Oaklander still doing time for drug-dealing
There was a time when Darryl "Little D" Reed was as well-known on the streets of Oakland as the mayor and most musicians or athletes in this boisterous city.
Back in the 1980s, Reed was Oakland's reputed crack cocaine king. Dealing narcotics, he made "millions of dollars," he confirmed last week. Then, in 1990, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison on federal drug charges.
"He's a very significant person in the city of Oakland," said prosecutor Robert Dondero after taking Reed off the streets and putting him behind bars.
Reed, now 41, has served 20 years at 13 prisons around the country. He's now imprisoned at Terminal Island near San Pedro in Los Angeles County.
Scheduled for early release in 2018, he plans to devote his remaining years to counseling Oakland's youth on constructive ways to avert his teenage mistakes.
"I'm convinced that I can be an example for a lot of the youth who try to be like me," he said by phone last week from prison. "I will try to help the Oakland community, give them all the reasons why I did what I did, and to bring in friends like myself, but who stayed on the right path and are successful in life."
Reed will be nearly 50 by the time he's released, but he's motivated to make up for lost time.
"The message I will try to get to the young people," he said, "is that you see the girls, the cars, the jewelry, the money, but more than likely (by dealing drugs) you're going to end up in prison or you're going to end up dead."
He believes the core of Oakland's delinquent youth problem is insufficient parental involvement.
"That's why kids are on their own at an early age," he said. "We've got to keep them from picking up a gun or getting high."
Oakland has increased gang activity from the time when Reed ruled its streets. He wants to combat the gang issue that has contributed to Oakland's high crime numbers.
"I would first find out who is the guy who's looked up to in each neighborhood," he said. "I would try to make contact with these guys. I will go to them and ask, 'What's going on? With the violence you guys are doing, you're terrorizing the community. You can't keep shooting one another. So let's call a truce.' "
Existing behind bars for 20 years, Reed said, "takes a lot of perseverance. But I've always had a strong will. That's the only way to survive."
He was asked if prisons actually rehabilitate.
"Overall, no," he said. "Because they don't give you the tools to prepare you for the outside -- to get a job or housing. We have to rehabilitate ourselves. I've educated myself over the years. I've talked to accountants, bankers, lawyers."
His daily life: He awakens at 6 a.m., eats breakfast, writes and answers e-mails, watches television news, exercises, showers, and has lunch. He then reads The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, watches more TV news, empties trash for his unit, takes a power nap, and has dinner. (He's a vegetarian, and prepares some of his meals.)
Then he mingles in the yard with other inmates, reads some more, watches the late news, and is asleep by 11:30 p.m.
He uses his time wisely. He's authored a new book, "Weight" (another term for drugs), published by Concrete Jungle Books of Pasadena.
Reed spent four years writing about his missteps while growing up in the 69th Avenue San Antonio Village housing project, better known as "69th Ville."
There's also a documentary coming out about Reed's life, which will convey his painful message that "the dope game is a setup."
He lives behind bars and has a cellmate. The worst part of his locked-up existence, he emphasized, is the prison loud speaker. It is a constant reminder of poor choices in life, like the lonesome whistle of the passing train that Johnny Cash sings about in "Folsom Prison Blues."
Reed regrets not having had "more patience" as a youth, and heeding "more advice outside of my parents to stay on the right path."
Even Felix Mitchell, Oakland's most famous drug czar and Reed's "mentor," tried to get him to go straight.
Reed resisted even after Mitchell was slain in prison in 1986.
With all the drugs Reed sold, he wasn't a druggie himself. He smoked marijuana as a young teen until his parents stepped in and he stopped getting high.
But did the crack cocaine king of Oakland do crack or heroin?
"Never, never," he said.
He had his choice of lady friends, juggling several at once. He produced two children who now have an absentee father in prison.
"It's an ache in my heart," Reed said. "But my kids are outstanding. They come to see me. I will try to be a good father, and maybe a grandfather, when I get out."
His son, Lamar Reed, 21, (Lamar is his father's middle name) is a senior at California Baptist University in Southern California. Daughter Cornisha Lewis, 22, is a community college student in Sacramento.
Besides family, Reed also has friends who didn't abandon him, such as MC Hammer, who wrote the foreword for Little D's book, and Derrick Bowman, former ballplayer Ricky Henderson's stepbrother, who arranged the interview.
Reed isn't asking society to feel sorry for him. But he gets 28 years in the stir for dealing drugs, while former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle will serve 1/14 of that term for fatally shooting a prone, unarmed Oscar Grant III.
Though the shooting was ruled unintentional, and though drugs kill, too, Reed sees Mehserle's "slap on the hand" sentence as improper justice.
"I'm not trying to make excuses for myself," he said, "but the sentence I received doesn't fit the crime."
Temptation took away most of Reed's life. How will he avoid a recurrence in 2018?
"Because I know what the outcome would be like if I went down that road again," he said. "That's the truth of the matter."
By Dave Newhouse
Oakland Tribune columnist
Posted: 11/21/2010 12:00:00 AM PS