5 Minutes, 5 Questions With… Joseph Henderson, author of I Don’t Want to Die Alone

JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Joseph Henderson, author of I Don’t Want to Die All Alone

joseph henderson headshot i dont want to die alone book cover

(click on the pictures to see reviews of this book on Amazon.com)

Joseph, the sixth child of nine children, describes a sad but shockingly true story of growing up on the streets at a young age. After a life filled with crime, drugs, money, cars, and women, Joe realizes that life and time is catching up to him. He shares with the readers his days of living in below zero temperatures in Michigan with no heat; nightly pit stops through ice and snow to raid the supermarket garbage dumpsters. He talk of feasting on goldfish, turtles, and mallard ducks from the neighborhood park pond.

Journey with Joe as he tells an all out, no holds barred tale of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. He tells of living in a household where discipline consisted of holding encyclopedias in each hand while balancing on one foot and whippings with electrical cords, brooms, two-by-fours, and garden hoses. After being shot on a street corner, later escaping a drive by shooting, then the subsequent brutal murder of his sixteen year old brother, feel the passion with Joe, as he explains several suicide attempts his family never knew about.

Feeling he would ‘die all alone,’ Joe makes a desperate and emotional attempt to apologize and ask forgiveness from family, friends, and foes that suffered during his reign of torment.

Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the idea and inspiration to write I Don’t Want to Die All Alone?

Joseph Henderson: This is an interesting question. I Don’t Want to Die All Alone was never meant to be a book. It was a college classmate that informed me I had a lot of interesting developments in my life and people need to know them. When I left Michigan and moved to Mississippi she asked if I would write a book. It never crossed my mind, and no promise was ever made.

After being in Mississippi for a while, by then my sister and mother had already moved there, I began to verbally ask questions about our upbringing. Members of my family would always say let the past stay in the past, or I was starting trouble bringing up old history. When that did not work, I began to write down thoughts for them to read. Sentences became paragraphs, and paragraphs became chapters. Before you knew it, the majority of my life was on hundreds of pages.

I let a pen pal from California read the rough draft. She was so inspired by it. It brought tears to her. Copies were given to my family. Because of the nature of the contents, they actually contemplated legal action. Before my family even read the book, they immediately said it was a book full of lies.

The rough draft stayed on the shelf for a while without getting published. My wife said the dream would not be complete until the rough draft is in book form. I told my family if they read it and find me telling one lie, the book would never be published. They read it, and needless to say, I Don’t Want to Die All Alone was born.

JP: This memoir has experiences that are tremendous gems of hope to the millions of children and young adults that get very little positive attention. What do you do to get this story in the hands of the people who can benefit from it?

JH: To get this into the hands of those it would benefit I would make this required reading. Have everyone from juvenile delinquents, prison inmates, parolees and felons to understand they also can be something in life. Give it to the ones that have not subscribed to gang or criminal activity but may be inclined to do so.

You can’t have the counselors and social workers that went to the finer schools in life to educate the youth and young adults that have been educated on the streets. Most guidance counselors and social workers have successful college educated parents. What can a social worker say to a gang member? Don’t be in one or you will go to jail. How can a counselor relate to a drug dealer?

Kids that grew up in gangs and the street life cannot understand what it’s like to have a two parent working or middle class family. They need someone that have been to the bottomless pit and have crawled out for kids to understand there’s hope.

JP: Gangs are known to be very possessive and families are notoriously secretive. Have you had any backlash from your family or the streets for opening your life to public discussion?

JH: This is a tough question. First of all, when you take your oath and pledge your allegiance, that gang becomes your new family. That’s how we are lured in and are taught to lure others into the gang.

They paint a picture of this vainglorious life of glamor to pit you against your family. When they see you are in a vulnerable state, they snatch you up and fill your head with fairy tales. Have you to believe your family members are the lowest of the low. Have you to believe your family does not care and could care less if you live or die. Telling you they will take care of you. Give you a place to stay, feed you, and if you go to jail they will get you out.

You believe all of this until the novelty wears off. Now you have to put in work. That could consist of being a look out while others do dirt. And after doing that for a while you could get promoted where you are now involved in handling illegal merchandise. This could go on for a day, a week, a month, or even years. The longer you are in the gang the more loyal you become to them.

OK, what if you want to get out? Now you are considered to be disloyal. You are called a sellout, a fake and untrustworthy even after all you have committed yourself to doing. And most of the time, you can’t just easily walk away. You allegiance and oath are considered to them to be lifetime, even if the chain of command changes.

Because of my rank in the gang life, I was one of the lucky ones to be ‘pardoned.’ When the backlash started, I left the state. The gang life is so possessive there are serious consequences and repercussions if you pursue to exit.

As for my immediate family, I face scrutiny all the time. I would not call what we have as secretive. This was and is a way for me to understand where I have been, to conclude where I am going. Only one family member has actually have been behind me since day one, but the others, I have to find myself defending what was written all the time.

JP: What would you say to that person who might not get to read I Don’t Want to Die All Alone but could benefit from your wisdom?

JH: If someone does not get a chance to read I Don’t Want to Die All Alone, I would tell them do not despair and give up hope. Always believe in yourself even when you feel no one else will. Whatever pitfalls and downfalls you experience in life, there’s always a way out of no way. When someone say to you, “You are nothing”, show them you are something. When someone say to you, “You will be nothing”, become something.

Even before this Yes We Can slogan became a household name, I was telling kids to say to themselves, “Yes I can, Yes I will, and Yes I did”. This is to show them they can do what they put their minds to. It keeps them motivated to believe they will continue their goals. It also has them to say they did it after each and every goal is completed.

JP: What’s next for Joseph Henderson?

JH: What’s next for me is to get everyone to read the book. But seriously, I really don’t know what’s next for me. Continue to help kids. They are reaching out, but many of us as adults do not have the heart to help them.

I will continue to promote I Don’t Want to Die All Alone to youth and young adults as well as anyone that needs to read an inspiring story. I guess I will still lecture on gang prevention and why not to get involved in drugs whether it is through use or selling. I will continue to educate on why education and knowledge is the cornerstone of success.


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