DeAndre McCall is a rapper. He’s a convict. At times in his life, those labels have defined him. Today, however, he values a much different label: dad.
McCall is the father of four children, all with different mothers. He knows he has ruined his chances to have a good relationship with some of them, but he is determined to be a new man — and a new dad — when he gets out of jail for what he intends to be the last time, on Feb. 2.
McCall was one of the star students of a new class at the jail this year, called InsideOut Dad. It’s a national program that aims to help inmates understand their roles as fathers so that when their sentences are completed they can fulfill their duty to raise the next generation.
Thanks to arrangements made by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, McCall agreed to share his story with the Palm Coast Observer, revealing his mistakes of the past and his hopes for the future.
Got away with it
McCall’s first child, a girl, was born when McCall was 17. (All children's names are withheld from this story to protect their privacy.) He was a star athlete at Flagler Palm Coast High School at the time, and he was heading into his junior year. He was scared, excited but also sad because he thought his future in sports was likely over.
“My dad wasn’t there,” McCall said. “I was raised in a house full of women.” He loved his family, and they loved him, but he realizes now that he never learned what it means to be a man and a father.
“It’s not being this big, strong provider who doesn’t show emotion,” he said. As men who start families but leave the behind, “we don’t understand the stress we put on women — the sacrifices they have to make because they’re the only parent. I thought it was all about the money.”
As a teenager, McCall and his girlfriend didn’t get along, and when he got his GED to finish high school, all his friends started getting into trouble. He wanted to get away, so he moved to Miami. But it didn’t take long for him to get in trouble there: He got arrested for growing 10 marijuana plants. His perception was that the court system in Miami didn’t have much interest in chasing him. He bonded out, took a substance abuse class, and, essentially, he got away with it.
Meanwhile, McCall was developing his gift for writing and rapping. For the next few years, he performed at clubs and even recorded a song with Kodak Black, who was also signed to the same record label, Dollaz N Dealz.
(Kodak Black ultimately went to prison on a four-year sentence until then-President Donald Trump pardoned him on Jan. 23.)
McCall’s Instagram is full of photos and videos of himself smoking, partying. In some videos, he raps alone in his car. YouTube features videos of McCall, using his stage name Dre Day, recording in a studio. There are music videos set in Bunnell.
“I met a lot of people all around Florida,” McCall said. “Lot of talent, lot of businessmen. … I’ve packed a lot of clubs, wall to wall.”
‘That type of energy’
McCall’s second child, a girl, was born in 2016. Seven months later, in May 2017, his third was born, a son.
But McCall wasn’t able to see his son's birth; McCall was in prison. A month earlier, McCall took part in a home invasion. Guns, robbery, drugs. This time, there were no slaps on wrists; he was facing up to 15 years in prison. This time, it was serious.
“I knew then it’s not really a game,” McCall said. “I realized I could lose my life.”
He ended up state prison not for 15 years but for two years — just for the robbery.
Ironically, prison may have saved his life because it kept him off the streets.
Knowing he had missed the birth of his son made him feel awful, not to mention failing to be involved in the lives of his older two children. He also started to think about other missed opportunities in his life.
He remembered loving his construction class at high school and his dream to own a business. He had a talent for drawing and expression, and now what good was it all?
He also missed the time when his music was his therapy. Back when it was harmless.
“My family was strict, so when there were things I didn’t want to go to them about, I just wrote about it, and nobody gets hurt,” McCall said.
In prison, he started to rethink the rap lyrics that he had written — the lyrics that were being recited back to him by other prisoners who knew him as Dre Day the rapper. He had a fan club of sorts in the prison dorm, but it wasn’t exactly satisfying.
In fact, he realized that his music had been a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“What you speak, you manifest,” he said. “You speak things into existence. So the more I rap about it — the more I promote it — the more that type of energy started to surround me.”
“You get letters from people like, ‘You live what you rap. Everybody loves you because you tell the truth.' But it’s not crossing everybody’s mind that I’m in here for robbery, and I could be here for a long time.”
DEANDRE McCALL, on receiving fan mail while in prison
What a woman wants
On Halloween in 2019, McCall got out of prison and returned to Flagler County. He would have two years of probation before he was free completely, but he had a new perspective and was determined to make things right.
In 2020, his fourth child was born, a son.
He also tried to be involved with his older three children as much as he was allowed. He went to a birthday party in May 2020 and chased his 3-year-old around the playground. He realized that this toddler was stubborn, just like he was; he saw himself in his child and felt a new connection with him.
McCall also connected with Brittany Cartier, and they started a relationship. Cartier had a 3-year-old daughter, and McCall helped to be a father figure for her when he wasn’t around his own children.
Cartier said McCall was a good dad. He “would stop dead in his tracks” and rush to help his biological children whenever he was needed. “We would go to get medicine in the middle of the night,” Cartier told the Palm Coast Observer in a phone interview.
He also loved Cartier’s daughter. Cartier recalled one morning when McCall let Cartier sleep in late.
“When I woke up, I walked into the kitchen, and he and [my daughter] were cooking breakfast,” she said. “They had their little music on, and he was letting her help cook breakfast for Mommy. They were bonding.
“My heart broke into tiny little pieces. Because that’s all a mom wants. That’s all a woman really wants is a real family, not a broken one with a man in and out of the system.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t stay that way for Cartier or McCall.
On May 23, 2020, McCall was caught with marijuana again. He had violated the terms of probation and was sent to jail.
Once again, McCall met plenty of fans of his music when he was in jail. But he has told Cartier that he is done with being Dre Day and wants to write positive music when he gets out on Feb. 2.
McCall also has been taking InsideOut Dad classes to learn his role as a father. He has even recruited others to join him in the classes, including one man whom he’s helping learn how to read. He’s a fan of McCall’s music, too.
“There is always an opportunity to turn a ‘setback’ into a ‘step-up’ for success. It’s my goal to always return our inmates back into our community more stable and more prepared to make good choices so they can become productive members in our community and for their children. Results like this show that our efforts are working.”
RICK STALY, Flagler County sheriff on the InsideOut Program graduates
“I use that influence to make him turn the other way,” McCall said. “We talk every day.”
InsideOut Dad encourages reflection in a Christian framework, using Bible verses to teach positive traits, qualities and responsibilities of ideal fathers.
One of the most important lessons McCall has learned, he said, is the value of one-on-one time with children.
“It’s changed my whole perspective on things,” he said. “Everything you do, you think of them.”
He realizes now that he was careless with his probation. The goal shouldn’t be to get away with things; the goal should be to do the right thing.
“Prison matured me,” McCall said, “but this last little bit of time (in jail), it humbled me a lot. I think that’s the piece that was missing: I wasn’t as humble as I should have been. I have to be a father and do it the right way. It’s harder than people think. But I should have done what I should have done to keep my freedom.”
McCall turned 26 years old on Christmas Eve 2020. He wasn’t around to celebrate Christmas with his children or with Cartier. But Cartier said he did everything he could.
“It’s so funny — he even made Christmas happen from jail,” Cartier said. “We got to do [Christmas with a Deputy] because he made the arrangement. He went out of his way to make sure [Cartier’s daughter] was included.”
Cartier said she is hopeful for McCall when he gets out of jail this time. She expects him to help her daughter learn how to ride a bike, take her swimming — and keep writing music in a positive way.
“When he comes home, he has a choice to be a dad,” Cartier said. “He walks out of them gates a free man. And the same way Flagler County is giving him a clean slate is the same thing I will do. It’s time to come home and start being a part of everything you have missed.”