Looking for a fresh start after nine years of incarceration, Morrice Harper, departs from Syracuse, his home his whole life, to live with his sister Walika in Kannapolis, NC, Fueled by anguish of missing watching his nieces and nephew grow up, Morrice expects to turn his life around, relieving his family of the pain and burden caused by his incarceration.
“I will not go back to Wood Ave. I will not go back to Wood Ave. I will not go back to Wood Ave,” Morrice Harper wrote three times in his ASAT (Alcohol Substance Abuse Training) case plan for relapse triggers. “Wood Ave in Syracuse was my downfall, I grew up there,” he said. Despite his fervor, fate had something else planned. Upon release from Groveland Correctional Facility Morrice moved back to Wood Ave. “It’s funny because now I live on Wood Ave in a whole new city.”
Morrice was born in Syracuse to Olynthia Ann Harper. “I tattooed my mother’s name on my neck. I don’t even remember my mother, but I know if I have a little girl she gonna look just like her.” Olynthia gave her son the nickname “Mann” because of the scowl he had as a baby. The name stuck—to family he is “Mann.”
Olynthia disappeared after dropping Morrice and his sister off at a friend’s house in 1985. Morrice was 18-months-old. Her case remains unsolved. Mann was taken up by a series of strong women—his great grandmother Olivia Hunter, his grandmother Louise “Nanny” Solomon, his aunt Elizabeth Hunter, and finally his sister Walika McArthur. “The women in this family made me tough,” he said. Mann bounced around households—after one loved one passed he moved onto living with the next.
Morrice grew up on “Benz Block,” consisting of three streets, Borden, Beard, and Wood Ave, on Syracuse’s South Side where he built a reputation selling drugs. After getting kicked out of Walika’s house for being a poor example to his nieces he opened up a “lab” or drug house on the same block. Morrice earned a new nickname—known in the streets as “Moschino” or “Schino” for short after the luxury Italian fashion line referenced by The Notorious B.I.G. in the song Hypnotize: “I put hoes in NY onto DKNY. Miami, D.C. prefer Versace. All the Philly hoes go with Moschino.”
Schino’s time on the streets was short lived: “I wasn’t even thinking about being shot, stabbed, pistol-whipped. Shit, after being shot I was back on the block the next day.” A series of drug-related arrests starting at age seventeen meant being in and out of prison and lastly, a nine-year sentence for a gang-assault charge that left one person dead.
A study by the U.S. Department of Justice on recidivism finds that five in six state prisoners were arrested at least once during a nine-year period following release (Bureau of Justice Statistics) Morrice is committed to being the 17% that are not. “I’m not going to make a conscious decision that’s going to land me in prison this time. I know I’m belligerent, I know I’m compulsive, but I’ve learned to work on it. I use Oriana, Walika, Ma’Khi, and Jasana as motivation.” Morrice recognized the hardship of incarceration on his family when his niece, Oriana Kyles, wrote a poem about him titled “Miss it (Locked Down).”
Recognizing the selfishness of his actions, he decided not only to change for himself but also for his loved ones. “You see your younger generation, your family kids, grow up their pictures. I just care now. Before I didn’t. I’d rather struggle out here if I got to struggle. In there you become a dependent, a dependent on those that care for you. You on everyone else’s time. You not on your own time. I’m just lucky that my people love me in that they ain’t shut me out. I have a chance to be a man. I haven’t been my whole life.”
The day Morrice was released from Groveland Correctional Facility Oriana drove him eleven hours through the night from Syracuse to her mother’s house on Wood Ave in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Family gathered to celebrate his homecoming: “I was happy to have family I hadn’t seen in forever come see me, but I don’t ever want them to come celebrate my return home again. I’m not worried—I’ve got a village with me.”
Oriana and Morrice look at a family album in her apartment in Syracuse before leaving for North Carolina. (Walika, center, Oriana, Morrice, Jasmine, left to right).
Wood Ave. Kannapolis, NC.
Family gathers for a welcome home dinner at Walika’s house in Kannapolis. Oriana helps her uncle learn how to use his Iphone. He never used a smart phone before going to prison.
Morrice adjusts to life outside of prison, figuring out the easiest way to shave his head with the mirrors available in the house.
Pip, Oriana’s cat, surprises Morrice.
Morrice dozes off as Oriana drives eleven hours through the night from Syracuse to Kannapolis.
Morrice steps outside for a cigarette during the reunion party.
Due to his criminal record, a condition of Morrice’s parole is wearing an ankle bracelet for three months and a curfew from 6am to 6pm, which can be adjusted if work conflicts.
A letter and Polaroid Morrice sent to Walika from prison.
Morrice goes home after walking his niece Jasana and nephew McKaito school in the morning.
Morrice searches for a job at NCWorks Career Center.
Morrice cleans the kitchen everyday because he cannot yet contribute financially to the household.
Ma’Khi and Morrice play fight, toughening him up for karate and football.
Charma, a family friend, road with Morrice and Oriana to spend the weekend in North Carolina.
Morrice and family play spades during the reunion.
Morrice was shot three times in the back with each bullet lodged in him—one barely missing his heart, the other next to his spine, and the last near his lung. The bruises on his shoulders are from bench-pressing while in prison.
Morrice charges his ankle bracelet while staying warm in front of a heat lamp.
“I will not go back to Wood Ave. I will not go back to Wood Ave. I will not go back to Wood Ave,” Morrice Harper wrote three times in his ASAT (Alcohol Substance Abuse Training) case plan for relapse triggers. “Wood Ave in Syracuse was my downfall, I grew up there,” he sai...