From boxing to prison and back
Once rising star spent 23 years in jail; now works to keep boxers on proper path
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Derrik Holmes doesn't agree with the old adage that experience is the best teacher.
Life's experiences taught Holmes some tough lessons that landed him in jail for 23 years, ending a promising boxing career that saw him become one of Prince George's County's best prospects.
A free man since January 2008, Holmes hopes he can dissuade area youth from turning to a life of crime. Earlier this month, when Holmes opened the New Revival Boxing and Fitness Gym, located at 1402 Ritchie-Marlboro Road in Capitol Heights, he continued a vision he has held since his days behind bars.
"My goal is to save youngsters' lives from the pulpit of boxing," Holmes said. "Taking heed to good advice is better for children than experience is."
The 4,200-square-foot facility used to be a warehouse for the New Revival Center of Renewal, headed by pastor Paul A. Wells. The gym will serve as an extension of the church. The Black Belt University mixed-martial arts school is also run out of the gym.
Holmes, a former resident of Palmer Park who now resides in Washington, D.C., has a unique story.
legend in waiting
Holmes is a close friend of boxing legend and Palmer Park native Sugar Ray Leonard, and he trained and competed alongside Leonard under the tutelage of trainer David Jacobs at the Palmer Park Community Center. Holmes became a champion for the first time almost as soon as he started boxing, winning a junior division Golden Gloves title in 1969, just weeks after first walking into the Kentland boxing gym.
Holmes would later join the boxing team at Palmer Park and said Leonard wanted so badly to spend time with him that Leonard eventually joined the team as well. Holmes won a gold medal at a pre-Olympic tournament in 1975 in Montreal.
But his life would take a turn for the worse after losing a bout to Charles Mooney at the U.S. Olympic Trials prior to the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
"The picture tells the story," Holmes said of a photo he still keeps, which shows the referee holding his and Mooney's hands just before the judges' decision was announced. "Mooney had his head held down and his face looked messed up because I felt I won the fight. But they said he did. I remember telling myself, I want some dope,' without ever having used any drugs, because I lost. I guess I felt that was the way to cope with it because of the environment I came up in."
Leonard went on to win a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics and then to professional stardom. But as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, Holmes said he turned to drugs and a life of crime. He was charged with attempted murder and armed robbery in 1983 after an incident in Clinton. By 1984, convicted on both counts, Holmes was in prison, and he spent most of the next 23 years in the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown.
"When he was arrested, it was hard for me to digest that," said Leonard, who was in town on Saturday and in attendance at a local Golden Gloves competition, held at the gym in Palmer Park that bears his name. "He was my best friend, and he had it tough. A lot of people told me that Derrik and my brother [Roger] were both fundamentally better than me. What I had was more discipline."
A time to change
Just before Christmas in 1986, Holmes had a catharsis. He received a five-page letter from a friend who said she had just won a contest where the prize was cases of alcohol, and that her living room "looked like a bar."
"I took the pages of the letter and ripped them up and asked the Lord, What is it that you want from me?'" Holmes said he shouted in disgust.
Holmes said he grabbed his bible and opened it to the book of Psalms, and said the answers to his life questions appeared in the book's verses. At that point, Holmes's life changed.
He began participating in programs while in prison that focused on showing the young people inside and outside of prison a better way than crime. The first of the projects began in 1992 and was called C.A.R.E., for Crime Awareness Rehabilitation Education, in which Holmes spoke to teens who were not incarcerated about the ills of crime and drugs. Holmes continued the project until his release.
Another program, Youth Challenge, included Holmes and about a dozen other inmates who mentored teens who were behind bars. The program started around 1994 and continued until after Holmes was released.
Holmes would remain incarcerated until Jan. 11, 2008, when he was released after serving his full sentence.
New life, new gym
With the help of the church and his assistant trainers, including his wife Regina and Anthony Jacobs, Holmes hopes boxing can help lead generations of youth away from the destructive atmosphere of street life.
"I've stuck by him because I love him," said Regina Holmes, who was first married to Derrik from 1994 to 1998 and then again on April 3, 2008. "I think I've loved him since way back in 1978 [when I first met him]. I've just stood by him and that's what I'm doing now. When he was trying to get the gym together, I wanted to be there. I wanted to see what's going on. He has a lot of ideas. He said he wants to produce a world champion. I just want him to be successful in the gym."
Holmes said he has about eight athletes enrolled in the gym, ranging in age from youth to adult.
One of the athletes is Alyssa Howell, 22, the step-daughter of John Fejeran, who spent time in prison with Holmes.
Alyssa Howell's mother, Sharon Howell, said Fejeran requested that she find Holmes so he could train Alyssa.
"I've spoken with [Holmes] myself and met his wife and family and there couldn't be, as far as I'm concerned, anybody better than Derrik," Sharon Howell said. "He cares about the community. My husband watched him train young men in the prison system. It's all about the kids with Derrik. You cannot go wrong going to his gym. You get God and a knockout punch."
New Revival Boxing and Fitness is accepting new members. Contact
Derrik Holmes at 301-523-7322.
E-mail Terron Hampton at email@example.com.