Tweet of the Week, Vol. 12 – Tony Lewis Jr. thinks of his dad

In which I highlight local tweets and analyze why they’re important relevant.

It only took three words. Tuesday morning, community activist Tony Lewis Jr., reminded his followers of a date that lives in personal infamy for him  and looms large in D.C. history. “Area Sweep Nabs Alleged Drug Leaders; Federal, D.C. Forces Conduct Joint Raids,” the front page of the Washington Post read on April 15, 1989. One of the men that went to jail that day was Tony Lewis, the now lesser publicized criminal who ran a massive city drug cartel with Rayful Edmond, probably the most famous drug criminal in the District’s history. The link in the tweet goes to the story.

“The men’s arrests were the result of a two-year joint investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and D.C. police,” The Post reported that day.

“Sources alleged that the combined drug network of Edmond and Lewis employs more than 150 people and brings as much as 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of nearly pure cocaine into the District in a week, and that much of it is supplied by the violent Crips drug gang, based in Los Angeles.

Edmond, who law enforcement sources alleged used family ties and longtime associations to build one of the city’s largest wholesale and retail cocaine businesses, was said to control many of the retail street markets in the Trinidad/Orleans Place neighborhoods.”

Those familiar with “Little Tony,” now 33, know the tale. A young kid who knew his father as the regular dad who picked him up in fancy cars, had him ripped away as a child, and hasn’t seen him a free man since. Tony now works as an ex-offender counselor and does an array of outreach work.

But Tuesday, was a tough day. He talked candidly about it in an afternoon conversation.

“It’s days like this that really present a true reality check. It causes you to reflect, I mean, it takes me back to when I was a little boy, and when like, when it happened. Those kind of things are forever etched in your memory,” Lewis, a graduate of Gonzaga College High School and the University of the District of Columbia said. “I think you subconsciously try not to think about those times. Because it can really get you. It can get you depressed, honestly.”

His tone reflected as such. He’s now older than his father, now 51, was when he went to jail. He had a daughter, Isabella, 6 months ago, his second since his first died minutes after birth in 2007.  Lewis took her up to see her grandfather for the first time on Saturday. “It was definitely bittersweet, but much more sweet than bitter. To see them interact. He just sees her through pictures, and he calls, and she hears his voice, but it was amazing just to see them interact. It was a very cool day for us,” Lewis said.

But the world is so different than the one his father left.

“It’s hard day. It’s just difficult. Especially because my dad doesn’t have a release date. He has a life sentence. But when you get to these milestones, then 10 years, the 15 years, the 20 years and the 25-year? You know what I mean? That’s a quarter century man. That’s a long time,” said Lewis, who is holding an event called “Collateral Damage” which features portraits of the family members of incarcerated people later this month. “It makes you think about all that’s transpired, all that he’s missed.”

Everyone knows what he’s missed. The place that authorities said was the center of their drug operation in the 400 block of M St. NE, is now a three story row house with gilded railing and a private entry basement unit — with iron bars still on the door. Down the street from the semi-bustling First St. NE in NoMa, it’s on one of those blocks that gentrified quietly. On a rainy afternoon, the only commerce evident was a small package from the Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy/Piperline/Athleta conglomerate sitting on the steps.

But Tony’s life isn’t some random glory story about a kid that didn’t turn out as a statistic. He and his father are still as tight as physically allowed.

“It’s tough on him, too. Tougher than he even leads on, but he’s definitely doing good as well. At the same time, it could be a lot worse. 25 years in prison, typically, you don’t find people still connected after that, not on the level that we are,” Lewis said. “It’s been a very trauma-filled 25 years. But it brings me back to the fact that we still have a relationship and we still have a bond.”

Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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