South Philly native Antonne Jones conquered his own demons to become an accomplished author whose latest book chronicles the worst mass murder in Philly history.
Weeks after Antonne Jones' third book and documentary DVD, "The Lex Street Massacre," was released June 18, an interview with one of the four convicted killers serving a life term came through -- proving timing is indeed everything.
As the 35-year-old sat across from Shihean Black, formerly of 17th and Siegel streets and now incarcerated at SCI Greene Prison in Waynesburg, he asked the 25-year-old if he was sorry for what he had done. His face cradled in his hand, Black slowly shook his head "no."
Jones' interview with Black will appear in the next printing.
The worst mass murder in Philadelphia history is chronicled in chilling detail -- from the night it happened, to the wrongful imprisonment of four men, to the trial's conclusion when the real killers were brought to justice -- in Jones' latest book.
It wasn't a macabre fascination with the killings, but a personal history of crime and drugs that influenced, in part, the author's decision to tackle the story. "I was that 15-year-old kid in that house," he said of teenage victim Malik Harris. "I saw myself in that."
The sensitivity needed in writing about the Lex Street massacre did not intimidate Jones. "One of the challenges for me was to remain neutral and not allow my personal feelings to overshadow the facts and become persuasive. I didn't want to play the blame game or become dogmatic toward anyone that was involved. It was and still is a very emotional and tragic story, so I took extreme precaution when writing the book and producing the documentary," he said.
The journey started for Jones -- who spent his life in South Philly before moving to Fairmount last year -- decades ago.
C.P. Mirarchi 3d, an attorney who helped Jones with the book, and the author got to know each other some 12 years ago, and not under the most idyllic circumstances.
While attending Roman Catholic High School in the late 1980s, Jones fell in with the wrong crowd. Discounting peer pressure, Jones said his bad decisions were solely his own and he knew exactly what he was doing. "I was a good kid who got temporarily derailed. I was a bad kid who became a good kid again," the writer said.
Jones began selling and using drugs and even did court-ordered rehab in the now-defunct Mount Sinai, formerly of Fourth and Reed streets. Arrested three times, in '91 he was nabbed for trafficking in Delaware. After making bail, he missed upcoming court dates, which rendered him a fugitive.
But, as if leading a double life, Jones was pursuing an education while pushing, he said. Majoring in criminal justice, he spent close to two years in college at three different institutions, University of Akron, Arkansas State and Cheyney, but never graduated.
In '95, he decided to get clean, a move inspired by the birth of his first daughter, Shatora, now 16. Daughter Amani, 11, and wife Tamara round out the family. "That was my golden girl," he says of his first born. "I really wanted to make changes. I was tired of living like that. It wasn't progressive. I knew I had a lot more intelligence than that and I wanted to be around to see my daughter grow up."
Jones got a job with Home Depot on Columbus Boulevard. But soon his past caught up with him. One day, two South Detectives showed up at his work. Allowing some dignity, they did not cuff the fugitive, but quietly led him off the premises, Jones said. "It was very embarrassing. I was actually a very good employee," he added.
In need of representation, Jones found Mirarchi through an ad in the Review.
The attorney got his client a year non-reporting probation. Commenting on the young man shaping up, the attorney said, "He's an example of what you can do if you say, 'I rethink this and want to change my life,'" Mirarchi said.
In '97, Jones wrote his first book, "The Family -- A Philadelphia Mob Story" and published it two years later. "The Family II" was written in 2004 and published the following year. Despite their "Godfather"-like titles, the books actually chronicle the black mafia that rose at 20th and Carpenter streets in the '60s and '70s, Jones said. Though fictional, the books are based in truth and are still required reading in many junior high and high schools in the state, Jones added. To date, both have sold more than 150,000 copies.
As far as his position as a one-time delinquent turned successful entrepreneur, Jones is modest. "I do not feel as though I am a role model, but rather a person who turned a negative situation into a positive. As an imperfect person, I do not feel as though I qualify for such a lofty title," he said.