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Jervonte Jackson dreams of freedom for his mom


Jervonte Jackson dreams of freedom for his mom

Sounds like a rough life.  Hope he makes it…

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IT'S NOT UNUSUAL for a guy to think of what he can do for his mother if he makes it in the NFL. Typically, players want to buy their mothers houses or cars, maybe make it possible for mom to retire.

Jervonte Jackson would like to get his mother out of jail.

Jackson, 22, is a rookie free agent defensive tackle from Florida Atlantic, signed last week after trying out at the Eagles' initial minicamp. He is the half-brother of Eagles center Jamaal Jackson; they have the same father, Jerry Jackson. But Jervonte knew Jamaal only casually when they were growing up in the Miami area. Jervonte's life was considerably more complicated, as the son of Avonda Dowling, who currently is serving a 20-year prison sentence in California for dealing drugs.

"She calls me about every other day," Jackson said, following yesterday's rookie camp workout. "She's happy that I got my foot in the door. I always told her, if I get my foot in the door, just a sniff or a scratch, I'm going to take full advantage of it . . . She never let me slack off, never let me take anything for granted.

"The time they gave her was far, far too much" for being convicted of possessing less than 500 grams of cocaine, said Jackson, who hopes to hire new lawyers and find new grounds for appeal. "We're working the appeals process . . . I'm working and praying every day, hoping I can get a chance to get my mom back home, where she should be."

The government's case against Dowling is summarized in this passage from the 2005 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling denying an attempt to have her conviction thrown out: "At trial, the government presented a number of witnesses who testified concerning their drug transactions with Dowling and the extent and organization of her group, the 'Vonda Gang.' Several of these witnesses testified that they dealt with Dowling on a weekly basis and routinely purchased large quantities [up to 2 kilograms at a time] of cocaine from her. The government's witnesses also testified to Dowling's involvement in at least two murders in the furtherance of her drug distribution conspiracy. Finally, the government's witnesses testified that Dowling continued to oversee drug distribution operations from prison after her 1998 arrest."

Jackson maintains his mother had left drugs behind by 2002, when she was indicted for the charges that led to her present incarceration. He said the Vonda Gang, sometimes referred to as "Vonda's Gang," was largely a fiction concocted by the police and the members of another gang, "The Boobie Boys."

He said he first heard the allegation when he was 11. A teacher pulled him aside after another student pointed out to her a May 10, 1998 Miami Herald story about violent gang wars that mentioned Jervonte's mother, and speculated that she had risen to power following Jerry Jackson's imprisonment.

"[The teacher] showed it to me," he said. "She said, 'People are going to talk about it. Just be smart about what you say.' "

Jervonte knew drugs were part of his mother's life. Just before the story appeared, he had asked her how it was that she could afford to quit her job as a school bus driver without their lifestyle being affected. She told him she sold drugs because she couldn't make ends meet otherwise, that he should stay away from them. He said drugs or weapons were never part of their home life. Ultimately, after a jail term that left Jervonte and his sister in the care of their grandmother, Beatrice Reed, Avonda got a job at the Port of Miami and left her previous life behind, he said.

"Everybody that new my mama knew she was a kindhearted person, always did everything for kids," Jackson said. "She never was a bad, evil person. She probably did bad things to survive, but she didn't kill anybody, she didn't beat up people, she didn't rob people - the things that were happening in everyday Miami life . . . A lot of people knew my mama wasn't a gang leader. A lot of people . . . The press and the police wanted to build an image of my mom as a gang leader.

"She didn't get convicted of having a gang or being a gang leader. She only got convicted of having crack cocaine of less than 500 grams - they never caught her with this, this is something they put in her purse."

Jervonte said a codefendant testified the drugs actually belonged to him, rather than Dowling.

When the 2002 charges came down, Jervonte was in 10th grade. Jerry Jackson hadn't been a part of his son's life in many years. Instead of going to live with his grandmother this time, Jervonte assumed control of the household, which included his sister, Vonshari Hoardes, who is 2 years his junior.

"Paying bills, taking care of my sister, that was really difficult," Jackson said. "Growing up, being a man real fast, was something I had to endure."

Several schools, including a few of college football's bigger names, showed interest as Jervonte grew toward his current 6-5, 300, he said.

"A lot of schools came in asking different questions," he said. " 'Hey, how's the mom thing going?' "

It wouldn't be surprising if they were a bit hesitant to embrace the publicity around the "Vonda Gang."

"Nobody wants to bring in a guy with a background as bad as mine," he said.

Jackson ended up at nearby Florida Atlantic, where he said he was drug-tested "about eight times my freshman year."

Ultimately, Jackson started 4 years and was named first-team all-Sun Belt as a senior. He didn't get drafted, but several NFL teams inquired.

"I never lied about the situation," he said. "I told [teams] everything they wanted to know."

Last Dec. 24, a Palm Beach Post story told of Avonda Dowling eagerly awaiting Florida Atlantic's appearance in the Motor City Bowl against Central Michigan. She could watch Jervonte on TV.

If he earns a spot with the Eagles, that, at least, will be easier. But Jervonte still hopes she can see him play in person, someday, somehow. *

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