Actor talks incarceration, latest role in 'Out of Bounds'
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — Five years ago, Tenichi Garner was serving time in a jail cell for especially aggravated robbery. Now, the Jackson native is revisiting his past, but this time as an actor portraying a character embroiled in a life of crime.
"When I got out, that was the real test, the real challenge," Garner said. "It wasn't easy. There were many things that could have distracted me had I allowed them to, but I didn't. I chased my dreams, and I'm continuing to do so."
Garner pulled from his own life experiences in his latest role in "Out of Bounds," a Memphis-based coming-of-age story that follows a high school basketball star's foray into street crime.
Travis Elliot, the film's protagonist, must decide whether to turn to the streets to raise money to get his brother Rico — Garner's character — out of jail. After their father's death, Rico turned to crime to provide for the family, ending up in prison.
Garner said this particular role didn't require much acting — he completely understood Rico's character.
"My character Rico is somebody that didn't want to be in the streets, but unfortunately that's what he felt was his only choice at the time," Garner said. "... It was his goal to kind of get in and get out, but there's really no such thing as easy money."
Garner said he's enjoyed acting since kindergarten. As a 14-year-old, he earned straight A's in school and had dreams of becoming a doctor.
But by age 16, he had dropped out of high school. He was starting to go "down the wrong path," he said, and he and his mother decided he needed to get away.
He entered the job market, and for a while, things were looking up. Then he got back into the streets, and by 17 he found himself in prison.
"I got into the streets, and I kinda forgot about all of that," Garner said. "I lost who I was, and unfortunately it took (going to jail) for me to realize that hey, this is not who I am and I need to turn my life around."
He didn't get out until he was 33. Garner said his time in jail was not wasted, though.
"This is something that I did when I was 17," Garner explained. "I take full responsibility for it. I don't blame anyone other than myself. I did my time. I did everything I could to better myself in practical ways."
While in prison, Garner said he made it his goal to educate himself and make sure that he didn't end up following the same path twice.
Even before he received his sentence, Garner said he was determined to turn his life around.
"I was disgusted with myself because I knew who I was and the potential that I had, and just how seriously I had gotten off the path," he said.
While others in prison seemed to be focused solely on getting out of jail, Garner said he tried to set his mind to preparing himself for a better life once he got out of prison. He studied psychology and philosophy, gained carpentry and HVAC skills, and learned collegiate-level Spanish.
He was released in January 2014 and ended up back in Jackson. Less than a year after he got out, he started modeling and eventually transitioned into acting. He now works many jobs; he's also a photographer and a personal trainer. Eventually, Garner hopes to move to Atlanta to fully immerse himself in acting.
He said roles like this remind him of an important lesson he learned in his youth.
"It is kind of a street film, and it does have a street flair to it, but we're not at all trying to glorify that sort of lifestyle," Garner said of the film. "What people need to take from it is that there are always consequences and repercussions for your every action, your every decision. Choose the right decision."
Information from: The Jackson Sun, http://www.jacksonsun.com