The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)


March 5, 2012

‘From Prison To PH.D.’

Professor details rough childhood, homelessness, incarceration before Momentum, others at SCC

Monday, March 5, 2012 — Momentum, the Stanly Community College (SCC) Men of Color Mentoring Program, and the student government association welcomed guest speaker Dr. Nkrumah Lewis on Wednesday.

At noon Andell McCoy, counselor and coordinator of Momentum at SCC, opened up the lecture by explaining why there is a Men of Color Mentoring Program.

She then turned the event over to Lewis.

Lewis began by talking about his childhood and the abuse that he received from his father. Lewis’ youngest memories are of his father hitting him and beating his mother. He also remembers his father punching him in the face at the dinner table and calling him ugly.

One day when Lewis’ mom was being beaten he snuck away and called the police. When the police arrived his father stepped out onto the porch and the police left. At that time Lewis knew his father was the preacher, but he was unaware that he was also the magistrate.

At one point he went to a trusted teacher. The teacher quickly took him to the school’s resource officer. The officer knew who his father was so Lewis gave up on telling him.

Lewis recalled lying in bed at night listening to his mother being beat and talking to his younger brother about ways to kill his father. Lewis had gotten in trouble so his father picked up a fire poker and hit him in the back of the head with it. Lewis decided at that moment to fight back. At that point his father kicked him out of the house. He was 16 years old.

Being a homeless 16-year-old, Lewis began hanging out in a gang. Lewis spent most of his time sleeping in cars, breaking into houses that were under construction and hanging out in the projects. Desperate to have money, he started selling powder cocaine and heroin.

The gang started robbing people and shooting at the police. Lewis even witnessed a fellow gang member kill himself. Not everything in Lewis’ life was bad. At 17 he graduated from high school with honors and then joined the Marines. When he graduated from boot camp, his parents showed up and all he could think about was how much he wanted to kill his father.

Lewis was stationed at Camp Lejeune and was then arrested after being accused of killing a man in Kinston. Lewis explained the process of being arrested and the humiliation he felt.

“There is nothing manly about prison and having to spread your cheeks for another man to check for weapons,” Lewis said before a packed auditorium at SCC.

Held in a maximum security prison, on one side of his cell was a man who had killed a lot of children and on the other side was a man that had caught his wife cheating, killed her and beheaded his best friend.

He recalled the sounds that he heard while in prison.

During his stay in prison, many of the inmates passed Lewis books and he was able to apply to college.

After a ballistics test proved he was innocent in the shooting he was released from the prison. After being released he still faced charges of robbery in four different counties. He had to face 65 charges in Orange County alone. His cousin took full responsibility on many of the charges because Lewis had a baby on the way and he had gotten into college.

By the time Lewis was done facing the charges, his son had been born. He asked the mother of his child if he could have custody and she agreed. In the fall of that year he started college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His son lived with him in the residence halls on campus.

Lewis, now a sociology professor at Winston-Salem State University, discusses all of these topics in his novel “Becoming a Bufferfly: From Prison to PhD.”

Lewis believes this novel is about forgiving.

“Sometimes you have to be the bigger person, so that you can have closure,” Lewis said.

Lewis continues to talk to churches, civic organizations, schools and prisons to deliver his mission. He believes it is his destiny to help others.

“There are so many things in society that bother me. Ph.D. isn’t the end for me. If someone is in a gang or being abused, then there is still something for me to do,” Lewis said.  

The novel can be purchased online or in most bookstores. Lewis said his book is written in the stages of a butterfly and how a person transforms. Lewis also explained how he doesn’t hold anything back in the book.

“This book is me being naked for everybody.”

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