Bloodsport: My Life, You Heard?
There is nothing more poignant than the death of a Rebecca and nothing less shocking than that of a Tyrell; if there is one thing we come to realize during our time on this earth, it’s the fact that certain things are supposed to happen to certain people in certain places. We find solace in believing that the world is governed by some cosmic order that ensures that everything has a proper place: babies belong in cribs, humans in belong in homes, and animals belong in cages. We sleep soundly at night knowing that bad things only happen to bad people. It’s only when when we open our eyes just a crack from that blissful slumber of self-imposed naivete that we start to see the cracks in this foundation, we start to question the virtue of the institutions we rest our beliefs on.
Meet Bloodsport. He was born in Crown Heights on June, 6th, 1974, and contrary to popular opinion, had more than a loving and supportive childhood. He attended private school, never went to sleep hungry, and always had clothing on his back and shoes on his feet. He is an accomplished musician, having rapped with industry titans, from Junior Reed to Wu Tang. He is an activist who has converted his first-hand experience of gang-culture into grassroots political organizations that lobby for unity and non-violence. He is the author of My Life, You Heard, a memoir dropping with Dover Street Market and Paradigm Publishing about his life and the experiences that have come to shape him. He is a prisoner at Rikers Island. But, as opposed to saying what he is, why don't I tell you what this isn't: Bloodsport isn’t the martyr, I’m not a brave, and this article isn’t an expose or some noble call to arms for the plight of the marginalized. Bloodsport has a story he wants to tell: his own. The least we can do is listen.
Tell me your name, a little bit about yourself, your age, where you're from?
Eric. Close to forty, from Brooklyn — Crown Heights Projects. Been living there all my life.
Can you tell me some of your earliest childhood memories?
Going to the park, going to the Jamaican Day parades, going to the beach, swimming.
Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Riis Beach, nice place. I love swimming. You know, some people go to the beach and just walk around. I go the beach, cold, rain, or after dinner, and I get in the water. I have to get in the water! I’m a water baby.
What’s the most important thing pain has taught you?
Pain? It taught me a lot about how to deal with it, it’s a thinking process. If you really start to think deep about the pain, that’s when it really begins to hurt. Sometimes you have to fight it, and if you fight it and overcome it, you can deal with it. Mentally and physically. It’s all a thought process.
You think pain is a thought process?
Yes. To me, yeah, not a medicine thing. The more you think you’re sick, the more you’re gonna be sick.
What do you think heaven looks like?
It could be peaceful or it could be chaotic, that’s how I see it. I can’t just go by what everyone else says, that it’s so quiet, so joyous. Everybody fighting to get there but nobody knows where they're really going.
That’s a really interesting concept. Do you think that people only do good things to get to heaven, not because they’re actually good people? That there’s no such thing as pure altruism?
Ninety-five percent of the time. In people's thought process, they’re saying, "I have to do this ‘cause I want to go to heaven." It’s all just a thinking process.
You think a lot of things are purely mental.
Ninety-five percent. You have to think before you do.
What’s the other 5%?
Stupidity. Stupidity is the other five percent.
What do you consider stupid?
Stupid people just do--it could be anything. Touching a hot stove, crossing the street without looking both ways, drugs, crime. I’m not gonna say everything is stupid but that five percent is just chaotic, it ends up being stupidity. After we ask ourselves then why did we do it? And we might laugh at it, it might be silly be we laugh at it. Even jokes, pranks--we do a prank to somebody, somebody could really have a heart attack and die, but we doing it just to be stupid.
So obviously I read My Life Have You Heard. Is there something that you didn’t put in the book, or something that I wouldn’t necessarily gather just from reading it alone?
I went through all the periods of my life, but there’s always something. I will say I’m tired of coming to jail, I’m really tired. I’m at the point in my life where I’m just tired. You getting ready to do all this stuff and then, out of nowhere, you end up in here. You cry, you think about it, that’s what I think about every day. Just tired of this place, that’s it. I said I was done and this was it before and I kept going, but this right here? It’s too much. They took me away from my family, my friends, you know. I’m supposed to be out now, doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m almost there, I just have to deal with this little bit more of pain, mentally. I gotta keep writing, and thinking positive, and then get up out of here and do the right thing, and life will be better.
What do you mean by the right thing?
The right things, stay on the right page. Stuff that I’m doing right now I should’ve been doing already, I didn’t have to come here to do it. But maybe I was placed here for a reason. Everybody stuck here for a reason. Finish my book, my web series, write the rest of the music, my album, step right out and straighten up the rest of my business, and then life will be good. But I’m making it, I’m not gonna let this place kill me. This place will kill you.
Do you think that some people belong here?
That’s for God, I’ll let God deal with that. I’m not the one to sit here and say certain people belong in jail. Certain things I might say is not good, but it’s good to other people, so I’ll let God deal with that one.
From your own experience, do you think that being here has led you to change your perspective, or opened you up to opportunities to grow in some ways?
It’s me doing it, I have to correct myself, you feel me? I have to go through a drug program to stop smoking weed. I’m supposed to be able to say in my head I want to stop smoking weed. This is a thought process, so soon I’ll be able to do what I gotta do.
How do you pass the time every day?
I sit with a pad and a pen all day. I don’t let people take me out my element. I won’t let you speak to me, nothing. I’ll speak to you for a second then continue doing what I’m doing, cause if it up to other people, I wouldn’t be able to do nothing. They gonna take my dream away from me. At the end of the day, like nah, I’m not gonna let you do that. I believe I was put here for a reason. It took me a like whole year and a month to remember my numbers--I could write and remember a song and I couldn’t remember them jail numbers.
What do you mean by jail numbers?
You have an ID number. I couldn’t remember them numbers, and that showed me I didn’t belong in here. For real. I didn’t believe I belonged in jail at this time.
From what you’ve been saying, you obviously believe that either through God or not, most things are preordained, no?
Nah, I believe in God.
Do you believe that everyone has freedom of will, that things don’t happen only because of the will of God? It’s up to the individual?
It’s up to the individual to a certain extent. Everybody is not just waking up every day, you have to believe in some type of religion. I believe in it. See, people think they can just be moving, getting away with doing what they doing, no. At a point, God will let you go through an experience, either it’s the worst or the best. See, people got everything backwards. When you die, you're supposed to be happy, when a person is born, you're supposed to cry. A lot of people aren't into believing in that. When you come into this world, you’re supposed to cry, a young child, and when someone passes they go into a better life, a life away from the chaotic.
You keep using the word chaotic, can you explain what you mean when you say that?
Chaotic, it’s all types of different things. It doesn’t matter where you live, there will always be something chaotic going on. You may not have to deal with it, but you gotta hear it, read about it, see it on TV — it’s still around you, it still got something to do with you.
Do you think that people need to follow a religion in order to live a fulfilled life?
One hundred percent, some type of religion, some type.
So any type, honestly?
Yeah, as long as it’s something that has to do with religion.
I guess my religion would be that I don’t have one, I live by my own set of principles. Does that count?
Alright, but you’ll find one one day. Maybe it’s one that nobody knows about yet.
Ha, you think so? Maybe I’ll make my own religion!
You’re not gonna tell anybody, you keep it to yourself! That comes from meditating.
Yeah, you sit in your room and do your own religion, so you know what to stay away from and what not to do, you feel me? You guide yourself.
You mentioned earlier that God put you on this earth for a purpose. What do you think that is?
To help people, to guide people, to mentor people. Sometimes I might just sit and have a conversation with a person, and they’ll walk away with something, there’s always something. Whether it’s two words and you take one piece of that word, or even just a letter — just some type of understanding of what I said.
Do you also see how religion can cause a lot of conflict?
I see it, I’m around it, but I don’t involve myself in that. Everybody has their own beliefs.
If you really believe and have faith, what are you sitting there arguing with someone of a different religion for?
Do you think that gang culture has religious undertones?
Some people are a part of gangs because that’s their family, they have no one else, they have no one else to look up to. It don’t even have to be violent, you have good and you have bad. Everybody’s always gonna hear about the bad part, but you have good parts too. People feed people, people cloth people, people teach people how to read, write, you know, like in here. I tell people, "Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know how to read or write, I’ll help you, I’m not gonna look down at you." It’s just so hard when it’s a pride thing.
You are gang-affiliated and also in the music industry. In the mainstream media, a lot of people have taken bits and pieces of gang culture and woven it into other narratives, they’ve kind of objectified and eroticized it in a way. They take what they want out of it and they make money off of it. What are your thoughts on this mass glorification of gang culture, largely by people who don’t even walk that walk, especially as someone who has a very genuine relationship with that lifestyle?
I just base it on the person, you feel me? It’s up to you if you let people take you out of your zone. Like me, personally, I have people around me but no one's gonna run over me or get me to do anything that’s out of order, anything that’s gonna get me in trouble. That’s what really happens — people look out for people, they overstep you, and then you’re destroyed. There’s never just one person, really, it’s a person and the group. It is, it ends up being a group. I’m not gonna get into it, but a recent rapper just went through that, 6ix9ine or something like that? The group overrides you, you’re done. But why would you want to deal with someone who overrides you anyway, when you’re the bread and butter?
I guess you never know, though.
Well, you better find out! That’s the end of that, 1, 2, 3. Outta here, up and gone. Now what? They say he corroborated or whatever, it’s over. Where you gonna live, where you gonna rap at, what shows you gonna play at? Who’s gonna hire you to do anything now? So you’re finished, you’re done, you’re career is finished. That fast.
Is there anyone you have absolute trust in?
God. That’s it.
Anyone besides God?
God. That’s it, I can’t say nothing else.
In your book, you mention that you have a son and a daughter. What do you think is the most important lesson that you can teach them?
Stay outta trouble, don’t let nobody influence you to do anything you don’t wanna do. Stay in school, do the right thing — I’m not just saying that just to say it, but that’s what really counts at the end of the day. Anything else is different, but don’t just be stuck in the square zone, you have to know how people move, wrong and right. I don’t care how many songs you know on the radio, if you know how to do the newest dance. I don’t wanna hear those songs, see those dances, I don’t like them. I care about if they studying. Study.
Do you have any regrets?
Yeah, coming here.
The actions that led up to coming here, or just being here?
Past actions — nothing new — past actions. It’s hard right now, just certain things. The law... let’s just say the law. Certain things are not correct, but God helps me through it. He’s coming through, it’s gonna work out. Just got to stay away from different activities, and keep my mind in my music, don’t mix anything. Nothing here mixes with my music.
Are you comfortable with me asking questions about your mother?
Ok. Well, it seems like after her passing, there was this definitive moment where you were like, "fuck the police."
Well yeah, man, after my mother got murdered I just kinda lost it. I’m not gonna say I didn’t care, but I didn’t start smoking crack or using drugs, or drinking alcohol, I just started doing certain things, and if I got locked up, I didn’t care. I would think, "I’m gonna get out, I can deal with this." That’s how I thought. It started getting crazy after she passed, ‘cause I know if she was living, I wouldn’t be acting like that, it just it wouldn’t happen. She would say, "I bring you in this world I take you out." She had me scared not to do anything, she made sure I had everything.
It seems like you internalized a lot of the pain. You never wanted to cry, or mourn in the traditional sense or anything.
Nah, she taught me not to cry.
Would you consider crying a weakness? That crying shows weakness?
That’s what she taught me to believe, that crying is a weakness.
And you believe that through and through?
As I grew up, yeah. Crying is for suckers and punks. Right now, if I cry, it’s ‘cause I be like real mad, real mad to my limit. Somebody says “oh they got killed,” or “oh they died,” and I’ll tell them it’s gonna be alright, I’m telling you, it’s gonna be alright. But I could say that, I have a reason. Other people don’t have reasons, so they’ll look at me crazy. I’ll tell you what happens. See, yours passed away through cancer or something like that, this is the way mines did, look at me, I’m not--
Everyone’s different, though!
No, I know that, but that’s what I would tell them to try and bring them up, lift them up. Some people say I’m too harsh, but I don’t feel like I’m harsh, I just feel like I have a better understanding of that kind of stuff. I hear people disrespecting their mothers and stuff--oh nah, nah, that’s crazy, you only get one mother. I wish I had my mother right now.
Why didn’t you want anyone to play music at the funeral?
Because that right there, that would be the sad part. There’s something about that music, I don’t know. Like right now, if they put that music on, I’ll go crazy.
Any type of music?
No! Funeral music! There’s something about that funeral music.
You don’t like it, or it’s hits somewhere deep deep down, takes you to a place you don’t want to go?
Nah, it hits something, I don’t know what it is...that funeral music.
Does it make you want to cry?
It’ll force me to cry, but the way I was brought up, why am I crying?
Do you want your kids to also have that outlook, not to cry? What if you passed away?
Then I wouldn’t want them to listen to that music either.
Would you want them to cry, though?
Nah, I wouldn’t want them to cry because I’m gone, that’s it, it’s over. Have you ever been to a funeral and seen nobody cry? A drunken funeral? What’s that? A drunken funeral is everybody drinking and there’s a body up front. You ever seen one of those?
My uncle just passed of cancer over the summer and everyone got really drunk, but only after the ceremony.
I’m sorry. What I’m saying is people be drinking before the wake, and then they end the wake with a funeral, and you never see anybody crying. And then after it becomes like a party. Then you got them funerals where people come in crying, on the floor and going crazy, but the person in the casket is not gonna get up from the casket, so you’re really just destroying yourself mentally by doing all that, ‘cause that takes a lot to do that. People start doing that and they lose their mind, that’s the end of them.
Giving in to the sadness?
Yeah, that’s how I was brought up. A person could cry for a second but you can’t keep going through that, because the person who you crying for wouldn’t want you to be going through all that. They not suffering no more, especially people who passed with cancer. They in the hospital and it’s so bad you go there every day and you look at this person and they can’t do nothing, they can’t even respond. You should just be happy that person doesn’t have to go through no more pain.
Do you think that suffering is just a natural part of the human condition?
In some way, somehow, we have to suffer. It appears how it is.
Like, the degree of the suffering?
Yes. A child could suffer when he has to study. You teach the kid, alright, if you study you can go outside, so the kid gotta study now, not to suffer, because the suffering would be if he has to sit in the house and he can’t go outside. You have to be able to move around the suffering, like what I was telling you, you have to be able to control the pain. It’s a mental thing, everything is with the mental. See, some people in jail will sit there and smoke tea thinking they high — it’s all a thought process.
I mean, do you think you’ve fully recovered from all the trauma in your life?
As far as my mother?
Yeah, I’m over that, I’m passed that. My mom passed away, she got murdered, what am I supposed to do? Smoke crack and die? There’s just a different way everybody deals with certain stuff.
When do you think violence is necessary, or under what circumstances would it be ok to commit a violent act against another person?
There are steps you can take. When you get mad about something, you can smoke a cigarette, take a walk and calm down. Your palms start getting all sweaty, you think, "Let me not think about this problem, let me walk away." You can get mad, but that’s when you end up in jail. What you’re taking in is what you’re giving out, you feel me? So once you learn how to maneuver all that, you don’t really get to the violence. Sometimes the anger is hard to control with the type stuff that goes on, the things you hear about. You ask yourself, why? Because people weren’t taking those steps, that’s why the violence happens. Violence is not necessary all the time, but it happens enough in this world. It’s bad.
Do you consider yourself a violent person?
At one point in my life, yeah. Now? I’m over it. I ask God to forgive the person, or to help me out with a situation.
Do you think that God will always forgive you for your actions?
If you ask for forgiveness, yes.
So do you think that in some ways, you’ve used this belief in the past to justify doing bad things, if God will always forgive you regardless? That just seems like a slippery slope.
No, I wouldn't use God as an excuse. You do something, you think about it, you turn around, you close your eyes, you ask God for forgiveness, and you should be forgiven.
You talk a lot about how things are mental, how things are within our control. What are your thoughts on mental illnesses? Do you think that they’re just states of mind?
Me, sometimes, I go through a lot, it gets bad — depression, stress. Some people, stress will make them want to fight. Me? I’ll eat, same thing as drugs. All that will kill you. People take drugs to relieve stress, I would eat to relieve stress; something will be on my mind, just go eat. Everybody has their own way of dealing with life. But mental illness is real bad, there are a lot of mentally ill people. Stress, bipolar, schizophrenia. You know, sometimes I be thinking people are after me, that they gonna do something to get me, that’s a mental problem, I have mental problems. I’m tryna work to get over it.
Would you ever consider taking medication?
No, I was given medication, I take medication, it helps, it’s a thought process, too — you take your medicine, and you just try to maneuver. But sometimes the medicine is not good for you, you sit down and speak to these people and they just give you anything. Test products, man, test products.
Like guinea pigs?
Yeah, like rats.
Do you think that some people are better than other people?
Some people think they are, for real, in all aspects. That’s why, when you enter certain areas, you can’t really express yourself or overcome certain things. They try to make sure there’s a boundary, but there’s always a way around that. It’ll work out.
How do you feel about the current political climate, as someone who is physically removed from it, isolated from it, but simultaneously at the epicenter of it? A black man in prison...
As far as in this square? A lot of things could be better, much, much better, I’m telling you. See, they working on things in the street, they stopped a lot of things. The new thing with the body cameras and stuff like that, that helps a lot of situations. A lot of people should wear ‘em, it would tell a different type of story. That’s what we need to push for.
Do you think that you’re here unfairly?
Unfairly? Yeah man, I could prove it too, it’s crazy. Really. They have a law that you can’t be produced in front of the grand jury with these clothes on [motioning to orange jumpsuit]. I went in front of the grand jury with these clothes and I got indicted for a crime, grand larceny. I brought it to my lawyer's attention, and I wrote to a person named Cory Johnson, and he wrote me back. He sent me the law that this wasn’t supposed to happen. My family, my people, called Cory Johnson sixty-five, seventy times, and he won’t help. All he has to do, even up to right now, is call the judge, the DA, and say that they violated my rights and work something out. Take my class E felony and drop it to an A misdemeanor, and I would come home. You know that hasn’t been done yet? For real, it's crazy. So basically, I might have to end up taking time served, or go to a program, to get a consultation.
Do you think you belong here?
Nah, not at all, especially with the violation of my rights. The judge is not listening to the laws, what’s the sense of making these laws, then?
Do you think that political systems would be more just if someone like you, someone from your background, were making the laws?
Yeah, man, I’m telling you, as soon as I get out, as soon as I get out out, there’s a lot of things I’m gonna bring up, a lot of things that I have to speak about. They not gonna like it, but I’m gonna do it, there’s nobody who’s gonna stop me from doing it. The guy that went to the army reserve with the pizza, Johnson jumped up to help him because of the media, but I wrote him, and nothing. Like later with me? Nah, I been locked up for 17 months, I could have been home but I’m sitting here. Just ‘cause of this. When you violate certain rights they have to take you in front of the grand jury. They didn’t even lower my bail, two-hundred-thousand dollars. And I have a mental illness, they don’t care. I’m telling you, they don’t care.
Do you think your predicament has to do more with the color of your skin than with the actual law?
I’m not gonna even say that, it’s just, they’re not abiding by the law. If ya’ll pass this law, a legislative law, it’s for a reason. Wearing my jumpsuit made me look guilty in front of the grand jury, and you know what’s bad about it? I have the proof that I was wearing these jail clothes in front of the jury, and nothing is being done. It’s real serious.
Do you think that you’re a product of the events in your life? Do you think you would still have this mentality that that most things are mental? That certain things, like pain, are a choice?
I’m learning every day. Every day I wake up and learn something different, I’m not stuck in my ways, I’m learning.
What’s something that you learned today? Yesterday?
How to curb certain things. It hurts, but you gotta know how.
Well, let’s talk a little bit about your music. Do you see it as a release, the same way you regard food?
Yeah, very much. It’s right here, I’m not even gonna play with it — as soon as I get out, I’m back. I got two songs right now with the biggest Jamaican artists in the world, and I was sitting right here. Once I get out, I’m back.
What’s one thing that you think music has the ability to do that nothing else has? What power does it have?
The power to help you release certain things. There are some things that I wanted to give to you and they said I couldn’t. But I’m not worried, it’ll get to you. It’s crazy. Body-cams, that’s what I’m gonna push for when I get out.
Who are you going to go to? Who are you going to rally to further your cause?
I’m gonna have to get some people together. City Hall. I need a movement behind that. Body-cams, very serious. Why would one person have one and someone else not have one? It needs to get to a point where everybody has one.
What does the word "gang" mean to you? What is a gang made of?
I would say a nation. See, some people call it gang, but a gang is only five people or more with negative thinking. A nation is a bigger group of people, a larger reality, different stages of doing positive things. When some people say "gang," I laugh at them. I don’t belong to a "gang." It’s either I answer your question, or I’ll let you think you want to think, I don’t care. It’s like somebody seeing me with a red bandana and then saying, “Oh he’s Blood!” You don’t even know me, why you ask me that question? Then they like, “What do you mean? But you have a red bandana!” Well, these scarves cost a dollar at the store. Different thoughts, but I’m past that. That’s for little kids. Little kids.
Is there a dream that you’ve had that still resonates with you?
Yeah, music. I’m telling you, you know how people talk, talk, talk? If I never do nothing in my life but my music, I gotta think about all those other people who never even got that close. Real serious. All the videos I’ve done, when I get out, they gonna be done over. That’s the dream, to sit back and watch what I’ve created, to sit back and watch my dream and think, “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing,” It feels good.
Do you think you’re a bad person?
Nah, not at all. Hated by many, loved by few.
Do you think that there are bad people in this world, though?
That’s just a way that people describe other people, everything is not bad. If you tell a child he can’t go outside, you’re the bad person, you’re the meanest person ever, but you’re telling him he can’t go outside for a reason. Everybody has their own opinions why somebody is bad or not. But I’m far from a bad person, far from it, so far away. Some person was saying, “I don’t believe I’m in this place,” and I’m like, “Damn, man, you serious? Did you ever get somebody locked up before this?” He said yeah. “Well, now you see what they be going through.” Then he agrees with me, he tells me I’m right. He need to just sit down somewhere and chill, what’s wrong with him!
So you would never put somebody in jail?
No, nah, not at all. It’s no good human-rights-wise.
Can you talk about what’s going on on the inside?
I don’t care, but I thought they said don’t? [motioning to the three armed guards lingering twenty feet away]
What’s going on in here?
Terrible stuff. It’s not for humans.
But you say that with a smile on your face!
Yeah, just because I was smiling don't mean..nah! I wish they would play with me, I’m just speaking for other people.
Not for yourself?
Yeah, for myself, but it’s like, I’m telling you, man, it’s just not for human people. It’s crazy.
Can you tell me something?
People get cut and stabbed every day.
So what do you think your role would be to your community on the inside?
To stop stuff like that.
Would you consider that senseless violence?
Yes, that’s what I’m saying, violence is no good.