Donald D. Leathers claims he was once Akron’s most notorious pimp.
Leathers, a standout football player at Akron’s South High School, said he turned to “a life on the streets” after seeing what he called the glamour and excitement.
He brags that he once supervised as many as a dozen prostitutes at a time and earned $1,000 a night.
But the lifestyle also brought on prison time and decades of drug addiction.
Now, at 67 years old, the man who once drove a 1965 Rolls Royce hopes a book he wrote during his most recent prison term that ended two years ago will show others the errors of his ways.
“I wanted to make a statement to someone who goes to prison or is on drugs,” he said. “They can still make it if they apply themselves or go to school and take advantage of the resources available to them.”
Leathers travels around the city and sells copies of his book, Hollywood: The True Story of Donald Leathers. One such trip brought him to the Akron Urban League, just a few blocks from where he grew up on Moon Street.
After working as a pimp in the North Howard Street district near downtown, Leathers found himself in big trouble with the law. He wound up spending four years in prison from 1974 to 1978 for promoting prostitution.
In the book, which pulls no punches about his lifestyle, Leathers says he continued working as a pimp even during his prison term.
Eventually, he stopped supervising prostitutes in the 1980s but found himself in prison three more times for drug convictions.
In 1986, he served one year for drug trafficking. He went back to prison for three more years in 1988, again for drug convictions.
Leathers became a drug counselor after leaving prison, but continued to struggle with his own substance abuse. He lost his counseling gig in 2002 for violations of drug policies. And in 2010, he landed in prison again on another drug conviction.
“That is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “It gave me a chance to get my life back together.”
During that prison term three years ago, he completed his autobiography.
Leathers credits prison for saving his life.
“I could have been dead for the way I was going,” he said. “I needed to rest and rethink everything. I was in shambles. Not so much that I was using so much. I was run down.”
The 2010 incident, he said, landed him in prison because he violated terms of probation from a drug conviction in 2009 following his arrest in 2008.
“I was at an after hours place and I had drugs on me,” he said. “They gave me a chance and I messed that up by using drugs.”
Now, he hopes to reach people before they fall off the same cliff.
“The message I want to send to young people is just because you’ve been in jail or been on drugs, you can still make it,” he said. “You can fall down but get back up and keep trying. It is never too late.”
His daughter, Donette Leathers, 32, of Atlanta, said she thinks her father is doing better.
But there were parts of the book, she said, that were hard to read.
“I was shocked,” she said.
But now, she said, she believes her father “has changed his life around a lot.”
His son, Donald Leathers, Jr., 48, of Cincinnati, said he remembers a lot of what is described in the book.
“The story is a story of redemption and battling your demons,” he said.
Leathers, who dedicated the book to his parents and his grandson Leland Bell, who died in a car accident in 2007, said the battle with addiction is never ending.
“I have to stay focused on not doing it,” he said. “It is one day, one minute, one hour.”
But he accepts the choices he made.
“I lived it and I paid for it,” he said.
As a father, grandfather and great grandfather, he said he believes in a higher power to give him the strength to reach out to others.
He ends the book simply, “I’m thankful that helping, instead of hurting others, has become my mission for the remaining time I have on the planet.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at email@example.com.