THE PENITENTIARY WARFARE SERIES: Freedom & Family: The Interview with Pharaoh Haywood

Understanding the mentality of our brothers and sisters who’ve had to spend time behind bars can go a long way in preventing the next generations from making the same mistakes.

The Penitentiary Warfare series of interviews were designed to explore the criminal justice system by speaking to the individuals directly affected by it.

During our most recent interview, we had the opportunity to speak to Pharaoh Haywood!! We spoke about his relationship with his father, who were his role models growing up & how it felt spending time in jail at 13 years old!!



Talk to us about the Dynamics of your household growing up, did you live with your mother and father? 

It was a little bit of both. When I was young, my dad would go in and out of the penitentiary a lot. So, it was mainly my mom raising us. When my dad was available, he would come around but as we got older, they eventually separated for good. That happened when I was like 9 or 10 years old and from there, we begin to visit my dad on the weekends.

Them separating definitely had an effect on me. As a kid, you always want your dad around and involved in your life. When I would have problems with my mom I would go to my Dad’s house, it was a little more lenient over there with him. He understood what I was going through as a young man and that’s when I would get a lot of my wisdom from him too. He would teach me a lot in those moments, he wouldn’t have to say much to give me a whole lot. 


It sounds like even though your father didn’t live with you. Your relationship with him remained solid. Is that true?

Yeah, it is. we had a good relationship overall. He had a big influence on me and that’s who I wanted to be like growing up. Whether he was right or wrong, that was my daddy. As a kid, I watched him lift weights, so I was running around the house trying to lift the couch (Laughs). If he had muscles, I want to have muscles too.

I would tell myself that I’m going to be the man of the house when he’s not around, So, I think we did have a good relationship and it got even better when I got out of jail as a teenager we started chilling with each other on more of a grown man tip, not just father and son. We would have adult conversations and he taught me how to play chess. That’s one of the competitive things that we would do with each other.



Okay, so it sounds like your father was one of your role models growing up. Did you have any other role models?

Well for me, it was my older cousins. Observing how they moved and seeing them live a flashy lifestyle while having all the girls. In my mind I was like, that’s what I’m supposed to do.

They had a big influence on me. I think about the times I was able to be around them and spend the night at their houses and things like that. I picked up on a lot of stuff in those situations. Whether it was helping me with my girl problems or just having good conversations it all helped to build up my confidence.


So, speaking about your cousins and the men in your family. Growing up, can you remember any situations where a family member had to go to jail?

I remember my first little incident with the police coming to take my dad away. My mom was hiding him in the Attic, and I remember crying seeing them take him away. In my mind, I was just like… why? Even though it could have been from something he actually did at the end of the day no child wants to see their father taken away. 

I have another Uncle named Rick who was another one of my role models. He is my mom’s younger brother who would live with us from time to time when he wasn’t locked up. He spent a lot of time going back and forth to jail but when he was out, we had fun together. We would play fight or play tag.

He made it a point to be there for me since my dad was gone but when he would go back in, I was stuck with no males around. My other cousins were in and out jail too. Unfortunately, the males in my family have a long history of getting locked up and being involved with the criminal justice system.


Your right. That’s definitely unfortunate and there are too many families in our community that deal with those same issues. Did you have any personal experiences with the criminal justice system? 

I was 13 years old the first time I went to jail. It was a traumatizing experience because I was in a stolen car doing donuts with my cousin Danny and the police were on the corner watching me. When they put the lights on me, I did a donut and spun around, hitting a parked car.

I took them on a high-speed chase doing 80 miles an hour with no headlights. I hit the corner and the tire popped, I was rolling on rims with sparks flying everywhere. It’s funny because the biggest thing on my mind at the time was “My mama go whoop my ass.” Once I got down to the police station and they fingerprinted me, everything became real and I actually fainted. Just that moment of realizing man, I’m really in trouble.

I also had to realize that I was on my own in there. Protecting myself became my number one priority because in that environment, people will take advantage of you. My mindset as a kid was “I’m in jail for such a petty crime, if I ever have to go back here, it better be for something worth it”. Sure enough, within a couple of years of me getting out of juvenile hall, I went back for something much more serious and I was fighting the death penalty and possibly looking at life in prison.

While I was fighting that case, they put me on medication. I was 15-16 years old taking Prozac. They’re giving us all these experimental drugs and I didn’t know exactly what I was taking. I just knew it helped take my stress away. 

Wow. I had no idea they gave those type of drugs to inmates who were so young. What would you say is the biggest thing you learned about yourself after going through all these different experiences while being incarcerated?

The main thing I learned was how to master the art of positive thinking and control the type of energy I put out into the world. I also did a lot of thinking and evaluating situations that I have put myself in. Also, you really learn how to become a critical thinker while you’re in there.

I began to see that I was the one responsible for controlling my actions, not someone else. I had to learn how to plan and organize things correctly in my life. Realizing how powerful my thoughts were helped me put the things I been through in life in perspective.

When you think a lot about something it’s almost like you’re watering a seed and if those thoughts are positive it can become something great. At the end of the day, I had to figure out that if your making moves for the right reasons and your intentions are pure, you can’t go wrong.


After going to prison and experiencing that world. What’s your overall opinion of the criminal justice system?

It’s broken. I say that because it’s not a justice system, it’s a belief system. It basically boils down to if the jury believes the prosecutor or not. Even if there are no facts brought to the table or an I Witness, they bring a lot of probabilities to the case which makes it more difficult for the jury to decide. 

For instance, in my case, there wasn’t a victim or a witness, but I got an 11-year sentence for a non-violent offense. I only did six and a half of those years based on some of the laws that changed while I was incarcerated. The way these laws are implemented is ridiculous. With my case, a firearm charge carried 3 years at the max, they added 8 years to my sentence based on enhancements. 



It definitely seems like these laws were made to work against us. In your opinion, how do you give advice to a young man that has already made his mind up about involving himself in the street life?

My advice would be to keep it real with him, without judgment. It’s important to give them the pros and cons of the situation there involved in. I believe most people are going to do what they’re going to do anyway.

I think it’s just up to us as parents to give them all the game they need to operate in this world. If you just tell your kids “No” don’t do something, that’s going to make them want to do it more. So, it’s better if you give him instructions and kind of help them along the way regardless of what they’re doing.







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