My first armed robbery, and last.

We were in an apartment on the south side of Chicago, in Hyde Park. “I don’t know man. I never done nothing like that. What do you want from me? I don’t know man. I don’t do that kind of stuff.” So began my conversation with Tiny. Tiny had gotten it in his mind to rob a meat packing plant at 58th and Elizabeth Street. Someone on the inside had told him about a safe they had and how easy it would be to walk in with guns and take the cash. I am not sure why Tiny was asking me to partner up with him. Maybe it was because I had a car, or guns or because I was a full time (non-violent) criminal. But this was an area I never intended to venture into. I tended to  stay away from crimes against persons. Burglary was my main criminal enterprise, and we burglars avoid people when working, because they are a source of detection and apprehension.

Whatever the reason, I was listening to this proposition. Tiny had been a mentor of mine in the underworld. He was a car thief and knew how to run a “chop shop” where they cut stolen cars up and sell the parts for more than the car would sell for whole. It was easier to avoid arrest if you were selling only the parts. I was about 18 and he had 10 years on me and seemed philosophically wise in the ways of the streets. He also was an imposing figure. He was 6’3, 350 pounds of black man. He was a product of the Chicago’s west side ghetto. So to my wayward mind he had experience and credibility and so I listened. He laughed profusely and joked and danced frequently. But when it came to crime he was all business.

The plan was to go to the area of the plant where we would park my car about a half block away. We were going to knock on the packing house door and ask to buy some meat. There was going to be 3-5 employees and we were gonna draw down on them and take the cash from the safe. We discussed it at length. I tried to persuade him away from the idea. But I never said everything I was really thinking. Cause then I would have told him the idea scared the hell out of me. He allayed all my spoken concerns and so the deal was sealed.

When the agreed day arrived I drove us to the plant. We parked near by in a vacant lot, car facing towards the street so we would just have to jump in and drive right out. I had two handguns. One didn’t function at all. But we brought it for its persuasion value. Tiny had another handgun.

I convinced Tiny to stop at a corner tavern so we could get a drink. I wasn’t 21 yet but we never had trouble getting me liquor in ghetto bars. We had a drink. My hands were shaking and I was nauseous with fear. I suggested another drink but Tiny said no, we had to get going. He had gotten a call that day from someone on the inside that there was a lot of cash today and he was eager to get there. I glumly followed him down the street.

When we arrived at the plant, I got a worse feeling. The door had a peephole and when they answered the door they did in in such a way that I knew they clearly had been robbed before. The guy at the door didn’t want to open the door more than a crack. He ask “what do you want.”  Tiny was in front of me telling him “we needed a large order of meat for a church we work for”. The guy was not opening the door enough for us to enter. He was being cautious. But Tiny just kept talking as he pushed on the door and the door began to give way. Tiny’s size was not to be denied. As he pushed on the door, I saw his jacket rise up above his hips and his gun was clearly visible to me. I tried to pull down his jacket from where I stood behind him. He signaled me to follow him in.  As the door opened wider I could see that there were far more people inside than we had anticipated. Combine that with the fact that these people were obviously being cautious and it was probably because they had been robbed before.

I mean we were in a tough area. It was mixed zoning, inner city housing and commercial. When you had businesses in such close proximity to this many poor people, the stores usually got used to folks trying to rob them.

This wasn’t going the way I had envisioned it. I got even more scared if that were possible. So I went from trying to pull Tiny’s jacket over his gun to just pulling on his jacket in an attempt to prevent him from going in.

I said to Tiny, “screw them, they don’t want to sell us any meat. Let’s go somewhere else.” He looked back at me with daggers in his eyes.

I was being no more effective than the guy on the inside at deterring Tiny. I pulled harder and said loudly that we should just leave. I could see even more people walking around inside, everybody wearing white coats and white hard hats.  More people meant more probability of something going amiss. And this is heavy prison time stuff.

Tiny realized I wasn’t going in and so he retreated. But was he mad. He called me a punk for days. Weeks. He got some of our friends together another day and they did the job. They sat around spending money on drugs and alcohol, wouldn’t share with me because I was a punk. I remember visiting the apartment in Hyde Park that they were hold up in and partying. That had a big BBQ spread from the local bbq house. They were watching a new television. I came in and made small talk like any other time. “hey, let me have some ribs.” Tiny replied “Fuck you punk. We got this sticking up the plant. You didn’t do shit, you don’t get shit.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up. He was fronting me off in front of everyone. This would get ugly if I made a wrong move. I acted like it was no big deal, not hungry, don’t need your food. “Screw it, I’ll get my own ribs. I’m out. Later to this” With that I slinked away.

My rep definitely went down a notch or two. But it wasn’t too much longer when Tiny invited me to take a road across Illinois with my illegal M1 semi-auto rifle that I had bought on the streets. It was an ominous piece of work with a big 30 round banana magazine, a folding stock, flash suppressor, and telescopic sight. Tiny wanted to drive south and pull a series of armed robberies. His explanation was that with my rifle looking so intimidating, no one would challenge us and we could clean up. I was surprised he was asking me and I considered the good effect this would have in restoring my reputation. But I didn’t see any reason I wouldn’t be just as scared as I had been before. So I took a pass.

A postscript to this relationship is years later, Tiny got arrested and went to federal prison for a bank robbery. I had not become a lawyer yet so I couldn’t help him. Before he left I asked him if he was scared. Tiny asked “what would I be scared of?” He looked at me quizzically. I said if I had to go to prison I would be scared. Tiny started to laugh….”if I was as small as you I probably would be scared. Big as I am, ain’t nothing gonna happen to me in prison son, so don’t worry about me.” He passed up on giving up his co-conspirators. Even though they got away with the money and never sent him any, he stuck by the code, No snitching! He told me he thought he knew who ratted him out, a friend of ours from the hood.  But he said there wasn’t anything he could do about it now, and he had no proof.

He did come out of prison an older and more subdued man. Got a job as a janitor at the Chicago  Museum of Science and Industry. He died in his 50s of diabetes related causes. All that weight wore his body out. I was his lawyer in the end. We were suing the Chicago Transit Authority bus company for not securing him properly in his wheelchair during a visit to the doctor. When the bus stopped abruptly he fell and was injured when the stitches split on his recently amputated leg.

Some day I’ll write about Tiny’s first LSD trip. Or how he knocked Gene Rogers out at the University Church. Or how we tried to……..oh hell……. I feel like crying, I am out of here.

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