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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Prisoner nominated for literary award
Keith Hodge writes novels to help ‘right his wrongs’
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Courtesy Photo: Keith T. Hodge, shown here with his mother, Arnetta Hairston, is the author of “The Left Lane,” now available on Amazon.com.

Friday, October 4, 2013

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

"A smart man learns from his mistakes," said Keith T. Hodge, an inmate at the Patrick Henry Correctional Unit.

"A wise man learns from the mistakes of others, and a man who blames his mistakes on someone else, never learned nothing," he added.

Hodge said it took him 40 years to learn that lesson and, now that he has, he doesn't plan on looking back.

Hodge, a Martinsville native, was recently nominated for "Break-out Author of the Year" by the African American Literary Awards Show 2013 for his novel "The Left Lane."

The urban-fiction book is centered around its main character, Tyrone Philpott, who Hodge describes as a less-than-perfect version of himself.

"Tyrone is a combination of myself, my brother and my father," said Hodge.

Tyrone begins a new relationship with Telina Harris, a "knockout sister with an education and an attitude."

"Telina is a character created in the likeness of someone the average man would want to be with," said Hodge.

The story takes the reader on Tyrone's adventures in drag racing, restoring cars and pimping rides all over Southern Virginia.

Despite owning a business and being a "grandma's boy," Tyrone crosses the thin line between being "street" and being "hood."

For him, there is nothing more alluring than the chaotic double-edged razor called "the hustle."

On one side is money and recognition, and on the other side are the consequences that Tyrone is all too familiar with.

The book is described as "edgy" and meant for "adults only," Hodge said.

"It is about black conflict, but in a rural area. It has a lot of racing terminology, but that doesn't interrupt the flow of the story," he said.

Before his incarceration, Hodge said he was a family man. He was married and supporting his wife and children.

The former owner of Wipe Me Down Custom and Collision Center in Henry County, Hodge was a custom car builder, airbrush painter and tattoo artist. He also enjoyed street racing.

His work has been featured in Player's Wheels catalog, magazines and could be seen in car shows and on the skin and clothing of his customers throughout Southern Virginia.

"I specialized in car restoration, custom body work, hot rods and candy paint jobs," said Hodge. "I installed doors that open up backwards and tricked-out motorcycles. Think 'Pimp My Ride' but on a smaller scale."

Though born in Martinsville, Hodge grew up in New York and Texas, and graduated from Severna Park High School in Maryland, where he was voted "most artistic" by his 1991 graduating class.

Hodge moved back to Martinsville in 1993 after serving in the United States Army.

Hodge said he was "usually a pretty descent dude," but years of dabbling in drug use eventually caused him to "go off the deep end."

"I've been on the front page of The Franklin News-Post before, but not for anything positive," said Hodge.

In 2008, Hodge was arrested in connection with an attempted break-in at Riverside Minute Market.

The conviction, along with convictions of breaking and entering, damage to private property and credit card fraud, earned him an eight-year sentence.

"Once Judge Alexander banged his gavel, my circumstances changed drastically," said Hodge. "I was in a situation where I either had to get used to prison being a part of my life, or prepare for a future as a normal functioning member of society. One thing is for sure, I had eight years to figure it out."

Once imprisoned, Hodge could no longer support his family and his marriage dissolved. Soon after, a grandmother he was very close to, Orena Hairston, passed away.

"My grandmother was a firecracker," said Hodge.

Hodge even formed one of the characters in his book after his grandmother.

"In my book, Tyrone's grandmother, Netta, is really a combination of my grandmother, mother and sister, all in one woman," said Hodge.

While in prison, depression set in for Hodge as letters written to family members were never answered.

"At one time in my life, I actually thought I was important," said Hodge. "I found out I could be replaced by anyone at any time."

Eventually, lifting weights and jogging were not "doing it" for Hodge.

"I have no formal training at writing, but I started," said Hodge. "One page became five, then five pages became 20."

Hodge began sending his mother, Arnetta Hairston, handwritten copies of his manuscript to be typed.

"The other men that are locked up with Keith are his harshest critics," said Hairston. "They tell him if something he writes is no good. Keith hand-wrote the book several chapters at a time and sent them to me to type up."

Hairston said she researched publishers online and found one that was willing to work with an inmate and "do the things he couldn't because of the circumstances."

Hairston submitted the manuscript to Delphine Publications and the rest is history, she said.

"Within a few months time, I had written a fiction novel, "The Left Lane," and was on the phone with them (Delphine Publications) discussing a contract to write two more," said Hodge. "Often times people like me are arrested for careless acts that help destroy the community. Considering that the story is set in Martinsville and has several dramatic situations unfolding in Rocky Mount and Boones Mill, this book is my way of helping build up the areas that my behavior helped ruin."

Hodge said one of the worst hardships he has faced during his incarceration has been watching life go on without him.

Hodge is the father of three sons with "equal artistic and creative ability."

Joe, 21, is gifted in electronics. Brandon, 19, is creative in working with cars, and Kenneth, 12, draws.

"When a person finds himself behind these walls, they have two choices," said Hodge. "They can either better themselves or get used to being here. My problem was my selfishness, immaturity and fear. Once I got here, there was no us, no we, no ours. It was just me. With that analysis, I found that if I fix me, other stuff would fall into place. You can only get favorable results when you get yourself right. You hold the key to your own future."

Hodge currently has four completed books and is working on a fifth.

The second of his novels, "The Left Lane II," is set to be released in mid-December.

"Very seldom do we see anything positive come from any of our prisons," said Hodge. "In an environment designed to punish, I've found a way to not only pay my debt to society, but also to do something positive."

"The Left Lane" is available on Amazon.com in paperback format for $13.50, and in Kindle eBook format for 99 cents.

Hodge's passion is urban hot rods, so once he is released, he plans on getting back to automotive repair.

"However, if I am more successful as a writer, then that's what I will do," he added.

Before all that, though, Hodge said he wants to get a female, blonde Chihuahua puppy.

"For unconditional love," he said.

 
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