'Like Father, Like Son'

'Like father, like son'

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Otis Harris can hardly believe his eyes.

It's been nearly 30 years since he walked around his old stomping grounds of the B.W. Cooper Housing Development. A lot has changed.

The B.W. Cooper, formally known as the Calliope, was notorious for drug dealing and violence.

"We stole. We robbed. We did everything," Harris said.

Harris lived there, sold drugs there and eventually became a repeat offender in the criminal justice system.

"Sometimes in jail, there were nights when I actually cried," Harris said.

He has plenty of regrets. Perhaps, his biggest regret of all, was leaving behind his family, his son, who without guidance followed in his father's footsteps.

"I started using cocaine when I was 14-years-old," said Ameer Baraka, Harris' son. "I hooked up with a cat out of the projects. I couldn't read. I couldn't write, so that was my ticket out. It was going to sell drugs because to sell drugs you didn't have to read."

Harris says his addiction became so bad, he simply gave up on his family.

"I was abusing them and abusing myself," Harris said. "I wasn't working. I wasn't doing anything productive. Every penny I got went towards drugs. I was taking his mother's money. I was taking my mother's money."

Everything was about drugs, and whatever he had to do to get them, especially robbing.

"Money might last you two weeks, a month, whatever. You'd buy drugs with it. You'd feed yourself off of the drugs, and when the money ran out, we robbed again." Harris said.

Harris moved to Detroit, but not much changed. He still spent his time selling and abusing drugs. All the while, his son was in the projects slipping deeper and deeper into a life of crime.

Ameer too sold drugs, and when another man in the projects got in his way, he shot and killed him.

"I served my time for that," Ameer said. "I got out and I went right back to the drug game."

Meanwhile, Harris was so caught up in his own addiction that he didn't even know his son was in jail until Ameer was back on the street.

"I was on drugs so bad. Ameer had caught a murder charge and was on his way out  before I even knew it happened," Harris said.

Harris decided to come back home and Ameer remembers the day vividly.

"I'll never forget when he came back and we walked through the project together for the first time," Ameer said. "I was so proud to say, I have a dad. That was one of the greatest highlights of my life. Again, he was in the same business as I was in. He was selling dope, and using like I was using, so we had something in common."

Harris had drug connections in other states, and before long he was receiving large amounts of cocaine from L.A. to distribute on the streets of New Orleans. His son was his business partner.

"As a matter of fact, I was promoting it because I was giving him the drugs," Harris said. "I felt good about it. I felt like I was really doing something for him."

Ameers' view of family became distorted.

"I really thought that we were going to live this big life, selling dope and being a family," Ameer said. "I wanted a relationship with my dad. I mean it was something that I fought for."

Instead of sharing memories of school graduations or family gatherings, this father and son only share stories of overdoses they witnessed or shootings that happened as they sold on the corner.

"They were just slaughtering people back here," Ameer said. "That's when New Orleans had about 300 murders a year."

Eventually Harris was arrested transporting 5 kilos of cocaine through Texas and was sentenced to 30 years in a federal prison.

Police later busted Ameer for cocaine distribution. As he served a 4-year sentence, Ameer began changing his life in jail.

"I said to myself, I want to learn how to read. I have to learn how to read," Ameer said.

When he got out of jail, he headed for L.A. to pursue a career in modeling.

"Maybe a year after that, I saw him in a magazine. I was like, what. He was modeling clothes. I was so proud," Harris said.

Ameer went on to acting and eventually he wrote a book about his life.

"Sometimes, I look and say I don't even deserve to be this guy's father," Harris said. "He's a man. He's a better man than I will ever be."

Finally, they're together again. They're making right what was so wrong as they reflect on the year's they've lost together.

"I wish that I could have had this 30 years ago, but I didn't," Ameer said.

Ameer believes his whole family suffered because of his father's actions. Now, he mentors young men, who are without dads in their lives.

"This is an epidemic," Ameer said. "Just recently I was in OPP. There is a juvenile tier there with about 20 boys. None of them have fathers, so this cycle keeps repeating itself."

He wants people, especially men to learn from his father about the importance of being a role model for their children.

"When you think about it, you say well these young kids are committing all these crimes. I'm not disputing that, but you have to realize they are being raised by the streets," Ameer said. "They are being raised by rap music. They're getting false information."

Ameer knows many of the children he tries to help, may never change their lives.

His message now is to the fathers.

"My message is to the fathers. You need to get back into the household by any means possible. If you don't love the mother anymore, that's fine, but you have to help raise your boys and young daughters," Ameer said.

Harris, at 67-years-old, realizes his mistakes, but his children are grown.

"I just want my family to bury me," Harris said. "I don't' want to be buried in a jail cell. I want my children to say, that's my dad. That's all I want."

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