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This profile was last updated on 3/25/02  and contains information from public web pages.

Member, Advisory Board

Memphis Police Director Walter Crews
 
Background

Employment History

  • Counselor

Education

  • bachelor's degree , criminal justice
Web References
GoMemphis: Local
www.gomemphis.com, 25 Mar 2002 [cached]
Townes is a convicted murderer and ex-drug dealer who now pleads with teens to stay off drugs and out of gangs.
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...
Earnest Townes can still feel that grass.It's as poignant to him today as the feeling of handcuffs clasped tightly on his wrists, the sight of a police officer's gun pointed at his face, the sound of San Quentin's bars closing behind him.
Today, he's savoring the taste of freedom, a taste he's working tirelessly to keep on the palates of Shelby County teenagers.
"I hadn't seen grass in eight years," Townes recalled."It felt so good to roll around in it."
Townes had just been released from prison, where he'd been sentenced to life on a charge of first-degree murder and assorted other crimes.He was one of a handful of California murderers to be paroled on the first request, aided in part by a letter from the judge who presided over his trial.
These days, Townes, 50, is back in his hometown, talking to teenagers in classrooms and to their parents in living rooms.
He's the sole staff of an organization called Shifting Gears with hopes that, once it gets tax-exempt status, he can get grants to make it a clearinghouse for information to help teenagers.
He and his wife, Jocelyn, live on her salary as a law firm receptionist and money he makes from workshops and assorted odd jobs.
For now, as he speaks to kids, he holds up a pen and calls it an Uzi, citing the power the written word has to influence a young person's life.
In private conversations, he drops names like Manson and Sirhan as he speaks of prison acquaintances.
And he remembers eulogies he's given for kids who overdosed.
Since he returned here from California in 1992, Townes has spent much of his time - most without pay - pleading with kids to stay straight and counseling their parents when they don't.
While in prison, he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.Since returning to Memphis, he worked for two years as a counselor for a drug treatment center but resigned in frustration after three teenagers died: two from overdoses and one from a gunshot.
Townes will talk to anyone who'll listen.He's active in several youth organizations and is a member of Memphis Police Director Walter Crews's advisory board.
"He's commanding, and he looks good," said Crews."The message he gives kids is two-fold: Do it right so you won't have to suffer, and there is hope."
Twice a month, Townes speaks to teenagers in Juvenile Court detention.
...
In 1999, more than 30 years after meeting Turner, Townes was named volunteer of the year by Turner's staff in the court's GOALS program, which features volunteer speakers trying to motivate teenagers.
...
"Earnest is able to develop a relationship with kids.
...
Townes says it's what he needs to do to make sense of the life he used to lead.
"God has granted me a gift," said Townes."He didn't take me all the places He did for me to keep this knowledge to myself."
Others put him on a higher spiritual plain.
...
Townes's price in 1977 was $250,000: the amount of bail set after a SWAT team of 30 police officers surrounded his car near San Francisco and arrested him shortly after one man was killed and two other people were shot in a drug deal that Townes arranged.
Townes acknowledges that he set up the deal, but says he wasn't present when the shooting occurred.But another drug dealer said he was, and Townes was convicted.
"To this day, I don't know why they convicted him," said Parker Kelly, Townes's court-appointed attorney, now retired and living in Montana.
...
Kelly, who instantly remembered Townes, said his trial generated lots of attention, mainly because the victims had been members of a radical prison gang.
...
Townes doesn't talk a lot about the incident now, only to admit his part in it.And even when he does, he appears restless, wanting to get back to talking about the mission he's on.
Whether he's talking to a reporter, meeting with a parent or writing on a blackboard, Townes's presence is, as several described it, commanding.
His clothes are crisp, his shoes gleam, his voice crackles with preacher-like evangelism and Cosby-like humor.
It's immediately after lunch at South Side High School's alternative school, a program for 50 or so students nestled in a corner of the building.
"How many of you know me from Juvenile Court?"Townes asks.
About six hands go up, a gaggle of giggles erupts.
"I want you to know that what you're doing right now can have an effect on the rest of your life, and I'm living proof of that," Townes begins.
One boy in the back stretches in his seat, puts his head back and goes to sleep.A group of others carry on their own conversation in one corner, and another group across the room does the same.
Then Townes tells them he's an ex-con.The students sit up.The noise stops.The faces are sober.
"It's OK if you don't hear me today because there will be a day when you will hear me and I won't be around," he says.
...
Townes is pumped.When several say marijuana should be legalized, Townes's animation draws chuckles as he suggests that they might not appreciate being operated on by a surgeon who's high.
But he stands still and stares into their eyes as he talks about gang involvement.
"There are two things you need to make your minds up about real quick if you want to join a gang.
"First, you have to say to yourself, 'I am ready to die.'
"Second, you have to be ready to accept the fact that you will have to take the gang over your mama, your daddy, your sister and everything and everyone you hold dear."
...
When Townes hears of the death of a teenager he knows, he'll go to the funeral, and occasionally will eulogize the deceased, but not with the usual sentiments.
He remembered the funeral of Justin Mason, 16, who died of an overdose.
"The problem I have with funerals when it comes to kids and drugs is the minister will say something like, 'Oh, he had his whole life ahead of him,' and they make the death seem so glamorized.
"But I couldn't ask for a better time to pass on my message.There are the friends and family sobbing.
...
So what did it take for Townes to turn his own life around?
Townes grins and taps his forehead.
"Mindset.Anyone can turn their life around."
Then he again diverts attention from himself and talks about kids.
"I tell kids who are disgruntled about their parents that they're not 5 or 6 anymore - that they are the decision-makers in their lives."
KnoxNews: State
www.knoxnews.com, 1 April 2002 [cached]
Earnest Townes can still feel that grass.It's as poignant to him today as the feeling of handcuffs clasped tightly on his wrists, the sight of a police officer's gun pointed at his face, the sound of San Quentin's bars closing behind him.
Today, he's savoring the taste of freedom, a taste he's working tirelessly to keep on the palates of Shelby County teenagers.
"I hadn't seen grass in eight years," Townes recalled."It felt so good to roll around in it."
Townes had just been released from prison, where he'd been sentenced to life on a charge of first-degree murder and assorted other crimes.He was one of a handful of California murderers to be paroled on the first request, aided in part by a letter from the judge who presided over his trial.
These days, Townes, 50, is back in his hometown.
He's the sole staff of an organization called Shifting Gears with hopes that, once it gets tax-exempt status, he can get grants to make it a clearinghouse for information to help teenagers.
He and his wife, Jocelyn, live on her salary as a law firm receptionist and money he makes from assorted odd jobs.
For now, as he speaks to kids, he holds up a pen and calls it an Uzi, citing the power the written word has to influence a young person's life.
In private conversations, he drops names like Manson and Sirhan as he speaks of prison acquaintances.
Since he returned here from California in 1992, Townes has spent much of his time - most without pay - pleading with kids to stay straight and counseling their parents when they don't.
While in prison, he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.He worked for two years in Memphis as a counselor for a drug treatment center but resigned in frustration after three teenagers died: two from overdoses and one from a gunshot.
Twice a month, Townes speaks to teenagers in Juvenile Court detention.
...
Townes's price in 1977 was $250,000: the amount of bail set after a SWAT team of 30 police officers surrounded his car near San Francisco and arrested him shortly after one man was killed and two other people were shot in a drug deal that Townes arranged.
Townes doesn't talk a lot about the incident now, only to admit his part in it.And even when he does, he appears restless, wanting to get back to talking about the mission he's on.
Whether he's talking to a reporter, meeting with a parent or writing on a blackboard, Townes' presence is commanding.
It's immediately after lunch at South Side High School's alternative school, a program for 50 or so students nestled in a corner of the building.
"How many of you know me from Juvenile Court?"Townes asks.
About six hands go up, a gaggle of giggles erupts.
"I want you to know that what you're doing right now can have an effect on the rest of your life, and I'm living proof of that," Townes begins.
One boy in the back stretches in his seat, puts his head back and goes to sleep.A group of others carry on their own conversation in one corner.
Then Townes tells them he's an ex-con.The students sit up.The noise stops.The faces are sober.
"It's OK if you don't hear me today, because there will be a day when you will hear me and I won't be around," he says.
...
Townes is pumped.
"There are two things you need to make your minds up about real quick if you want to join a gang.
"First, you have to say to yourself, 'I am ready to die.'
"Second, you have to be ready to accept the fact that you will have to take the gang over your mama, your daddy, your sister and everything and everyone you hold dear."
...
So what did it take for Townes to turn his own life around?
Townes grins and taps his forehead.
"Mindset.Anyone can turn their life around."
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