Open-heart surgery is one of the most serious operations in the medical field. Its life-threatening possibilities were not something my dad was willing to consider last week as my grandfather entered Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. Tough calls could have been inevitable for my father, as his own dad endured six long hours of surgery. Yet, we sat together in the family waiting area with as much hope and fortitude as we could muster, contemplating the obvious: Life often throws curve balls we can’t plan for fully. Sure, we can mentally attempt to prepare, but sometimes a tough call is just that: a tough call.
Written by Will Jones and co-authored by Bob Dixon, such a topic gets explored exponentially and in grave circumstances unlike many can comprehend in the book “A Tough Call.” Though its topic heavily encompasses street life, its words found a relationship within my own circumstance last week. Its central theme aims to show readers to appreciate life, and thankfully for both parties at hand, my grandfather and the author, the outcome is worth celebrating.
In the book, Jones narrates the days before he was shot at nearby Delaware State University by the hands of a neighboring gang. A football player from the south side of St. Petersburg, Florida, who earned a football scholarship, Jones gets accustomed to life on the streets as he witnesses firsthand the deadly South St. Petersburg riots in October of 1996. He recounts for readers the hardship of working to gain a better life and the thrill of chasing the dream to play in the NFL. His hopes ride on the team’s star receiver, Dashaun Morris, also known as “Machete,” who gains national attention from recruiters. Everything changes during an off campus incident, when Jones and some of his teammates answer the call to help a friend in the middle of a gang confrontation. There, words are exchanged and a gun is brought into the mix. On Machete’s orders, Jones is shot nine times and left for dead.
Six years later, Machete sheds his skin, his former nickname, embraces redemption and is out of prison with a book deal from a well-known publisher (“War of the Bloods in My Veins”; see encore Vol. 27, Pub. 29, June 15, 2011). Jones is still fighting for recovery; he must face more than the physical wounds that the bullets left behind. He’s angry, frustrated and continues battling inner demons that encircle revenge, all to find peace in life once more. Herein lies where “A Tough Call” shines. It is a true story of acceptance, inspiration and forgiveness, as one’s dreams are violently and senselessly stripped away
“Writing the book was like a roller coaster,” Jones says. “I had a lot of years of frustration, and so many things were on my mind while I was recovering. Writing my story was therapeutic more than anything I’ve experienced. I wrote 3,000 words a day and focused on being honest.”
Even through Jones’ commitment to remain forthright in his writing, a sense of hesitation still engulfs his words. While the names featured and the places mentioned are real and have not been changed, there are many areas where Jones holds back, both in feeling and perception. It’s a move he acknowledges whole-heartedly and explains its purpose.
“Some things are meant to be taken to the grave,” Jones says. “I don’t think I did the reader an injustice by keeping some things to myself. It’s just a decision I made as a writer. Others may not do the same with their life story, but I made the choice to do it.”
Motivational speaker, freelance artist, author and full-time dad of three, Jones says that no matter what walk of life one is from, everyone can take something away from his book. That something is the important, priceless reminder that life is short and throws hard decisions in every direction; still, it’s the choices we make that ultimately define our existence. Last year, Jones spoke at over 20 events; today he aims to bring his message of peace to North Carolina’s youth.
“When I went to speak for the first time, it became natural,” he explains. “I knew it’s what I wanted to continue to do. Getting shot hurts, burns and it’s not glamorous. Someone may not relate to the gang-banging part of my book or the street aspects, but there are other [relatable] aspects.”
At the end of the day, the reminder that no one is perfect becomes the mantra. “Anyone can be used,” Jones notes. “Anyone can make mistakes and anyone can forgive. In this life, on this Earth, every person has an experience. Wherever you’re at in your life, a negative place or a positive one, you have decisions to make. You will have tough calls. You can find freedom by letting go.”
Currently, working on a second book tentatively titled “A Final Call,” Jones has taken his traumatic experience as a call to influence others in hopes one less family will have to feel the effects of gang violence as his family has. Most inspirationally, this year Jones will celebrate his seventh anniversary of survival.