Hollywood, California, Hollywood, Florida, and Hollywood Street. The only thing that each of these has in common is the name HOLLYWOOD. Many years ago, two boys who grew up on a street named HOLLYWOOD, two doors from each other, who attended the same elementary, Jr. and High schools, played sports together and graduated together but their stellar performance was not HOLLYWOOD bound. Both had bright futures and yes, they were young, gifted, and black. But something happened. They both had promising futures in sports and excelled at the college level. Those individuals were Pastor William Tony Thomas, who matriculated through the doors at Bishop College in Dallas, Tx. and succeeded in Football, and Ralph Darrell Warren, who attended the University of Toledo and excelled in Track and Field.
But what makes this story relevant, significant, and noteworthy, is not that you have men who have won championship rings in their field, and became known to the world for their athleticism, rather became Kingpins in a field that ultimately separated them from people who loved them and admired them for all of the right reasons. Somehow, the right reasons in these men's lives became interfered with and the wrong reasons would override and dictate where they went and what they would do that changed their lives and the people who loved them.
DRUGS! Some defines them as therapeutic chemicals, others define them as narcotics, while yet others define them as an overabundant commodity. Regardless of one's definition, the results for these men became destructive and devastation.
TONY THOMAS at the time, became addicted to HEROIN and "states that his life spiraled out of control for many years . I got involved in selling and began to use and no longer sold. For the 15 years that I used, I only spent 6 days in jail. I begin to go in and out of functions in life dysfunctional. In his explanation of where he was then and how he was pulled into the life of drugs, he stated that he was addicted to immediate gratification, where am I going to get the next drugs from; a criminal life was more attractive to me than God at the time". He moved away to San Diego, Ca. for 15 years where he was connected to Dr. McKinney. He states that this was the best years of his life. He returned to Toledo after familial pressures dictated a return back where he remains today. Now Pastor Tony, who founded the St. Stephens C. O. G. I. C. 12 years ago, states that he is concerned about what is not happening in the Toledo community regarding the DRUG epidemic, particularly the faith based community. He expresses much concern for the apathy that is shown and extends a helping hand to churches and groups to assist them in providing training, counseling, and support to families in their churches, as to how to cope and become proactive in seeking help for family members who may experience addiction. Pastor Tony has a Master's degree in Clinical Counseling and is licensed as a Marriage Counselor. Academically, Pastor is prepared to assist.
Fast forwarding, November, 2016, President Barack Obama bestowed upon Pastor Tony Thomas his Lifetime Achievement Award for his commitment to the field of Mental Health, as an overcomer, a dedicated professional, an author on the subject, and lifetime cadre in the area of drugs and recovery. Pastor Thomas takes pride in the fact that he and his childhood friend once again crossed paths after all of the vicissitudes that each of them had encountered. He shares the experience of being his childhood friend's first visitor in prison after 19 years and how he expressed no desire for him to become "mushy". Both of which got a laugh over this. He shared that he has high hopes as they plan to tour locally, statewide and even nationally, sharing their story and their vision for hope, recovery, and MIRACLES for those embattled with the drug epidemic.
And so the road sends RALPH DARRELL WARREN traveling to a campus less than a mile from his home on HOLLYWOOD, that is yet 2 doors down the street from his friend, Tony. With the new life ahead of Ralph, he shares that he embarks upon a different world of achieving at a level in which the sky for him really was the limit. He is still athletically sound. BUT, he somehow gets another look at life that seems to send him into a tail spin that never seems to slow down, rather it speeds up and ends in tragedy. Well, Ralph uses his athleticism at University of Toledo to place him in a position to get noticed by career talent scouts, who knew just what they were looking for in a young, gifted, and possibly Black track and field star. But somehow, something happened that changed Ralph's outlook on his future that sent him into a downward spiral. He saw money but the money didn't come through hard working physically, it came through the mental, mind games of figuring out how not to get caught passing DRUGS. Yes, DRUGS.
Ralph is now in his third year at the University of Toledo and he is not only not focused on school and finishing the year out, he is focused on how to get more money for what he has no idea about that is getting ready to run out. He does not partake of what he distributes, rather he sells it and becomes known as a KINGPIN! With all of Ralph's abilities, he still believed that he would not get caught. But he becomes a target. In his own mind, he realizes that due to the perception of who he was on the streets, he knew the day would find him getting caught and captured. He did. Ralph gets arrested and states in this interview that he was given 2 life sentences. However, because he believes that the Lord was on his side, he was preserved and given another opportunity to seek new life. He served 27 years and 5 months in prison in Marion, Illinois. As Ralph fast forwards to the last few years of his sentence, he was blessed to remember that his time in prison was for a bigger purpose. He spent time in prison working on his memoirs because he has a lot to say about his life, past, present, and future.
In 2009, attempts began to take place with family, attorney, and yes friend, TONY, to get him evaluated for an earlier release. Well, it did not happen then. Again it came in 2011, it did not happen. But in 2013, the attempts seemingly took on another approach with a bit more momentum that sprang into positive action for him. While waiting, Ralph was anxiously preparing and assisting other inmates in their cases but nothing was happening YET for him. Ralph said no matter the situation, he never gave up because he new that people were for him and even more than that, God had kept him through all of this.
Somebody told me to never give up he states. It was my mother, family and friend, yes TONY, who has stood by him from day 1 of his incarceration. Ralph fast forwards to 2017. While other inmates had been reporting to the office only to be turned down for early release, he gets his number called to report. Ralph stated that he enters the office anxiously, stomach filled with butterflies, and the thoughts that he would be the next one turned down for early release. Well, his entrance in the office seems to be a bit different from the usual, he is invited to take a seat, he sits looking at the faces of the prison staff who eventually says that "someone is on the phone to speak with you". It was his Attorney, Marc Jacobs who quickly gets to this statement: RALPH YOU ARE COMING HOME!
HOME, yes HOME! He remembers forgetting how to act, not knowing how to act with the news but he is so enthralled with the great news and hugs from staff, that he skips all the way back to his cell. He is told that YOU HAVE BEEN PARDONED BY THE PRESIDENT! Executive Clemency was granted to him signed by President Barack Obama on January 17, 2017. He walked out of the prison doors 3 weeks later. Preparing to send his property home, he remembers being embarrassed due to sending them to the wrong address, lol. Ralph is home, finally. He states that he is so determined to show his appreciation for another chance/blessing at life, that he is determined to give back at any cost because of what was done for him. Ralph is available to speak and share his story to those who need and want to hear it.
Both Pastor TONY and RALPH are Authors and are looking forward to touring, speaking and sharing their life story, that THERE ARE TWO SIDES OF THE DRUG TRADE, Captivity and Miracles! And the rest of this story is not just that we celebrate these men of God, rather MIRACLES DO HAPPEN and they are TOGETHER AGAIN