THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL Friday, March 15, 2013 | Memphis, TN Feature Story/Front Page
Remorseful former gang leader urges youngsters not to make same mistakes
By Beth Warren
When a spray of bullets on a city street in North Memphis killed a 38-year-old man and injured his brother, a former gang leader rushed to the area to quell relatives’ desire for revenge. Dionysus Sisson, 40, a man with a violent past, prayed with the family and friends of Amos Charles “Boo” Pearl III after the September shooting and urged mourners to let go of their rage. Later, he helped to host a community peace rally.
“He’s been there from the time we lost our son,” Jerry Joyner, the victim’s stepfather said. “A lot of folks love him. Not just with my family — but with the community — when someone needs him, he’s there.” Sisson, a devout Christian, is a former member of the legendary Southside Chicago gang Black P. Stones. He uses his past to reach misguided Memphis teens and young adults. Once a man quick to fight or shoot any perceived enemies and to literally smack fellow gang members into line, Sisson — known as “Dee” — rose in the BPS ranks to become a general, in charge of about 100 gang members, including many of his own relatives. The ex-convict, who served a stint for beating up a police officer, found an unusual ally in veteran corrections officer Thomas Norphlet, who spent more than a decade guarding hundreds of gang members and other violent youths in the Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center.
“The inmate and the officer — I never thought that would happen,” Sisson said. They teamed with business partner Zephora Walker to form the Youth Foundation/Triangle. The foundation’s three missions are to help at-risk youths, abused women and children, and former prisoners in Memphis and Mississippi. During a recent interview, Sisson spread out pages detailing his seven prison stints, including six years at a super-maximum security prison in Kentucky. “I wanna show you my long criminal history,” he said. “I got a lot of gun charges.” He often uses his rap sheet to plead with Memphis youths, many of them violent gang members, to a void the same fate. Dionysus Sisson, 40, repairs a basketball goal in the gym at Olivet Fellowship Baptist Church, one of more than a dozen gyms where he works with Memphis Athletic Ministries.