Leonard David Flippen IV: To be a Man
Part I: What’s in a Name?
by Larry Greco Harris
Leonard Flippen, like all convicts, was assigned a prison number that will follow him and follow his name for the rest of his life. However, quite another number with an entirely different purpose was bestowed upon Leonard long before his involvement in a long string of gang and drug related crimes. It was the number 4, written “IV”. Leonard David Flippen IV was born on June 3rd, 1961.
“I’m a military brat,” Leonard says in the crisp, forceful and articulate language that usually accompanies a position of authority, “so I was extremely lucky in that area. I lived a very sheltered life up until the age of eleven. My family traveled, so I was exposed to other cultures, and I learned to adapt to them very well.”
When Leonard speaks of his military father, he speaks of a man who would probably have raised his only son with an iron authority inside a framework of tradition.
“My father was a strict disciplinarian. He was mean. Now deep down inside he was a good person, but on the outside he was a terrifying individual. I think that’s where a lot of my authoritarian stuff comes from.”
It is unclear what path a young African American boy being raised in a multicultural environment overseas in a two-parent family might choose. But one would assume that his first career choice would not be drug-running pimp.
“My parents divorced when we were in Germany. My mother left, and she moved my three sisters and me to Atlanta, Georgia—she moved us to the projects of Atlanta, Georgia—she moved us to the ghetto of Atlanta, Georgia. So here’s this eleven year old kid with this cultured life who suddenly finds himself in the hood inside a house full of women with no father.”
As was his skill, Leonard adapted to his new environment. But without a dad, and with the dominant male figures in the Atlanta Projects engaged in the business of big city poverty, Leonard very quickly turned to a life of crime.
“That’s when my criminal tendencies started. I can remember aspiring to be a pimp. I was going to be that pimp, and I was going to be a hustler. That’s what the men there did, and that’s what I was going to do.”
So with the bravado of focused intention that Leonard still displays today, that is exactly what he did—at least until his mother, fearing for his life, sent him to live in sunny California. At her request, Leonard packed up his name with its now hollow number “IV” (hollow because it no longer spoke of bloodlines or traditions or paternal guidance), and he moved himself to California.
There, ready to be a man but with no model of fatherhood to guide him, Leonard David Flippen IV would instead be scooped up by a brotherhood of Crips, crime and crack cocaine.
…this true story to be continued …