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'Street Doctor' Leaves His Mark on Newark with 'The Fingerprint'

Earl Best publishes candid autobiography

Earl "The Street Doctor" Best peeled the calendar pages back 28 years Saturday afternoon, taking a captive audience inside the Newark Public Library way back to 1983 when he was serving the start of a 17-year prison sentence for bank robbery.

"When I went in, thank God I was the squeaky wheel," said Best. "The squeaky wheel is I talked it back. If I seen a roach in the food, I told everybody not to eat. ...

"I was the squeaky wheel. So they said we're not going to let this guy stay in population. They put me in solitary confinement."

Although all of that time alone in incarceration could have broken him, it ultimately recreated the man affectionately known around Brick City as

"I was getting ready for this mission," Best explained.

From 17 years behind bars, to meeting the Dalai Lama this past May at the , Best continues to heal and help others with his generosity of spirit and tales of perseverance that are detailed in his fittingly titled autobiography, "The Fingerprint: Identifying the Real You," that fans were buying and having signed by the first-time author. 

"'The Fingerprint' is my story, but it's more than my story,” Best said emphatically to the audience. "Everybody's got a fingerprint."

Growing up in Newark's South Ward, Best's mother prophesied him as an inner-city version of Moses, someone who would minister inspiration around his home city at its schools and along its hardscrabble streets. 

Before this came to be, however, he became a product of his environment and ended up in prison; he still remember being read the Miranda Rights when he was arrested on June 13, 1983. Ironically, his book title stems somewhat from his days of robbing banks, when an exploding dye pack left a fingerprint that the prosecuting attorney’s witness said "could only belong to Earl Best."

Upon being banished to solitary confinement, Best initially struggled to maintain his sanity. "I was supposed to be crazier than a fruitcake," he said. One of the ways he passed the time was counting all 1,759 Rice Krispies in a box. 

Another was a voracious appetite for reading. Best pored over pages of philosophy by Plato, law by Johnnie Cochran, life by Malcolm X. and J.A. Rogers — the latter's "World's Great Men of Color" serving as his "bible."

"When I was reading, I wasn't reading surface stuff," said Best. "I was reading to see what's up."

When he emerged as a free man nearly 10 years ago, Best was ready to trade his past for the opportunity to offer hope by telling his story in schools across Brick City. Although unemployed, he drives his van around Newark delivering blankets and food to the less fortunate – which is how he came to meet Alvin Perry earlier this year.

Last November, Best learned he would get to meet the Dalai Lama. Knowing this — and knowing Perry was a publisher — he pressed his new friend to print his autobiography. Although initially skeptical, spending time with "The Street Doctor" convinced Perry to green light the project.  

"He was saying, 'I gotta put gas in this car, my phone's about to get cut off, people don't really understand what I'm doing,' " Perry recalled Best saying. "So, this homeless guy comes by and is digging in the trash can. Street broke our conversation and said, 'Hey, hey, hey.'

"So, the homeless guy puts the stuff back in the garbage can like he'd done something wrong. And Street is like, 'Yo, man, I don't play that. Let's go and I'll buy you something to eat.' I was like this guy is for real. He ain't putting on no show."

From his first keystrokes on Feb. 26, Best's autobiography was printed May 13, the first day of the Newark Peace Education Summit — where he met the Dalai Lama. Since then, he has sold more than 400 copies despite a limited release and gave out 75 to prisoners at places like Newark's Delaney Hall, a halfway house for prisoners about to be released into society.

There, one prisoner broke down in tears while recounting how "The Fingerprint" altered his outlook, telling Best, "I'm about to get out of here. I'm tired of shooting people."

It is a story of redemption that bears the fingerprint of Best's own story, one he hopes Spike Lee or Tyler Perry will turn into a movie someday soon. In the meantime, he will continue ministering his message of hope across Newark.

"That's what I'm trying to bring out of this," said Best. "If I can change, you can change."

Regena McCray August 08, 2011 at 02:44 PM
I applaud Street Doctor!!! He didn't let his solitary confinement turn him into a viscious wild animal but into a intelligent, compassionate, tender, loving lamb. May the "Good Shepherd" Continue to Bless Him... We all are authentic and identified by our fingerprint. Let us all Live by the Blue-print of Christ... To Love, Serve and be Peace Makers! - Regena
wayne sigidi johnson August 08, 2011 at 07:44 PM
The Street Doctor's life experiences and imagery (coming from Newark) is a major movie drama.....like Malcolm X Mr. Best is respected in the streets ,prisons, schools and corporate boardrooms....Why?.....because he is manifessing his negatives into a positive solution no one has all the answers to yet.By anyone helping him " to - do " his mission to :" help heal some of the inner - city wounds brought about by the lack of opportunities and choices certain people live with".....We empower the Street Doctor to create a Blueprint to help the masses......Wayne Sigidi Johnson
Julia Merrill August 10, 2011 at 12:21 AM
I commend the him, he is doing a good job helping others, how do I know? I've seen him in action & what he offers actually helps. I've been on the receiving end & think if there were more individuals who would apply his logic things would be much better in our city.
darrin walker November 20, 2013 at 09:36 PM
The Street Doctor is one of the most influential figures for the youth in the city of Newark. The book is definitely a very interesting read. The book aids in sharing that anyone can change and be productive in our society. Multiple times I was in his presence and he inspired youth who were heading in the wrong direction. http://darrinwalker.com/

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