Dallas Roquemore, aka Lil Dallas, is a personal friend of — and has worked with — famed rapper, Mozzy. While Dallas’s rap career started out very strong, it was derailed when he went to prison at age 16 and was incarcerated for the next 11 years.
Join us as restored citizen and prison reform and reentry advocate Lil Dallas tells us what life in prison is really like, what he thinks might help more people from his community stay out of prison, and the recovery program he is working with now.
Dallas Roquemore, aka Lil Dallas, is 27 years old and has been incarcerated since he was 16. He returned from prison on March 13, 2022. Dallas grew up alongside famous rapper Mozzy. They were incredibly close as children and would rap together as they lived in the same neighborhood. When Dallas wasn’t making music, he was establishing himself as one of the most recognized gang members in his city. At 16, Dallas had made enough bad choices to land himself in federal prison. While in prison, Dallas met his wife and they got married in the Salinas Valley State Prison. While completing his time, he realized that the only reason he and his community committed themselves to a life of gang conflict was because that was the way they were brought up. Gangs and drugs were normalized and easily accessible. He realized all the bad decisions he made were because he was under the influence, so Dallas decided to put his faith in his passions and family.
As soon as he returned to his community, he began working with Healthy Life Recovery to tell his story and hopefully inspire others to make better choices. Firsthand experience carries a lot of weight, and Dallas carries his stories to adults and children who also grew up in environments around gangs and drugs. Dallas works with Healthy Life Recovery and is also pursuing his rap career. If he hadn’t gone to prison, Dallas could have risen to stardom alongside his childhood friend Mozzy. Now, Dallas is focused on bettering his career and the world. His album, Permanent Scars, is available on Apple Music.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hey, everyone. I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and calling in to the show today, we have rapper Lil Dallas. Lil Dallas grew up alongside famed rapper Mozzy and they continue to work together to this day. He also works with Healthy Life Recovery to tell his story and inspire others to make better choices. Lil Dallas, welcome to the show.
Lil Dallas: Yeah. Welcome, man. Thank you for having me.
Gabe Howard: I’m very glad that you’re here. Today’s topic is a first-hand look at reentry into the community from prison. Now, you spent the past 11 years incarcerated from the ages of 16 to 27. What were the circumstances that led to you going to prison in the first place?
Lil Dallas: Yeah, I grew up, you know what I’m saying? Regular ghetto little kid. You feel me? I didn’t really have too much parents. Really didn’t have too much. My parents never really had a good job. I was headed down the wrong path just from my surroundings and everything that. That I seen growing up. You feel me? So, I thought, like doing drugs, getting high liquor, you know what I’m saying? I thought all that was regular. That was just normal. You feel me? Like somebody getting high or even if they’re getting high on drugs that are more than what I’m doing, it’s still regular to me. It just seems like that’s what you’re supposed to do or you know what I’m saying? Like, that’s just that’s the norm around here.
Gabe Howard: There was just a normal part of your daily experience.
Lil Dallas: Yeah, it’s the norm. It’s like it’s not a shocker. Like I’d see somebody getting high, you know what I’m saying? And I just look right past them because we’ve seen worse that we feel. We’ve seen them worse. We’re seeing people get shot, seeing people get killed. So somebody getting high in our mind is like, oh, that’s nothing.
Gabe Howard: Yeah. It sounds like you experienced a lot of trauma from a very young age that informed decisions that you were making, which of course is exactly what a therapist and a psychologist would say. Right?
Lil Dallas: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: But it to translate, a bunch of bad shit happened to you and it informed your decision making as you got older.
Lil Dallas: Yeah, yeah. A lot of people don’t learn from their mistakes or learn from their mistakes people around them are making. But I was fortunate to kind of catch on early like, nah, this is not what. It’s weird, but going to jail saved me.
Gabe Howard: So, let’s talk about that for a moment. Now, obviously, you had to be sentenced with something, right? So what were you arrested for and what was the ultimate sentence that kept you in prison for, I believe, about 11 years?
Lil Dallas: Yeah. See, I was originally charged with attempted murder, and then I took a deal just for assault with the firearm. I had did a shooting in front of the police. I didn’t know the police was there, but the police was right there watching the whole thing. And you know what I’m saying? I was 16. And so, I go to juvenile hall and they’re offering me like 50 years and they’re trying to give me like 35 years. Then they’re trying to give me like 20 something years to life. Ultimately, I took 14 years and then I did 11.
Gabe Howard: I want to talk about day to day prison life, because the only thing that I understand about prison little Dallas, is was what I’ve seen on television. There’s gangs everywhere. There’s violence everywhere. Everybody’s plotting to do something. I mean, it’s just, it seems like hell it’s portrayed as hell. What’s it like?
Lil Dallas: Yeah, well, you’re right about one thing. It’s hell, but it’s like. It’s hell full of a bunch of people with great attitudes, with work ethic, trying the hardest to be better. And then you got a bunch of COs that treat you like shit that talk down on you. They tell you, Oh, when you go home, you’re not going to be nothing. This and that. Good luck. They’re basically preying on your downfall. You know what I’m saying? I had a couple cool COs. Like there’s a CO named Pooch, and I like to say his name and his wife because they were actually like the opposite. They actually used to help a lot of people and and really try to get them like get their heads on straight. But there’s not a lot of COs like them. There’s it’s a bunch of COs in there that it’s like they hired hella people that hate inmates. Regardless of what you do or how you do, they treat you bad.
Gabe Howard: I have to imagine that that’s very disheartening because you’re trying to follow the rules and you’re trying to do the right things. And the deal there is that if you do the right thing, then the right thing will happen to you.
Lil Dallas: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: But it doesn’t sound like it does. And I can I want to touch on the CO part for a minute because you’re not describing a situation where the guards are running around beating people with nightsticks. And that’s, of course, what we see in in the media. That’s the popular portrayal. What you’re describing is just a toxic environment where you’re constantly being told negative things that you’re not good enough. And I want to make sure that the listeners understand that it’s not violence that seems like it’s getting you it’s toxic. It’s negativity.
Lil Dallas: Yeah, it’s the negativity part. So it’s like, let’s just say you’re already somebody that’s lived a negative, violent, wrong life and you’re trying. You’re trying your hardest. You’re trying your hardest. Let me, let me do better. You know what I’m saying? Let me let me try the other side of the world and see, because obviously I’m doing something wrong. So let me, let me do right. And as you’re trying to do right, as you’re trying to do right, they’re pushing your buttons to show you like they’re trying to get it out of you, trying to bring it out of you because they feel like they’re like empowered. It’s like a power struggle, you know what I’m saying? The same way people don’t want to show like they feel like, oh, I’m showing weakness if I do something like this. Or I’m showing weakness if I do that, it’s like the COs feel like they’re showing weakness if they show you respect.
Gabe Howard: When we talk about misconceptions of people who are in prison, we have this idea that every single person in prison has gone through this lengthy trial and a jury convicted them. And they were afforded all of these resources and they had the dream lawyer team. And the reality is, is that most people don’t have a trial at all. The vast majority of people in prison never went through a trial. They took a plea deal and sometimes they took that plea deal not because they were guilty, but because the deck was just incredibly stacked against them. And it was the best decision for them at the time. And we don’t know 100% what those rates are. The thing that I want the listeners to understand is that the majority of people in prison did not have a trial. For example, Ulil Dallas, you did not have a trial. You took a plea
Lil Dallas: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Deal because it was in your best interest.
Lil Dallas: Yeah. And there’s a lot of people like that even if you’re innocent. You’re going to take a deal because in your mind you’re going to be like, Well, even if I go to trial, I’m going to lose. I’m never even if I’m No. One that’s innocent. Beats cases. So when people say, well, you’re innocent, you should’ve just took it to trial. A lot of people don’t beat trial even when they’re innocent. To me because only thing people see is like, oh, well, he had he had to be guilty or he had to be this look at him, look at him or they’ll judge you. You feel me? And a lot of people I know, a lot of people like for a fact that are in there for some stuff that they didn’t do. They didn’t do what they’re in prison for. So. The system is just it’s rigged. And that’s why the mental health part of it is a big deal, because if we can get these kids and these young adults and even older dudes to get mental health and they’ll make the right decisions, you know what I’m saying? If they get substance abuse treatment, they’ll make the right decisions because that is a big key. That’s not the whole problem. But that’s a big problem. That is a big piece of everything. The mental health and the substance abuse is a huge piece of. For sure, everybody’s been in prison, has mental health. If you didn’t have it before, you have it now. So if you haven’t never got help, you need help.
Lil Dallas: Everybody should get some type of help. Whether it needs treatment, a lot of people do, you know what I’m saying? And you don’t know. You don’t know. You might think you’re doing okay and you might. You might talk to somebody and feel like, wow, I really needed that. Like that really helped me. I never thought I would ever need some counseling. You feel me? I never thought it was like this. So it’s worth a shot. It’s worth a shot. In my opinion, it’s worth a shot. Like I’ll give it a shot. Mozzy gave it a shot. And we both love it, so. Letting some of this stuff out and being able to talk about it with somebody that’s open minded. Somebody that’s not in your family or you know what I’m saying? Somebody just outside of your whole life talk about stuff that you don’t normally talk about what everybody. This helps me. You know what I’m saying? This is what I need. So, maybe I’m helping somebody out there listening. But for sure, this helped with me. And another thing, if you feel like there’s a lot of people out there that’s working on their careers. They don’t know that if you get some, if you get some help. You might thrive better than you’ve ever, ever in your whole life. So getting some help is not. It’s not something you should put on the back burner. Health is not one thing you should put on the on the on the back burner. Health should be the main thing that you should prioritize. You should prioritize health. And I guarantee it will clear your head and whatever you do, whatever your career is, you’re going to probably be greater at it because you’re going to look at everything different. It’s going to be like it’s going to be like, you’re a new you. You’re going to be the best version of yourself.
Lil Dallas: You’re just like being cleansed. Like it’s one thing to be physically healthy. That’s great too. But to be mentally healthy, that’s dope. That’s different. That is just going to make you be different from everybody, because that’s the one thing everybody is scared to do. They feel I don’t know if it’s frowned upon or if it’s like people kind of look at it like, I don’t need help. That’s not something you should feel ashamed of, you know what I’m saying? Like, so, if somebody’s looking at you some type of way because you’re getting help, they need help.
Gabe Howard: What has life been like for you since you left prison and now are rejoining society? Because I have to imagine that being out of society for 11 years, there’s a bit of a culture shock.
Lil Dallas: There’s different things that I deal with. One is like. I’m so programed to doing certain things every single day like. In jail. You eat, you have to finish your food very fast. So like, I’m out here, I’m excited to be out here. I’m eating hella fast because it’s just I’ve been eating. I’ve been having to eat my food so fast for 11 years. And I was already before I went to prison, I didn’t learn a lot of like a lot of things. I didn’t learn the right way already. So I was so used to doing that that I’m thinking that’s the right way. So a lot of things that I do, people are looking at me like, Man, why do you eat so fast? I mean, that’s something small. Like when I first came home, like I would stay in my room, I would eat and go straight to my room and I would just stay in my room and everybody’s like, you know, you can come out of your room. I just felt comfortable being like, kind of closed in or like by myself, you know what I’m saying? Because that’s, that’s all I all I know, you know? Like I always told myself, like, dang, I don’t want to get out and be like a weird dude that came out of prison. So when people say little things, I don’t take it the wrong way. I kind of be like, okay, once I notice it, I just start working on it. And now I don’t do that. Now, I don’t never like being in my room.
Gabe Howard: As I’m sitting here listening to you, one of the things that I think about is are there programs? Does society support you in this? I know you’ve talked about your wife and family and friends, but what about what about society? Is there a step down unit from prison? I know that that is probably the stupidest question that you’ve ever been asked, but I just. Do they really just let you out and fend for yourself?
Lil Dallas: Yeah, that’s not a question. And yes, they do let you out and they give you $200 on the card and they expect you to be a success. That’s it.
Gabe Howard: It seems to me like that would set anyone up for failure.
Lil Dallas: Yeah. I was released with $200 and an EpiPen.
Gabe Howard: And. And that’s it?
Lil Dallas: Yeah. They gave me an EpiPen. The way I’m supposed to use an EpiPen. I don’t know why they gave me an EpiPen, but they gave me an EpiPen. And then they gave me $200 on, like, a little debit card, and then that’s it. Do your thing.
Gabe Howard: It just seems like if you didn’t have that support that you had with your wife and your family, that, I mean, $200 is nothing. That’s maybe what, like, like a like an Uber ride and a night in a hotel and some food?
Lil Dallas: Yeah, that’s nothing like realistically. Realistically, if you did some prison time like, man, $200 is like food.
Gabe Howard: I just can’t see it lasting more than 48 hours.
Lil Dallas: No, it didn’t last me. It didn’t even last me all the way home because I was a little ways from home, so it didn’t really last me nothing because you know what I’m saying? I’m going to buy food and put some gas in the car or just little stuff like that doesn’t last. Nothing. $200 is nothing. And being home now, like for like really seeing what’s really going on in the world, if you got people that’s been living out here, good citizens, that’s been living their regular life, going to work, they’ve been working for years, they’re still struggling. They can barely survive out here where I’m from, you know what I’m saying? And they’re working two jobs, you know what I’m saying? Like, I know people that work two jobs full time and is barely paying rent. So if you expect some type of person that already has a criminal history that’s already like. You know what I’m saying? To come home with $200 and just make it happen. Like the odds is so stacked against you, it’s crazy. And you got to be mentally strong to, like, deal with that and not go back into criminal activity because it’s so easy to go do something and get some money right now. You know what I’m saying? It’s that’s easy. That’s easy.
Gabe Howard: Well, and there’s a desperation to it. Not only is it easy, but it it would seem like any reasonable person would be desperate. You wouldn’t have a place to stay.
Lil Dallas: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: You wouldn’t have food you wouldn’t have money. And you’re being offered this this chance to eat and have shelter. It’s a rock and a hard place.
Lil Dallas: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. You got to think there’s regular people that never committed criminal activity in this day and age. They’re ready to do something criminal for some money because it’s just so hard right now. You know what I’m saying? So put a criminal in that situation that only has $200 and they just kicked him out to the street. Like a lot of these dudes don’t want to do nothing. No, no criminals. They trying they’re trying. They’re doing this or doing that. Even if they get a job that ain’t even enough to even live because their, the way everything is set up, the rent prices. And like out here, I don’t know how it is out there where you’re from, but out here, like an apartment, a regular small apartment in the ghetto, broken down with nothing in it. It’s like 2500 a month.
Gabe Howard: Wow.
Lil Dallas: And then the jobs is $16 an hour and you’re only going to get eight hours a day. So how are you making it work?
Gabe Howard: Wow.
Lil Dallas: You’ll only people you going to know living a great life. Are somebody that’s doing something they shouldn’t be doing. It can’t nobody else survive out here? You put me.
Gabe Howard: I do.
Lil Dallas: My blessing was Ryan Witt from Healthy Life Recovery.
Gabe Howard: And we’re back with rapper Lil Dallas discussing re-entry from prison. So let’s talk about Healthy Life Recovery for a moment, because your story is different from from the average in a couple of ways. One, your work with Healthy Life Recovery. And two, you know, Mozzy, you grew up with Mozzy. So those are two things that the average person who is coming out of prison doesn’t have. Let’s start with Healthy Life Recovery. How did you meet up with them? How did they help you and what do they do?
Lil Dallas: Healthy life recovery. The owner of Healthy Life Recovery is a friend of my friend, so I already knew who he was and he kind of already knew who I was. And one day I reached out to him and we. We just clicked. We talked and we just was talking for hours. We still talk for hours basically every day. And at first, he was always telling me about Healthy Life Recovery. But, we related on so many things. He’s like, man, you should you should use your platform for this because you can help a lot of people like not a lot of people talk about reentry and mental health part of it, you know what I’m saying? So, when he said that, I’m like, All right, you know what I’m saying? I already wanted to do something, something to kind of help people. Anyway, so we locked in. We start working. He actually hired me. So, I’m a W-2 employee. He gave me a way to make legal money enough to where I can survive. And then Healthy Life Recovery, like Healthy Life is different because if any employee from Healthy Life, if you come to any of us and you have mental health problems or substance abuse problems. We’re going to get you help. And if it’s not with us, we’re going to find you the help you need with somebody else. Like any situation you’re in, we’re going to try to put you in a place where you can get the help you need. And if it’s there’s better help, that’s not coming from us, we’re going to put you there. You know, your health is first, not ours.
Gabe Howard: And if I’m not mistaken, the whole purpose of this is to provide people looking for reentry from prison with the step down that that we discussed earlier. Right. The help, the connections, the resources so that they’re not just left to flounder and help themselves. It really seems like that’s the step-down unit that I, I was hoping existed on its own earlier in the show.
Lil Dallas: Yeah. What I’m doing is what this is what a lot of people need, but a lot of people don’t know yet. I’m trying to get as many people on board and not feel ashamed about what type of mental health or a lot of people don’t know they got mental health, so at least come and get evaluated. Because people in prison, most people are in jail because they were on drugs or they were trying to get drugs. Imagine if they never had that problem. A lot of people are really good dudes and the drugs or the whatever just kind of like got them making poor decisions, you know, and then they sober up and wish they never made that decision. And they recognize how dumb the decision they made were, you know.
Gabe Howard: Society has this idea that there’s good and evil and that evil wants to be good and that good wants to be good. But the reality is not so simple. From your perspective, what does society get wrong about people who are in prison?
Lil Dallas: Growing up, I used to be thinking like. Like when people used to be like, I’m a product of my environment. What do I use to be thinking like, Oh, shut up, Go to school. You can go to school, you can go to school, and you can come up out of it. Whoopty Whoop did. Whoopty Whoop did. Those people that came from our situation were those people that came from our hood and made it. Those are like superheroes. That’s not the normal because in reality, if you walk outside your door and your neighbor to the left, your neighbor to the right and your neighbor across the street, the only kids your age is gang banging. Every time you come out, you’re fighting fight or flight. And even if you fight, you’re not going to fight too many times. You’re going to slowly get into that life. You go to school, everybody at your school robbing people, gang banging, doing drugs, doing this. So, for people to be like, well, you didn’t have to do that. You didn’t have to do it. Okay? I mean, like, what would you do, though? The same way you grew up? Some people grow up and they say, hey, I know how to play soccer or I know how to play football because in my neighborhood, all we do is play football. Yeah, my neighborhood, all we do is gang bang in violence. That’s where it comes into play, you know what I’m saying? Like, okay, it’s okay for you to do everything, that it’s okay for you to do everything that the kids do in your neighborhood.
Lil Dallas: But you expect me not to do what all the kids do in my neighborhood? Everybody. Nobody doesn’t gang bang. Every single person gang bangs. That’s how bad it gets where we from in all these neighborhoods, in fact. And it’s like that in other neighborhoods too. So, for so many people be like, Oh, they want to go to jail. They want it now. These dudes want better, you know what I’m saying? They want to do good. They want to work, they want to do all that. But at the end of the day, they’re stuck in this little bubble where they can’t even grow. You know what I’m saying? You can’t. You can’t be around all these killers and think that think that you’re not going to you’re going to have to follow suit or get killed. You know what I’m saying? Like, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. I met the greatest people, the greatest well-mannered people in prison. I’ve met people in prison that can build houses. And I met a lot of good, innocent people in prison. I met a couple of bad apples in prison, too, you know what I’m saying? But it’s believe it or not, it’s a majority. Like some good dudes in prison. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s a lot of good dudes in prison. And this is not me just saying that because I was in prison. You consider me like, oh, man, he got a good head on his shoulders. There’s a lot of people like me in prison. A lot.
Gabe Howard: Lil Dallas, thank you so much for being here. But before we end the show, is there any myth or stereotype that you just want to address with our listeners and let them know that that’s not what’s going on? Any takeaway messages for them?
Lil Dallas: Uh. This all makes man like. Like people in prison are not, like, not raping each other. They’re not plotting on coming home and doing harm to anybody. They’re not doing that. That’s not what’s going on. You know what I’m saying? People got wives like myself. We just want to be with our family and. And we just want to we just want to help and be able to survive out here and get the fair treatment. You know what I’m saying? We want to be able to go to work. And because you go to work the whole time you’re in prison, too. You have to work in prison. You either have to go to work or go to school in prison. You can’t just sit around in prison. So, if someone’s in prison, they’re working the whole time they have a job or they’re in school, you have to do one or the other. You can’t just sit around. When you see somebody in prison, just know that they’ve already worked. They’ve probably got a couple of trades. Their work ethic is probably better than anybody else’s that, you know, because in prison, the guards are on you about work. So, when you’re doing a 9 to 5 in prison, you’re doing a real 9 to 5. Like you’re working constantly, you’re not taking no breaks, looking at your phone. You’re getting your exact lunch. The minute you stop working, they’re on you, but you’re working constantly. So, anybody who’s been through that in prison will come home and work for you better than anybody else. Probably because there’s no breaks. You’re not getting no breaks. Give a couple guys some chances. Get them. Do some chances. And if you don’t really just feel comfortable just giving them a chance off the gate, just give them the option, man. Hey, look, we got some people at Healthy Life recovery. Check those guys out or get help from somebody and then come over here if you have to. You know what I’m saying? Just don’t. Don’t shoo them away. Give them some options.
Gabe Howard: I love that message of give people options. I think that’s incredible. Lil Dallas, how can folks find Healthy Life Recovery?
Lil Dallas: Healthy Life. You can look up Healthy Life Recovery, Inc. Just look up Healthy Life Recovery or Healthy Life Recovery, Inc and a whole bunch of stuff will pop up and you can look us up on Instagram.
Gabe Howard: Lil Dallas, thank you so much for being here and a big thank you to all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “
Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon. You can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. You can do me a favor. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free. Also recommend the show to a friend, family member colleague. Share it on social media. Send a text message. Sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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