create a legal brief for me, called a supplemental pro-say brief. I had to put my argument in a cohesive manner for review.”

He sent the brief to the public defender, who adopted it as her own. “Every issue she raised, the Supreme Court denied. The issue that reversed my life sentence was the issue I raised.”

While tutoring a student, his case manager called. “I got up to talk to my attorney. I grabbed the phone and heard ‘the Supreme Court reversed your sentence. You will be going home Monday.’”

Darris was finally a free man at age 32, after serving 17 and a half years.

“These are some good years [since his release],” he said, “I’ve been traveling: D.C., St. Louis, went to the mountains, the African American history museum in D.C., and was an honorary guest for Keith Ellison for the Congressional Black Caucus.”

Contemplating his next move after release, he started working at a telemarketing company. “It didn’t align with my code of ethics; I only stayed there a few weeks.”

As an A+ certified computer technician, he pursued a tech job, but that was short-lived when he found out it only paid $9 an hour. It was time for a change of plans, and Darris Consulting was created. “I was a group of one,” he jokingly said.

Darris Consulting, with a mission to inspire, motivate and challenge people to reach their next level in life, allows him to consult in multiple avenues, including working on the Nekima Levy-Pounds campaign, speaking engagements, keynote presentations, consulting with organizations, and even security at established restaurants such as Seven Sushi Ultra Lounge.

“How [does Darris Consulting] get these organizations to connect better with the clients they serve? I started working with staff and organizations and challenged them to think why they are [there].”

In addition to political engagements, Darris also does political consulting and received the Josie Johnson award from the African American Leadership Forum.

Darris is living proof and a firm believer that you are the director of your life. “People told me for years I wouldn’t win my appeal. That didn’t stop me from investigating and learning the laws. You have to believe in the ability to affect change in your own life,” he said.

“You have to believe you have the ability to take the steps forward, to be a creator. Create the world you want to live in.”

 

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to ivan.b.phifer@gmail.com

 

 

 

About Ivan Phifer

Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com

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