Marvin Ellison once roamed the streets of New Jersey a criminal. Forced into the street life at the age of nine, he quickly adapted to the ways of his world and ended up behind bars. After 33 years, 20 weeks and 9 days, he served his time and was released to society. Rather than sit on his hands or return to a life of crime, Mr. Ellison became an author and wrote hsi first novel, The Cookie Strolls, a fictional cautionary tale depicting how women get caught up in the street life, with characters based on real people from Ellison’s past. Planet Ill sat down with Marvin to talk streets, the consequences of criminality and how to move on beyond it.
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Planet ill: How did you initially get involved in a life of crime? What was your entry point?
Marvin Ellison: My entry point was at the age of nine. I lived in the projects in Newark, NJ. The gang that controlled the area back then was called the Don Juans and the building that my family lived in was 88 South Street, was the headquarters for the Junior Don Juans.
In order to get in and out of these buildings, quite naturally, you have to have contact with the gang members. I was asthmatic at the time and also scared of them. I would never go into the building; I would just wait outside and my sister and them would come and get me and bring me inside the building. They got tired of going in an out just to let me in so the [Don Juan’s] leader, who was Chester Williams, he asked me was I scared of him, and the expression on my face showed him I was.
He said, “You don’t have to be scared of me.” So he introduced me to everybody, told them anybody mess with me, he would cause them a problem and also if they see me in trouble or anything they would have to help me or he would cause them a problem: basically he said he’d fuck them up. So that was the first entry into that kind of lifestyle.
When I was like nine, he gave me a gun to go kill a guy who was supposed to have been an informant. I fired the gun three times and no bullet came out because actually it was simply a test to see if I would do it. And me and the individual I was supposed to kill at the age of nine will have a problem for the rest of our lives.
He was older than me but we just had a problem. When we went to a party I actually got a knife and tried to kill him because I thought that he was going to kill me. We just always had a problem; that friction. For instance when I was in Trenton, we’re adults now, and I had met this sister and eh would talk to her sister and she asked him did he know me and he would always say for the rest of our lives, basically, Yeah, he tried to kill me when he was young.”
Planet Ill: If you’re talking about an entry point of nine, that’s not really a choice…
Marvin Ellison: No, not really. Because when I was eight, my first mentor’s name was Peter. Some guys went in his house, apartment in the projects and robbed him. He refused to give up the keys to his car; he had just bought a car… and they shot him three times. That was the first positive mentor that I had. All after that was negative.
Planet Ill: Once you take that leap, once you decide you were in, did you ever waver from that?
Marvin Ellison: No. Actually the leader of the [Don Juan] Seniors, Eddie Baker, he was the one that use to take me around to the different areas where they controlled and would say this is yours, this is yours. He gave me my first territory which was a drug area at Morrison Avenue and 16th Avenue. That was where the heroin addicts congregated and here I was at the age of nine, making people pay me to be where they be at anyway.
Eddie told me that Peter died a man. He said if somebody got a gun to your head, it’s their decision whether or not to kill you. It’s your decision whether or not you die like a man. Always die a man.
Planet Ill: How did you end up getting arrested?
Marvin Ellison: I got arrested numerous times. Basically I became more criminally inclined. It was related to drug territory. I was going up to New York at the age of 11, buying firecrackers, having people sell firecrackers for me at the age of 11 so that was my normal.
So the first time an individual came into the store, a grocery store called Mr. Singer’s, to rob the store. Being young and crazy, I jumped up on a chair and said, “Motherfucker you can’t kill me, shoot me in the chest!” Other kids was on the floor. I said get up man, fuck him. He’s the one that killed Peter. So we started throwing stuff at him and the guy ran out the store and I chased him; ran after him out the store.
I had an asthma attack, so when I came to, my sister and everybody was surrounded me like boy what you doing chasing that man out the store?” We cause so much damage to the store I was quite sure the man would have preferred we just let him rob him because we broke up so much stuff throwing it at the guy.
But that’s how things can become real in a kid’s head; not necessarily invincibility but fearlessness. And every time I was confronted with those kinds of situations, I was like if you kill me, I’m dead. Otherwise, I just don’t give a fuck. That was something that just let me figure out my life.
Planet Ill: Once you get behind the prison walls, it’s a different story. The animal that survives on the streets, how does it become the animal that survives in prison?
Marvin Ellison: You don’t become an animal but you become more violent so that you can control and survive in a violent environment. My first time in a youth house, they put the cuffs on my but the cuffs wouldn’t fit. The police said if you leave them on him he’ll grow into them, basically.
In there, you slept on cots. I didn’t know how to make the cot and the guy was hollering stuff at me, the counselors. I couldn’t figure out how to get into the room so this white kid showed me how to open up the cot. I was always of the mindset, this is how we did it back then, you always declare things. Your name is John Doe, you’re from such and such and this is yours. So if you have a problem and there is repercussions, a person can’t say they didn’t know who you were.
So the next day, in the day room, I stood up on the table and said, “All you motherfuckers listen up. My name is Marvin Ellison from Newark, I live on Pisner street. From now on, this is my territory. I don’t give a fuck about man woman or child.”
[I pointed to] the white kid I said, “This is my friend, don’t nobody fuck with him, you fuck with him you fuck with me.” Basically we just took over the youth house. So the counselors went to the court and said that they couldn’t control us; we had took over the youth house. And they released us because they weren’t able to control us. So that was my first experience with the Justice System. But I never went in as a victim. I always declared, “This is mine.”
Planet Ill: How do you survive once you’re in prison?
Marvin Ellison: There’s typically a progression of who you are. From my travels I knew a lot of people. They put me out of school. I was going to Oliver Street School, they sent me to another school. I used to charge the teachers to park their cars, if they didn’t want anything to happen to their cars.
When I went to the principal to try the same kind of thing she had enough of me and her husband worked at the board of education, so they arranged for me to be transferred to a school called Woodland, for so-called incorrigibles. That was the school here I met all my lifelong partners in crime because they had all been to jail and so forth. So when I first ended up at Jamesburg, it wasn’t like a quantum leap, I just knew so many people.
I was a young, violent kid, so I was never the victim. It didn’t matter where I was at. You make your little declarations and all that. If I felt I was scared of someone, I would fight them. So I would never have fear of anyone; it just wasn’t part of my psyche.
Marvin Ellison: I’m a fluid person. I fast forward to 2014. I never carried nobody’s flag, so therefore I’ve always been a fluid and flexible person. That was a conversation I was having with one of my former female workers who had caught a case with me. She was trying to have me to have this great concern for a lot of different people and I said I had no problem as far as helping kids, but as far as adults, they made certain decisions.
I’m 64 so therefore I don’t have the latitude of life expectancy to be caught up in trying to re-raise grown people that made decisions that put them in their circumstances and for the most part they have acclimated to their circumstances. If a person can walk up and down the street begging for change, they can walk up and down the supermarket with a broom. They would sweep and they would have an income and would definitely get better financial results with employment as opposed to being a beggar.
So if I can come out of prison after 33 years 9 months and 20 days and keep it moving and they were never incarcerated, they are stuck; it’s not my problem. So I don’t have no problem with the changes of time and the void of time while I was gone. I can’t make that up. It’s nothing I can do about that. I can only step from this point forward.
Planet Ill: You’re an author now. Was that something you thought about while you were behind bars?
Marvin Ellison: One of the persons that had great influence in my life is my sister, whose husband killed her and killed himself. So to a great extent I wanted to live my life and try to do things that she was inclined and wanted to do. And also when I was in Rahway prison, I was a member of the Lifer’s Group.
A lot of young kids they do stupid things and they really don’t know the consequences of those things and it made me mindful of all the crazy stuff that I did as a kid, not knowing the consequences of the things that I did.
Planet Ill: Tell us about your book
Marvin Ellison: The book came about because a lot of authors write from other people’s stories with no experience from themselves so they really can’t give you the nuts and bolts because it wasn’t their lifestyle. They reference somebody who referenced somebody.
I give the full gamut of whatever the book topic is and The Cookie Strolls is basically how females get caught up in the sex industry, be it pornography, be it prostitution, be it the corner, you know, somebody turned them out through crack or the welfare system, whatever.
Also to show the individuals that are impressed with pimping that actually you’re not pimping because in the corporate world, or even above the corporate world, the government, they change culture.
You can create a mindset and a value for something that’s utterly ridiculous simply because if you reinforce something long enough, people will acclimate to it and think that it is essential; that they can’t throw their garbage away without a garbage bag from Hefty. It’s the same thing with pimping. You convince a female that the relationship and her survival is essential. That she has to go out there and sell her body and give you the money because you are the provider and the great protector who will do all of these wonderful things for her.
Hugh Heffner. Did he ever have a job? No he did not. Where did his empire come from? Pimping from a different perspective than a guy on the corner but still pimping.
Planet Ill: Any last thoughts that you want to leave the listeners?
Marvin Ellison: Well I would appreciate it if they buy the book and they get a different perspective on the things that they are attracted to. Most serial killers prey on prostitutes because they have no value for them. Society has no value for them whereas if someone was snatching up housewives and doing those kinds of things it wouldn’t be tolerated. But in the same breath, how do they end up in those kinds of circumstances? Because somebody duped them into it due to their financial circumstances at any particular time.
Why would you want to be a pimp a opposed to Mark Zuckerberg? As opposed to Bill Gates? It’s all about your values and your personal aspirations. You can be a replication or a pawn, or you can become the king.