Learning to box in prison opens Demond Brock’s heart, mind

Photo by Rick Colucci -- Demond Brock
Photo by Rick Colucci -- Demond Brock

Demond Brock has already spent countless hours in the gym preparing for his junior welterweight clash against Gary Bergeron, which is the featured co-main event of Saturday’s World Fighting Championship 26 at the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino.

But whenever the New Orleans-based boxer isn’t sparring, skipping rope or drumming away on a speed bag with machine-gun velocity, he’ll bury his face in a book — any book.

“I caught Demond reading something on executive memos the other day,” laughed Brock’s co-manager Keith Veltre. “If he’s not training, he’ll read anything. He likes to stay fully occupied. Demond doesn’t want to waste a minute.”

Not after he’s lost so many.

Brock walked out of the Dixon Correctional Facility on June 1, 2011, a free man after serving 14 years, six months and 23 days behind bars for armed robbery and attempted murder.

However, thanks to the prison’s boxing program, he also left a changed man.

The new Brock was calmer, cerebral and pensive. His life had direction and purpose. He was tormented by his troubled past and wanted to make amends.

He wanted to make the most of each moment and every opportunity.

“It was amazing because after I joined (the boxing team), I became a whole new person,” Brock said. “I had never won anything before, so when I started to get good, I gained confidence in myself.”

Brock (7-2, 3 KOs) will take this confidence into his bout against Bergeron (12-7, 3 KOs). The game plan calls for quick jabs and punishing body shots — his signature mode of attack.

“Bergeron is a tough opponent, but everyone knows I’m an action-packed fighter,” he said. “Fans can expect to see fireworks.”

Brock treated spectators to an explosive performance in March when he stunned previously unbeaten Cody Richard (14-1) via unanimous decision, a victory that validated Roy Jones Jr.’s decision to co-manage his career.

At 33, Brock’s window of opportunity continues to close. Time is precious. That’s why a win over Bergeron is especially imperative. It could push him closer to a top 15 ranking and increase the likelihood of a network TV fight in the near future.

“Demond is the kind of guy you can put against anyone, and he’ll still make something happen,” Jones said. “The sky is definitely the limit.”

Nonetheless, Brock’s serendipitous discovery of the sweet science in lockup helped him realize a calling even larger than winning world titles.

“I want to help people who grew up like me and prove that my transition with boxing was a success,” Brock said. “With all of the things that happened in my past, I can’t believe that I would be here today.”

Innocence lost

Brock grew up the youngest of three siblings in a single-family apartment in the St. Thomas Development, a former housing project adjacent to the Garden District. His mother, Sharon Lawrance, worked long hours as a housekeeper at the Hotel Monteleone.

With no parental guidance in the home, Brock eventually gravitated to the streets. He was drawn to young men who sold drugs in his neighborhood and quickly became enamored with the money and excitement.

“My mother worked her fingers to the bone but couldn’t provide the lifestyle that I wanted for myself,” he said. “I hung out with older guys who were drinking 40s and smoking weed. As a child, I watched those things and wanted to be a part of it.”

The thrill of street life was tempered with occasional spells of misery. On March 22, 1994, Brock witnessed the death of his best friend while playing an arcade game inside a corner store.

“I heard ‘POP-POP-POP’ and quickly ran to the back of the building,” Brock explained. “I eventually came outside and saw him lying on the ground, covered in blood. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happened a day before my 13th birthday, and it was my first real encounter with someone close to me getting murdered.”

The memory was seared into his mind, but it didn’t change him. At 15, Brock was arrested and sent to Phelps Correctional Center on Dec. 6, 1996, after robbing a person at gunpoint.

“Initially, I wasn’t remorseful,” he said. “I didn’t know the impact that my actions had on other people’s lives. The judge asked how I felt about the crime I had committed during my sentencing, and I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t articulate how I felt.”

The first few years in lock-up were particularly grueling. Brock was undersized and intimidated, a vulnerable child amongst hardened men. He had pride, but day-to-day survival was taking its toll.

He found himself getting into fights, and one escalated beyond fists three years into his sentence when Brock stabbed another inmate, puncturing his lung. He was rebooked with more time and transferred to Allen Correctional Center.

Anger management

Following a brief stretch at Allen, Brock was moved to Dixon, where he’d serve the remainder of his incarceration. That stay was made easier after he was introduced to a boxing competition.

The concept was simple: Two prisoners strap on gloves and smack each other around in a ring until one goes down. The victor earns a hat bearing the insignia “Ironman.”

Brock signed up, not realizing he was about to win something far greater.

“I beat my (opponent) to the canvas and the whole prison went crazy,” he said. “After I won, the warden said ‘Son, you need to join the boxing team.’ If prisoners had anger problems, he’d put them in the boxing gym so they could train their frustration off. I agreed to do it.”

From that point forward, boxing became Brock’s life. He fell under the trance of hard work and discipline. He liked the feeling of dedication and commitment. It led him to give up gambling and smoking. It made him feel less compelled to fight other inmates.

It unlocked an inner peace.

“Boxers were the perfect models for the prisoners to emulate,” Brock said. “Boxing opened up my mind and my heart.”

And piqued additional interests. Brock took classes and completed his GED. He earned a degree in culinary arts and learned a trade in brick masonry. He took college correspondence classes in kinesiology and became a certified public speaker through Toast Masters.

He also started to pray.

“I felt remorse for things I had done in my past and began to feel compassion for people,” Brock said. “I reached a point where I found myself getting antsy to be released because I wanted to show the world how much boxing, not prison, had changed my life.”

Carpe diem

Most boxers begin their amateur careers in their teens, but Brock had spent almost half of his life in a state-issued jumpsuit. When he was finally paroled a couple of months after his 30th birthday, he knew he had a lot of ground to cover.

Brock commenced training at Friday Night Fights Gym (formerly located on Freret Street) and fought on the club’s Friday Night Fights amateur cards.

“For any guy looking to make it big, Friday Night Fights is a great springboard,” Brock said. “It gives you that atmosphere, that pride. It gives you everything you’d need to take your career to the next level.”

Brock was exposed to that level only a year after leaving Dixon when he dropped a unanimous decision to Maurice Hooker in his pro debut. He went on to amass a 5-2 record over the next 15 months before teaming up with Veltre and Jones.

Brock’s handlers are toying with the idea of dropping him to lightweight (135 pounds) to bolster his chances of winning a world championship.

But Brock sees an even bigger picture, one that extends far beyond the ring. He wants to share his story of redemption at churches, prisons and schools. He particularly wants to reach out to kids.

“I want to give back to the community that I took so much away from,” Brock said.

“I would like to give back by sharing my time and my experiences with the world by speaking and working hands-on with offenders and troubled teenagers.”

The seconds on the clock continue to tick away and Brock still has so much that he’d like to accomplish.

The next chapters of his life remain unwritten, but Jones likes how Brock is filling the pages.

“Brock has learned from his past,” Jones said. “He’s a great guy with a hell of a work ethic, and he appreciates his freedom. He’s serious about seizing this opportunity.”