Ghetto Game: Lessons from a Convict

(Crystal A. Proxmire)


Robert Dickerson was 23 years old when he was kidnapped by rival gang members, shot six times, and was eventually sent to prison for possession of 5 kilos of cocaine, which  had led up to the kidnapping.  He grew up in Highland Park and says that is just how life was in his youth – plagued with gangs, crime, drugs and violence that were impossible to escape – until he went to prison.


He spent sixteen years locked up behind bars, in places where the choice is even harder between being a good man and being a criminal. It took years of counseling and watching other young people making the same mistakes as he had – over and over -  before he began to accept the fact that he could return to the outside world without falling back into the same traps.  When he was given parole in 2000 he was determined to turn his life around. He got a job at Western Market, where he’s been for nearly ten years.  He is a proud father, a hard worker and a good friend those who know him.  People are surprised to hear of his past, but he feels important to talk about it.


“I want to show kids that might be in trouble that it’s not worth it.  They can stay in school, work hard, stay away from drugs and have good lives.  I got shot six times.  I was in prison.  They don’t want to do that.  Believe me,” he said.


Dickerson wrote a poem in the last years of his incarceration, in which he speaks to the youth he would like to reach.  He wanted to share this poem with the community so that people can realize that kids can get in trouble and we need to look out for them.  He also wanted to show that people can change and deserved second chances.  “I’m really lucky they got me a job here,” he says of his bosses Steve and Tony Selvaggio of Western Market.  “They believed in me and gave me this job and I’ve been able to make it.” 


He sends this message to anyone who think that drugs and gangs are a good decision:


The Ghetto Game

(Robert Dickerson)




It’s the new kid on the block, let me introduce myself.  My name is 19066-039 and I am coming to you live from F.C.I. McKean Prison.  And your name is, nice to meet you, let it stay that way.  Before you think about stepping into my world, ask yourself two questions:


Can I survive 20 or 30 years in prison?

or will I escape death in the ghetto game?


In this game we play for keeps.  Either you’re in or you’re out.  “STAY OUT.” Believe me it’s a hard price to play with your life.  You live day by day in this game, and tomorrow isn’t promised to you.


Let me be the first to tell you there is no winner here in this ghetto game.  We all know that guns and drugs kill, and ask yourself what do we get out of it?  I will tell you, Death or Prison, what a life, right?  You play, you loose, remember no one can win in the ghetto game.  The only winner in this ghetto game is the police and the funeral home.  They both have something in common and you will never have to worry about cash.  It’s your first free ride, either to prison or to your grave.


Now tell me is it worth all the trouble just to be seen in a fancy car, nice clothes, and jewelry. NOOP!  I don’t think so my Brothers and Sisters.  Stay sucker free; let education be your get high, and let that book be your weapon of knowledge.  Stay Strong!


~Robert Dickerson