Feature: Darrell Jones

If someone were to write Darrell Jones’ biography, the early chapters about his life would probably lead most readers to the assumption that, more than likely, his story would end in tragedy. As someone, born to teenage parents (his mother was only 14), and growing up in the inner city of Buffalo, New York, Darrell experienced many hardships that he easily could have succumb to.

Darrell did a lot of fighting growing up and, unfortunately, there was not much he could do about it. He was constantly challenged in his neighborhood, in school, and then when he would go home, he was left to defend himself and his siblings against various threats that existed there, too.

Many of the fights came about because of the bullying he would receive due to the well-known fact that his mother was a drug addict. The taunts and heckling Darrell fell victim to would be infuriating, and, as one might imagine, would lead to him taking out his anger on his bullies through violence. Sadly, Darrell would not find solace in his own home, either.

Because of her addiction, Darrell’s mother would be in numerous revolving relationships, and many of the men she would take into her home were abusive with Darrell and his siblings. So, once again, Darrell had to fight. After one, especially bloody skirmish, with one of his mother’s boyfriends, Darrell admitted to his grandmother, that he was confident he was either going to die fighting the man at home, or, he would eventually kill the man himself. Shortly following that conversation, Darrell and his brothers and sisters would move in with his grandmother.

When he had become a teenager, Darrell and his friends created a “DJ” crew (It was the 80s, so this was fairly common), calling themselves the “Smash Crew.” They would entertain at house parties throughout the neighborhood, staying off the streets (for the most part), and enjoying a newly discovered teenage interest; Girls.

After the “Smash Crew” began finding themselves in a few brawls with rival DJ crews, Darrell had had enough and took steps to “escape it all.” So, in January 1991, he enlisted into the Air Force.

The Air Force was good for Darrell in that he was able to enjoy a newfound independence and see parts of the country and the world he never would have, had he stayed in Buffalo. And, as it turned out, Darrell was good at his occupation as an Aircraft Crew Chief. He had an aptitude for the technical and mechanical aspects of the job, and, also, it didn’t hurt that the military had structure, which was good for Darrell.

There was, however, one aspect of military life that seemed to be somewhat of a ticking time bomb for Airman Jones. The world of aircraft maintenance is full of type-A personalities, and confrontation was no stranger to the daily goings-on in the workplace. Early in his career, Jones learned how to cope with the many heated encounters he faced with other aggressive personalities. He learned how to “let a comment slide” for the sake of the mission, but one day, his ability to cope, came up short, and he found himself in a situation that probably should have ended his career.

In 2008, with the War on Terror in full swing, now Sergeant Jones had just returned from one of his numerous deployments to the Middle East. On his first day back to his home unit, Jones learned that he was slated to return to the Middle East in a few short months. The pilot had been lit.

Sergeant Jones inquired as to the reason he was “in the next rotation” and the answers that he got did not make sense in his mind. Not only that, but Jones was expected to fulfill other mission essential obligations, starting immediately and up to his next deployment date. The fire grew.

According to Jones, he identified flaws in the logic used by the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of his section. Who, by the way, Darrell was well acquainted and considered to be a friend of many years. However, in an environment full of Type-A personalities, one can imagine this did not go over well. And it didn’t. Five-alarm fire!

The shouting match that ensued got the attention of other high-ranking individuals and the two were split up, but only momentarily. The two men eventually took their argument to another room, and Darrell pined his NCOIC against a wall and was about to pummel him, but before he got the chance, another sergeant intervened and broke the two up again. Darrell left the building to sit in his car. And to wait.

He was waiting, and hoping, that the NCOIC he had been arguing with was going to follow him outside. Darrell was seeing red, and all he could think about was how bad he wanted to hurt the man he had just been yelling at. He fixated on the idea of beating him. That was until a young family drove up to the building and dropped off a young man, probably returning from a lunch break.

A woman was driving the car, more than likely the airman’s wife, with a little girl, probably around four years old, sitting in the back seat. As the family pulled away, the little girl made eye contact with Darrell, and waved at him. In an instant, Darrell snapped out of his rage-filled trance and realized that he had been waiting in his car for over two hours. Where had the time gone? And why was he so determined to bring harm to someone that he had considered a friend? What happened?

Immediately Darrell reached out to the mental health facility on-base, and made an appointment to speak to someone, and if you ask him, Darrell believes it was the decision that changed his life forever. He began to get counseling, discovering that he had been suppressing and coping with a case of aggressive behavior stemming from his youth. According to his therapist, on the day of the incident involving his NCOIC and friend, he had “lost his coping” mechanisms. In other words, whatever mental block Darrell had created in his own mind to suppress the feelings of his past, had failed, leading to a tidal wave of emotions which manifested itself in the form of anger and rage.

Darrell credits his therapist, Diane, for essentially saving his career and more importantly, his life. She helped him explore the feelings and emotions he had apparently been experiencing for many years but had not addressed. Its because of the help that he received then, that Darrell advocates the use of mental health professionals and encourages everyone who might be experiencing difficulties in their lives to reach out and utilize these people. After his retirement from the military, and with a new perspective on life, Darrell chose to use his energy in a more constructive and meaningful way.

In 2012, via East Mississippi Community College, Darrell Jones graduated from Mississippi State University with degrees in Secondary Education and became a middle school Social Studies teacher. Currently, he’s teaching 8th grade history at West Lowndes High School in Columbus, Mississippi. A far cry from the inner-city streets of Buffalo, New York. But he’s found some peace.

Darrell loves teaching. He’s proud of his students and they enjoy Mr. Jones’ quips and company, as well. He appreciates that he has the opportunity to impart wisdom about the “real world,” and make them understand the need to take advantage of the opportunities available to them while in school. In Darrell’s words, “I want to open the world up to them and show the possibilities that exist in their future.”

From the moment Darrell Jones entered into this world, he was seemingly set up to fail in life. An African American boy with a mother battling drug addiction, growing up on the streets in the inner city, and fighting for his life, both physically and mentally. Unbeknown to Darrell, he was carrying the weight from his youth into his adult life and it would eventually reveal itself in the ugliest of ways. Lucky for Darrell, he would have a moment of clarity where he would reach out and find help with a mental health professional.

Darrell’s story would have a happy ending after all having completed a degree in education and going on to be a middle school teacher in Mississippi.

The one message above all others Darrell wants to get across to others is the power that can be found among mental health experts. He wants people to know that it is okay to go see a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or therapist. More than anything he wants it to be known that these people saved his life, and that they can save so many more.

And oh, by the way, Darrell’s mother found a happy ending, as well. She’s been sober now for over 20 years.

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