Interview with Tony Drummond

by Jeffrey Hillard
June 2008


What was the ordeal earlier in your life that actually landed you in prison?

What landed me in prison was the fact that I was addicted to money. I was what you would call an identity theft person. I was well-educated and raised by my mother and father. What I did was steal persons’ credit card numbers and other I.D.’s. Back then, it was so easy, that was the thing. Companies didn’t have the security measures that they have in place now. I would look in garbage cans and find a person’s social security number and other forms of I.D.

I’m not from around Ohio. I’m from Decatur, Georgia. Yet I did these things in Georgia, Tennessee, and Ohio. I went to prisons in these three states. The first time I ever stole an I.D. was when I found a blank check; I wrote it and cashed it. I thought how easy it was. I just continued and continued and continued until I had about $800,000, two warehouses where I was sending my stuff to. I had two wives and a girlfriend, and I thought I was rolling. But I was doing nothing. Everytime I turned around I was in the penitentiary. But they couldn’t keep me long, so I thought I was alright doing six months here, six months there, and six months here.

But it just continued to get worse?

That’s right. Then I got arrested for identity theft, and I was looking at 20 years. I think that’s what woke me up. I ended up getting three years. So, when I went to the penitentiary this last time, I found the Lord. Nothing else worked for me. I had a lot of money at one time, but I never was happy. But I got happy in the penitentiary that one time; I said, “I’ve never been as happy as this in my whole life.” That is, once I discovered who the Lord was. I was going to church, I was reading the Bible, and I had the sense that I was so happy. It was the Lord. I kept that straight and narrow. I slipped a little here and there in the penitentiary, but I kept that straight and narrow until I got out.

A lot happened during that time, didn’t it?

Yes. When I got out of the penitentiary, I lost both of my wives and my girlfriend. Everyone had deserted me, because my money was gone. All I had were two of my kids – my others were grown. So I ended up going to a halfway house. Most of my family is in the South. So I went to this halfway house for 90 days called the V.O.A. I started working at a temporary service.

I worked hard. I paid my fees at the halfway house. I tried to save money to move. I jumped into the Fresh Start – independent living – program. My 89th day I had enough money to pay my rent, but I didn’t have enough for a deposit – a downpayment. So, the program that I was in told me that if I paid the rent, they would pay the deposit I needed to pay. So, I went to this lady; I was getting to move. But there was a problem. See, this was on my 89th day. I said, “I found an apartment and I have my first month’s rent. Can you pay my deposit?” She said, “See, if we had gotten this apartment, then we could have done that. But since you went out and got the apartment on your own, we can’t pay that deposit.”

I thought, “Oh, no. Oh my God.” So, I went to these people at Over-the-Rhine (Cincinnati) community housing and talked to a lady. I begged her. I said, “Look, I’m at this halfway house. I have to be out of there by 9:00 in the morning. I got my first month’s rent. Can you work with me on my deposit?”

At first, she outright said no. Then she looked through my records. I went back that night, I laid there, and I prayed. I went back to the community housing the next morning. At 8:45 a.m., she came to work early that day. She saw me standing outside. She said, “I already told you no.” I said, “Miss, I need somewhere to stay. If I don’t get somewhere to stay, I’m going to have to go to The Drop-In Center. I don’t want to do that.” She called me in, and we sat down to talk. She talked to her manager. She got me into that community housing. Once I was in there, I was good. I worked. I had a chef’s job across the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. I was doing very good.

You felt things had totally changed for the better. You were overjoyed, right?

That’s right. But then, suddenly, I got sick. My mother was telling me, “Keep your faith. Keep doing what you are doing.” I got blood clots in this leg. I had to stop working. I had surgery on this leg. I thought I’d go back to work just after the surgery. Well, it didn’t happen like that. My leg worsened. A surgeon had to take my toe off first. But my leg didn’t heal. Then, they amputated my foot. And after that, my leg swelled up  a great deal, vessels burst. So, I had to have all my leg removed below my knee. But, you know, I never stopped believing in God. I kept praying. I thought, “I have got to be going through all of this for a purpose. There’s got to be a reason why I’m going through this.” I prayed and prayed. I could have gone back to doing credit card theft. But I wouldn’t go back. I said, “I’m staying strong, because the Lord has something for me.”

You were still on a new path, basically?

Yes, and this is what occurred to me: I was very different now. Felt and acted so differently. So, what I did was go to Washington Park and talk to guys there, many had been through the system like me. They had gotten out of prison, been through the programs, and the programs hadn’t done anything for them. I would tell them different places to go, and two were successful at it. That made me feel good. Then I ran into De’Ron Smith. I decided I wanted to do social work to kind of show these guys what to do. I didn’t want anybody going through what I had gone through. I knew that if they slipped, they wouldn’t be as strong as I was. In fact, I could have slipped and easily have gone right back to prison. So, I enrolled in a computer program. Now I am enrolled in Cincinnati State University. I am moving toward a degree in social work.

You mentioned you are originally from Decatur, Georgia. How did you make it all the way to Ohio?

Theft really brought me up here. I was at this mall in Florence, Kentucky where it was so easy to buy credit card stuff. So I got a warehouse in Cincinnati. I ordered things over the phone from Florence, and took it to my warehouse. That’s how I found my girlfriend. I was running a game.

You mentioned that while you were inside, you found a new life in the Lord. Did you walk into that discovery blindly, or were there inmates in any of the institutions to help you make that discovery?

There were several people in the institutions. It had to do with the people you hung around with inside. It’s just like out here in society. You got bad crowds here, and you have good people. The people inside that I hung around with were taking college courses mostly. And those folks were going to church. So, I went with them to church on Sundays. I read my Bible a lot. There was an inmate once who preached. I was moved. I saw something in him as he preached. As soon as I went back and read my Bible, I just got so happy. I had never been that happy before. Matter of fact, it scared me, being that happy all the sudden. But, there I was.

There are so many games inmates play in prison; we know that’s a reality. How did you know that the guys you were with who were positive and pro-active were the real guys. How did you know the difference?

Well, you really don’t know. As long as you’re inside with them, you realize that they are going by what they’re saying. But once they are released, of course you never really know. That feeling has to be within you. It has to be you who know what you want.  

Could you reflect for a moment on any change or changes you would like to see in prisons, given the incarceration experience you’d had? Is there anything in  the way prisons are handled that you’d like to see changed?

They say that prison is supposed to be for rehabilitation. Well, prison needs to be made rehabilitation centered. Guys need something to do. Guys have way too much time. If you have too much time, you are either going to go the right way or the wrong way. You can figure out all the things going the wrong way with all that time, with your idle mind. Maybe prisons could add or increase skills workshops – have guys learn to cook, learn to build things, or generally get them to move their minds more.

You have amazing goals right now: mentoring others, college, advancing toward a career. Are there any other goals you might have?

What’s in my heart right now is that I want to help people. I want to make a difference in someone’s life who comes from where I come from. I want to be somewhere where I can help someone turn his life around.

Tony Drummond

Tony Drummond