When Antwone Fisher was 17 years old, he was collecting money for the drugs-and-prostitutes enterprise of a man called Butch, the closest thing Fisher said he had to a father figure at that point in his life.
The job came to an end when Fisher took a beating because he failed to hand out a business card to a customer — a card that, unbeknownst to Fisher at the time, had on the back of it the address where the customer could find their child, a child that had been used as a loan to Butch in return for some heroin.
Fisher overcame a childhood of similar abuse and hardship to become a successful screenwriter, a best-selling author and a family man. Thursday, he appeared before a crowd of more than 500 people at the Special Events Center to talk about his youth and what he has learned from it.
“Young people have to remember: It’s going to rain in your life. That’s what life is,” Fisher said. “Some days are sunshine, but you have to take the good with the bad. Don’t do anything that will make it difficult for you when the sun does come out.”
Fisher’s mother was in prison when he was born, and his father died before his birth. The foster mother who raised Fisher from the time he was two until he turned 14 abused and molested him, causing mental problems Fisher said nobody should have to endure.
“Mental health is something that is very important, but a lot of people don’t like to admit that they might have mental health (problems),” he said. “Just like you have to visit a dentist twice a year, or visit the doctor when you feel sick, you should find time to sit down with a counselor. Sometimes you may find the answer to a problem you didn’t even know you had.
“Some people have never been frank with anyone, and they’re scared to be honest now as a result. Some people are angry all the time, and don’t know why, but (never being honest) is the cause of a lot of their problems.”
While Fisher was with his foster family — consisting of a foster mother and sister and two foster brothers — he was neglected and sexually abused. At 10 years old, Fisher said, he was forced to serve as an orderly for the mental patients his foster mother also housed, serving medicine and even bathing them. Fourteen social workers assigned to Fisher during the course of his 12 years at the home didn’t stop the sexual attacks, he said.
“A lot of times the social workers I was assigned just wouldn’t seem to want to fix the problems,” Fisher said. “They wouldn’t even ask if something was wrong. It was almost as if they were afraid to have to fix it.”
When he was 14, Fisher’s foster mother decided she no longer wanted to house the foster children. But, Fisher said, she was too afraid of the damage to her social image to have social workers come and take the children away. So Fisher was given “two paper bags (with his things) and 50 cents and told to go back where (he) came from.”
But the problem, Fisher told the crowd, was that he did not know where that was. After time in a shelter, while working for Butch and attending a reform school, which Fisher said served little purpose other than to make him angry and violent, he found himself in the Navy. The 11 years Fisher spent there helped him turn his life around.
“The most valuable thing about my time (in the Navy) was learning how to free myself and to help myself by being honest,” he said. “If you can be honest, with yourself and others, it makes life a lot easier.”
Fisher has written nine movies, including Antwone Fisher, a 2002 movie based on his life, and is working on a tenth, which he will direct himself. His novel, “Finding Fish,” is also based on his life and was a New York Times bestseller. His first collection of poetry, “Who Will Cry for the Little Boy?,” was released recently.
Fisher, 44, has two children. He did not have his first child until he was 37, a decision he said he is thankful for.
“The hardest time for young men is the ages 17 to 26. People expect a lot from you, and it is hard to live up to,” Fisher said. “You have to have a time in your life when you are turned totally free and are allowed to live. You can’t do that with a family. Besides, how can you possibly have anything to tell a child when you are 23 years old?
“People need to do all they can with their youth. It is a time to find yourself, to explore, to do things. Everybody runs into roadblocks, but things can always get better.”