When I was 17, in 1970, I was up to my eyeballs in illegal activity. I lived on the south side of Chicago. I would wake up around 9AM and about 10AM I would go out burglarizing apartments till 3PM with my partner in crime Tony James. This was the time of day most people were at work and their apartments sat empty. Then in the evening we would sell drugs we bought with the money we got from selling hot (as in stolen) merchandise. The pay phone at a local Persian restaurant (Ahmads} was the best way to contact me.
Sometime around this period I met Marshall Jackson, aka Tiny. Some who were around then will remember Tiny and no one who knew him will forget him. He was black, stood about 6′ 3″ and weighed about 350. He had a stutter and a bubbly, intense personality. He was10 years older than me, and he was a stone criminal also. We became quite close and I took him for a mentor as well as a friend. His specialty was stealing cars and chopping them up for sale. But like myself, he remained open to any criminal activity.
Tiny had very few white people he liked growing up in Lawndale on the West Side. He was enamored with our neighborhood and the young white kids in Hyde Park. White kids here had grown up in this wonderfully ethnically diverse community and exhibited little of the racism he was used to. He concluded he had misjudged us as a race. He thought the general lack of street smarts and the open nature of Hyde Park whites was endearing. It became his neighborhood.
Tiny taught me a lot about being a criminal. He taught me the advanced rules of intimidation, deception, and manipulation. He introduced me to car repair shops where we hung out and bought and sold stolen goods. Tiny was fascinated with all the drugs we young bloods were doing. Our hood was one of those which early dove deep into recreational drugs. His knowledge of drugs until then was limited to his girlfriend’s heroin addiction.
Tiny acquainted me with his criminal pals and I introduced him to mine. But I also introduced him to the Blue Gargoyle coffeehouse at the University Church for the Disciples of Christ and the Reverend Loel Callahan. Loel had befriended me and subsequently convinced me to help him launch an alternative youth program (non-religious) at the church, which was located in the shadow of the University of Chicago.
So, I recruited Tiny and all my other street pals to hang out at the church and help out with our youth program there. That is a whole ‘nother story. Adding his pals definitely strained the notion of “youth” add increased the mean age of the group. But lest you get the wrong idea, we were a mix of teens some who were straight-laced, drug free, high school students and many like me, street kids. We had two things in common, intelligent and a sincere desire in the improvement of the human condition.
So, Tiny and I shared adventures. Panhandling bail money for friends at a nightclub called Alices Restaurant on the North Side, hitting blues bars, camping in Missouri, stealing credit cards and saving damsels in distress. If you knew Gene Rogers, you would be interested in the night Tiny knocked him the fuck out for messing with university students at the Blue Gargoyle.
I can’t do justice to what such a relationship was like and the indelible impression it left on me. We had a bunch of laughs, at jokes and at danger. Tiny took me for my first (and last) armed robbery. at a meat-packing plant on the south side. Supposed to be easy in and out, just show our guns, grab the cash from the safe and go. But the man at the door of the plant seemed suspicious of us from the git and reluctant to let us in. Tiny nicely pushed on the door while chatting friendly about how we just wanted to buy some meat. The man tried to dig in and keep the door from opening wide, but his feet were sliding backwards as he lost the pushing match. Nothing felt right and so I yanked hard to stop Tiny which aborted our heist.
Tiny took a long time to forgive me. He had to round up a new crew to finish the job another day. He gave me a chance to redeem myself later and offered me the opportunity go on an armed robbery spree across Illinois. He wanted me to bring my quite ominous M1 military carbine which had a folding stock, a telescopic sight, flash suppressor and a 30 round magazine. His theory was that no one would resist us if we displayed my rifle. I had to admit to him that in my heart I was really just a property crimes kind of guy and not cut out for armed robberies.
As I was saying earlier, Tiny became involved in the youth program at the Blue Gargoyle and was usually there with his pals to provide security when our youth group put on an event, like a dance. Because of the church location, it was not uncommon to find Disciples and Stones in attendance. For the uninitiated, those were the two large, very large, black gangs on Chicago’s south side. Tiny had this way of walking into conflict and deescalating it. His size was so persuasive that I saw him stop gang violence with a smile.
But we didn’t physically hurt innocents. Neither Tiny nor I liked bullies. Hard to explain but we stood together against violent predators who we encountered trying to hurt those we perceived as weaker. He used his size and demeanor to calm some folks but others like the aforementioned Gene, he beat into submission. The opportunities to use our street smarts and strength were manifold. Tiny taught me that if you have to mete out a whooping, make sure you do so convincingly thus do you discourage comeback. He taught me to refrain from making threats of revenge, because you increase the probability of getting caught while getting said revenge. He said, “do not threaten, just do”.
It was new years eve about 1971 when I accompanied Tiny and another older pal, Butch, on their first hallucinogenic LSD trip. It started in Hyde Park at a party at my friend Norman Nakama’s apartment, with a bunch of drunk, stoned and tripping hippies. My friend Preston somehow talked my 2 pals, definitely not hippie, into taking the LSD. I joined in, but it was far from my first trip.
We left HP and headed to downtown Chicago for the holiday celebration. It was a horror show with drunks fighting, the crowd swelling, and the police pushing back on the surging crowd as you neared the epicenter at the corner of State and Randolph, by the Marshall Field building. The crowd was so big it swallowed Tiny up, beyond my grasp. That freaked me out, so I grabbed Butch till the clock struck midnight and the crowd dispersed. After most people had walked off, there was Tiny, his eyes closed and swaying with the crowd that was no longer there. I remember Chicago was so cold that night and Tiny was generating so much heat that when he took off his cap his head was smoking.
Having recovered Tiny, we headed back to my Hyde Park apartment. I lived alone at the end of a parking lot of a supermarket. My furniture consisted of 3 chairs and a piece of foam rubber that I slept on and a stereo. We had a few hours of hallucinogenic chat as Tiny and Butch strolled through their minds now turned psychedelic.
Many a night of fun like this was followed by our usual morning ritual. Breakfast(!) at some ghetto shack for large amounts of bacon, eggs and toast or the 3 of us would buy and cook a couple of pounds of bacon, 2 loaves of bread and a couple of dozen eggs to cook up.
But, one night he took his new found affection for whites and headed with some pals to a neighborhood carnival in a white community known as Back of the Yards. BOYs was a white stronghold in Chicago. VERY racist. Tiny described for me the next day how that turned out. Some white guys started trouble and when the fight started it “seemed like the entire place jumped on us”. He said that, “I was continually throwing guys off my back and constantly fighting my way to the others to help them”. He said it took a while before the police could push back the crowd and escort our friends from the carnival. I chastised him for going off on his own to such a hostile place. Tiny, delightfully naive in his own way, declared that he would be more selective in the future about what white people he hung around.
Gosh, we sure had a bunch of adventures. Tiny taught me how to power shift my 1965 Chevy Impala 396 Super Sport. That is shifting through all gears with the accelerator pedal held continuously to the floor. A mutual friend of ours had personally stitched together my car interior in a white leather, diamond, tuck and roll design. .
It had a custom green paint job with gold flakes shot in and a white vinyl top and tinted windows. I do not have any photos of my ride but included the photos as samples of the style .
He knew I had his back and I knew he had mine I relied upon his size and he upon my wits. He knew I exploited his size to our advantage and he used my whiteness to gain admission to situations he could then exploit. So we explored a lot of dangerous territory together with our merry band of fellow criminal pranksters.
We went separate ways eventually, but kept in touch. Years later he told me that he and some of the guys had talked about kidnapping me for ransom since my family had money. We never discussed whether they planned to kill me to protect their identities but I am sure it was part of the discussion. He also admitted he had harbored a grudging respect and even fear of some other street pals I ran with occasionally who had a propensity for violence.
When Tiny was in his 40s, he got caught and prosecuted for a bank robbery in Uptown. By then I was a social worker with street kids. We hung out some before he went off to prison. He was very stoic about his fate, wouldn’t give the names of his accomplices in exchange for a lighter sentence. He was sent to a federal hospital prison because he had diabetes and suffered from chronic pain which was the result of a stomach bypass back when the stapled your stomach.
When he came out of prison he was older, calmer and sicker. He took a job as a janitor at the Museum of Science and Industry and bought a used funeral hearse and painted it bright yellow as his daily transport. He slowly started to lose his battle with his diabetes. In his early 50s, his right leg was amputated because his circulation suffered.
I was now a lawyer and he my client because a Chicago transit authority bus improperly secured him on a return trip from the hospital. A sudden stop by the transport, threw him to the ground and ruptured his stitches where he had just had his leg amputated.
Before I could resolve his personal injury claim, he died. His brother told me he suffered badly in the end as further amputations were needed. He died in the hospital.
At the funeral I saw and sat with some of the old gang, most I had not seen in many years. We scoffed as we listened to a eulogy that was sterilized for public consumption.
Some day I will recollect more. Nothing learned in those days ever went to waste. My skills as a social worker and lawyer were well-served by my time spent with Marshall Jackson aka Tiny. So many lived so fast and died too young.