THE TUNNELS

I grew up near the shore of Lake Michigan. To visit the lake requires maneuvering over, or under the highway which runs between the lake and the city.

I am tripping. In my teen years I am usually just traveling in my head, going places I want to be, avoiding places I really am. I see the tunnel (sometimes called viaduct) up ahead. The tunnel goes under the Lake Shore Drive and out to the lake. As I enter the tunnel I hear the echo of my feet. It is that reverb you get only in a shower or in a tunnel. Listen to my whistle. It sounds so full it sounds orchestral. I hear the rhythms in my head. The beat comes echoing off my feet. You know the routine. I whistle while I work. I will walk this road so many times in my life. And I will always listen. The first time I came down one of these tunnels was when I was very young. The light fades and the temperature drops in the tunnel. The smells are more pungent. Sometimes I hold my nose so I don’t have to smell the urine. The kid in me gets excited at the notion of traveling through the dimness. The tunnel provides fullness to my sound, and anxiety to my fears.

One night, Pee Wee and I head to the Point, a lakefront park on the south side. Pee Wee was a founder and member of the Blackstone rangers. He was a short man, several years older than me, and he worked in produce at the local small grocery store. He liked wine and reefer. And he loved being a member of the Main 21. So called the board of 21 leaders that ruled this gang of tens of thousands of young men.

Anyway, we were walking out at the Point one evening. There weren’t too many white people out there at night but I didn’t worry as I was with friends. White people always left the lakefront when it got dark. Then the beach belonged to the black folks. The many conga drums picked up a beat. The radios played louder, the smell of reefer always swirling around here and there. This night Pee Wee showed me how well he could roll a joint even though he was staggering drunk.  We wandered around the lake front, people watching and getting our own buzz going which had started that evening off with some Richard’s Wild Irish Rose. For the uninitiated it is a wine whose bouquet is well regarded on skid rows everywhere.

The weather was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold.  We left the drummers on the south end, and we began to explore. All of the sudden Pee Wee tells me to “be cool.” There is urgency to his voice. He isn’t loud; in fact he is obviously trying to make sure only I hear him. I say, “What’s up?”

He again urges me to be cool and his voice is strained. He is worried. He tells me to just keep walking and head for the park exit. We move that way. I ask him to tell me why. He explains that he has been spotted by a group of Gangster Disciples, enemies of the Stones, and they are coming behind us. I see the tunnel come into view.  It is the way out. But it is where we are most vulnerable to a trap and attack. As we enter the tunnel the urgency of our footsteps reverberates. I start thinking about how  loud a gunshot is gonna sound in here. The tunnel is narrow and I know if they move on us in here we are through. But we can’t run. Gotta keep cool. I hear the voices draw closer. If we can make it to the end, there is usually a squad car parked on the other side this time of night. They are keeping an eye on the large number of young black men, most who reside in the tough communities located a short distance away.

In that tunnel, my feet sound loud and the beat erratic. The sound betrays that I am ill at ease.  I aged in that tunnel. When I came out of the other end I was surely an older person.

It wasn’t too much longer after that night than I found myself back up at the point at night w/Pee Wee again and JD, my girlfriend, and Pee Wee’s girlfriend.

We were walking around getting high and listening for the drums that were always there. As we approached the circle where the drummers were gathered, JD grabbed my arm and yelped. I turned and looked at her and I could see fear written in every line of her face, her eyes almost bulging and her mouth drawn so tight, almost cartoonishly. Then she told me that the large black guy approaching us was one of the guys that had raped her recently. I had hunted this faceless bastard before, but I had only had a vague description. He towered over us. He was at least 6’3″ and was dressed in an African shirt called a dashiki. He had a dashiki cap on his head too. I looked around and there were obviously some friends of his there, dressed in a similar manner. He came up to us. She was gripping my hand tightly. He began to talk to her and put his hand to her neckerchief and play with the ring holding it on. He commented on what a nice ring it was. I rolled her behind me with my wrist and got my body between them. He stared at me and I at him. I was trying to calculate how we could escape since he had size, numbers and evil on his side.

Black Hercules was there, dancing the way he always did to the drums. He was a magnificent bodied man who dressed as though he were entering or departing the jungle. He wore shorts and a leather vest without a shirt. His hair was like a mane, long, dark, stringy, curly. He rarely spoke and appeared to live on the streets. But he had muscles in places most people got no places. He was always smiling when he would see me, but I don’t remember him ever speaking. I never knew if his silence was the result of some mental defect or simply his demeanor. I wondered if he would recognize the danger to us and intervene if violence ensued. Then Pee Wee stepped in and introduced himself to this large man. Pee Wee had sensed the bad vibes. He nodded to the man, exchanged some greetings then told us it was time to leave. He told the large man “I’ll be seeing you around brother.”  It was a strange and ominous departure between the two. I didn’t want to leave because even though I was clearly at a disadvantage I wanted revenge. I wanted to knock the smirk off his face and make him feel Jan’s rage and fear.  But Pee Wee was insistent and corralled us.

Then the 4 of us began the long walk across the park to the tunnel. I was uncertain that Pee Wee’s presence would serve to deter anything. He was shorter than I and just wasn’t an imposing guy. But we entered the tunnel and left the bad man behind. We stopped at the first store on 55th and Pee Wee made a phone call. Then he told us he would see us later and goodbye.

Turns out he arranged a war party for the large man, courtesy of the Blackstone Rangers. Not sure of all that transpired after that as Pee Wee was AWOL from the hood for a while.  When he reappeared he told me he had been in jail for the attack on the man and his friends. Shortly thereafter Pee Wee offered me membership in the Black Stones. Tempting, but what little sanity I held on to in those days said “no” to the offer of membership in what was mostly, largely, almost exclusively a black gang.

Years later I would walk through a similar tunnel on the North side (Belmont Avenue) to visit the lakefront. Back then I was about 25 and doing street work with teens in the area. This night I was off duty and just walking around with a girlfriend who also worked with young people. We crossed under the road to walk along the lakefront, heedless of what was waiting. I had my resonant whistle going with a happy carefree song. It may have been Up, UP & Away by the 5th Dimension. It’s a great tunnel song. But no sooner had we left the tunnel and come out into the lamp lit night than we were told that Knuckles was freaking out and needed help. Knuckles was an older Puerto Rican gang member I knew, and he was losing control from PCP.

I always liked Knuckles. I spent most of my work hours interacting with gangs. He enjoyed his rep as an older gang member without any of the obligations of ganghood. He was usually high and lazy but he never disrespected what I was trying to do with the kids in the hood. It was his young wife Gail, who approached and told me he was hallucinating. She was distressed by what he was doing and saying. I asked if he was “dusted”, (as in angel dust/PCP, animal tranquilizer)? She said he had done some much earlier but not for hours. She doubted it was the cause of his behavior.

“Hey Knuckles man, what you doing?”  “Nothing” he said. “Why are u trippin’?”  “I’m fine man, except I had a hallucination. I imagined I had my little brother in my hands and I was beating him. I imagined that I was killing him. Beating him with my fists and kneeing him in his head. It seemed so real.”

“It’s the “dust” I told him. “It’s just your mind reeling from the high, one bad moment in an otherwise good day. You been out here partying with your wife and buddies and the shit is fucking with you.”

“No man, it isn’t the dust. That was hours ago.” his face would contort and his fists were clenching and unclenching. His eyes were wild.

“Hey dude, you are scaring me, I said.  I wish you wouldn’t act like that. Makes me nervous to stand here and you looking so crazed. Come back down please.”  Knuckles was much taller than me. He was a tall wiry guy with a goatee. He usually dressed in a sleeveless T. He was about 21. He had been in the gang a long time but inactive at present as he actually tried to be a married young man. He had kids and they meant something to him.

Knuckles looked up at me and turned his head to the side as though he were examining me. I was nervous as hell. Guys on angel dust can exhibit unusual strength. Paramedics who are dispatched to transport users of  dust to psychiatric facilities know to fear “dust” users.

I figured I stunk of fear. In my experience, persons having a psychotic break get agitated if they get mixed messages. I didn’t want him to get more confused by my acting all brave if he smelled the fear. So I just stuck by the truth so I could keep him listening.  “You scare me man when you act like this. I don’t want you to freak out and hit me or something.”    “I ain’t gonna hit you man. I am cool.”

“I know you are, but try to breathe deep and relax. Keep your mind right here with me and stop letting it run away with you. You can do it man. You gotta just stay right here and right now man. See, your wife is over there and she is nervous about how you are doing. We gonna take care of you, but you gotta help.”

“Its all cool man, really,” he said. I could see he was trying to stay with me. I told him to breathe deep and he tried. He was talking, successfully struggling to stay in the moment. The hallucinations would start again when he drifted.

Then it got weird. One of his homeboys walked up, a tall blond guy who was horribly alcoholic and not particularly bright. He operated off of one kidney; because one was removed from an accident or stabbing.  I can’t remember which. Well he walked up intoxicated, with a beer can in his hand and punched Knuckles in the chest and told him to “stop fucking around.” Knuckles became agitated again and told him to back off. The other guy was trying to make light of it and act as if it was all under control. He was laughing and woofing at Knuckles about, “you ain’t gonna do SHIT!”

I asked the guy to leave but he refused. He said Knuckles was cool and he would hang with him and everything would be cool. Knuckles face was looking taut again. His eyes were hostile and fearful. I kept talking to him.

“Let’s get your wife man and sit down somewhere. You need to relax and these guys are drunk.”

His wife was nervous. She didn’t want me to bring him over to her. She was a small thing and she was afraid he was gonna flip out violently. She was afraid to be there when he got crazy. But I reassured her I would stay and he would be all right. I didn’t know if that was true but I didn’t want to be alone with him either or alone with him and his drunk buddies. I feared he would get nuts and violent too and I didn’t want to be the closest thing. I figured my chances were better at keeping him cool if his wife was there.

It didn’t help that I had a date with me. It was Memorial Day weekend. I couldn’t run if he got ugly if the date didn’t run too. I would have to stay long enough to make sure she was cool and that would be all the time he needed to attack me. When you know an attack may come at any moment, you stay on the balls of your feet. You want to be able to scramble quick and not get caught off-balance. Having a date with you screwed up the escape dynamics.

We hadn’t been out often, and I figured this would be the last time. She could probably find funnier ways to spend Memorial Day. The good part is since she was a social worker too, so she was sensitive to the task before me.

That DUST is some shit man. It can really wig someone out. I have seen it take multiple guys to restrain someone in Knuckles condition. I tried to recruit some other neighborhood teens that I knew that were drinking nearby, in case it did get out of control. What if he attacked me? How much damage could he do before they pulled him off me? I had no confidence these kids would intervene.

I am worn out from the memory of the night. He finally calmed down and lay on the grass lawn at the beach. His wife Gail thanked me.

I took my date and we crossed back under the tunnel and we went to a nearby Asian restaurant for some food and a rare alcoholic drink. I needed a while to come down off the fear. My date, Peggy and I are still friends.

 

 

Is being a Snitch a bad thing?

Enough years have passed that I can now tell the story. When I was 17-18 years old and living in Hyde Park Chicago, I was arrested twice for felonies. The arresting police officers both times were Sgt. Doyle and Officer Andrew Alinovich who were assigned to the Vice Squad, 21st Police District.

At some point during my police custody I was told I could help myself if I gave information which would lead to the arrest of others. I admit, I was scared. As scared as I have ever been. I can still recall some of my thoughts. I remembered being told the following two sayings. “Happy as a sissy in the Cook County Jail” (Chicago). The other, “Go in bitching, come out swishing.”

Both are references to the culture of rape inside the county jail. The officers said to me on one occasion that, “with your long hair you will be somebody’s bitch before the night is over.” FYI, I was 5’7″, weighed about 130 lbs and had long dark hair.

In addition to the immediate threat of jail, there was the additional fear of the Illinois prison system where the rape culture was as much or more prominent. Many of my friends had been to jail or prison and told me how dangerous it was and various survival tips. Tip number one. When other prisoners begin to threaten to attack me, jump on the biggest one and fight for my life. They told me I would lose and get beat up but I would get the respect of the other prisoners for being a “man”. And maybe if I showed them I was a man, they might not rape me. Not a strategy I wanted to test out.

The first time, I was in the station and a lieutenant walked by and asked the arresting officers how old was I. When he was advised that I was 17, he told them to take away my pack of Marlborough cigarettes because I was not old enough to have them. Sgt Doyle replied that it was okay because I was going to cooperate. He looked at me as if for confirmation and he let me have one of my cigarettes. I lit it and he waited for my actual cooperation. When I blew the smoke out of my lungs but did not speak, he said, “stop with the fucking smoke signals Cochise and start talking!”

So, I sat in police custody, chewed my lower lip half off and thought about who, what where I could tell the police about which might result in my release. My mind raced like never before. The officers just stared at me waiting for me to tell them something. Names of wrong-doers came to mind. I evaluated at lightning speed the various persons and what I knew about them.

So now the reveal at the time of my first felony arrest. I think my voice was shaking when I said, “I don’t know anything that you want to know”.  The look of disdain on  Sergeant Doyle’s face had a hint of hatred, he turned and typed up my arrest report before transferring me to a cell where I was held alone. Several hours later I bonded out, unharmed.

The first arrest led to a sentence of court supervision for one year. If I violated my court supervision, I could be sent to an Illinois prison for 6 to 15 years. The second time I was arrested was about year or so later. This Sunday morning, Alinovich and Doyle spotted me standing outside a coffee-shop at the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard.

Pulling up alongside me, they ordered me into their unmarked police car. They searched me quite thoroughly. I had no drugs on me. What I did have was a draft card belonging to someone else which I carried to buy alcohol and avoid curfew violations. I will never forget the look on Officer Alinovich’s face as he discovered the card. He asked me with glee if I knew the penalty for unlawful possession of a draft card. He was delighted to share with me that,

Anyone shown to have possession of any selective service card not duly issued to him, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to establish an intent to use such certificate for purposes of false identification or representation, and may be fined up to  $10,000 or be imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

The cuffs went on and off we began the drive to the police station. I begged them to let me go. I told them my court supervision was one more week and this would violate my condition of supervision. Sgt Doyle pulled over and stopped on a quiet street. He turned around and asked me what I could tell him to help myself. Who was I willing to give up?

At the time of my first arrest I did not know that I was facing a lengthy prison sentence under Illinois law. I had been charged with possession of marijuana and possession of stolen or mislaid property. Both felonies.

Now I knew what the stakes were now. I remembered the judge admonishing me of the period of incarceration I would face upon a finding that I had failed to abide by the conditions of my supervision. I was on the verge of tears thinking of the consequences. I am sure I would have cried but I knew that somehow that would make things worse.

Both officers were turned around in the car looking at me in the back seat. Man, the silence was deafening. The noise in my head was deafening. Again I raced through the possibilities of cooperating, who to snitch out and how to survive being a snitch.

I do not know if it was true, but I convinced myself in that moment that being a snitch was a core violation of my values and that I would not be safe if I did provide information. I finally broke the silence and told them I could not help. Once again, the look of disdain was prominent on both their faces. They turned and Doyle put the car back in gear and off we went.

Just as we neared the main road to the station, (Lake Shore Drive) Doyle pulled to the curb. He looked at Alinovich and told him “get him the fuck out this car”. Alinovich looked confused and unsure. Doyle repeated, “just get him out of my fucking car”. Alinovich opened the back door from the outside, uncuffed me, got back in the car and off they drove. No explanation. No charges.

About a week later I appeared in court and my supervision was terminated successfully. I met Officer Alinovich two more times. Once he walked in to my dad’s lumber yard with his family to buy building materials for his house. I was in my early 20s. We chatted amicably and of course I gave him the police discount.

The next time I was in downtown Chicago and encountered him inside a building on the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue. He told me he was now assigned to taxicab violation enforcement. The Vice Squads had been renamed, Tactical Patrol. Doyle had either retired or died, I cannot recall which. We were pleasant to each other.

I was arrested a couple of more times by other Chicago police for a variety of crimes. But I was never offered freedom in exchange for information. I am glad I do not have to look back on my past and mull over how I decided to be a snitch. But full disclosure, I wanted to. I wanted to so bad, I do not know why or how I refrained.

Footnote. Many years later I did a television interview along with a Chicago Police Commander on the subject of street gangs. We chatted afterwards and we realized he had been assigned to the Gang Crimes unit in my community when I was young. He asked me as an aside if I wanted to guess who had been a snitch. I had no one in mind so he told me. It was a young man I knew fairly well and to whom I had sold what I believed to be a stolen US army rifle. I have discovered over the years that I was often closer to peril than I knew. But those stories are for another day.

What happened when you were not looking?

The first time I was jumped on (outside the home) was 2nd grade. I do seem to have been in more fights than most of my peers. It often had to do with my mouth and my unwillingness to back up. Growing up on the south side I was attacked, robbed, beaten and chased on innumerable occasions. I left South Shore at age 14 and moved to Hyde Park. The instances of violence directed at me or near me, continued countless times. The problem was magnified when I left home at age 15/16 and lived wherever I could find that night to lay my head.

When people are aghast that I am armed all the time or that I am hyper-vigilant, I in turn become aghast that they are aghast. If my father had never struck me often and regularly, I probably still would have gotten PTSD. \

I was robbed or attacked my first day of high school, my first day at my third high school and the first day of my fourth high school. I was attacked in a preparatory boarding school (second high school) in New Hampshire.

I do not recall initiating attacks but I could be having selective amnesia. I certainly learned to live amongst predators. I had many friends who were quite capable of launching a violent attack but I do not recall us ever starting the fight.

As I slide into old age, I do not feel safer. I do feel more resigned to the universe, impermanence and death. So I am a hybrid of ideas, experiences and education. I am violence tinged with metta/loving kindness. Or perhaps it is metta tinged with violence.

I don’t know if I would have wanted it otherwise. I have no idea if I would have done many of the good things I did as a social worker or a lawyer if I had been raised in a more peaceful arena. I do not know if I would have been motivated, experienced or concerned enough to have provided the advocacy that I was able to provide clients. Having my experiences as a kid, as a defendant and as a loudmouth made me more empathic than others who lacked my background.

Time takes time. What is, is. What was, was.

I stand by Black Lives Matter.

Despite all that I hear about black on black or black on white crime, I stand in solidarity with BLM. I do so because the causes and foundation of racism in the US have never, ever been fully and openly addressed. The deterioration and disintegration I have observed over the past 40 years have convinced me that the war on black people has resulted in the unraveling in the inner-city of their culture, communities and values. I do not believe that the people residing in ghettos are inherently more violent or prone to criminality. I believe that by marginalizing, demonizing and disenfranchising poor blacks this country has created the environment and circumstances which has resulted in the devastation we see today.

My personal experience in the inner-city lead me to the conclusion that we over-incarcerated, under-educated and created the conditions upon which gangs can freely infest and prey upon the communities. But the gangs are in fact the product of the conditions I have cited. Gang kids are not born, they are created.

Chicago police historically and relentlessly preyed upon lower-income blacks. They committed crimes including torture against young black male suspects. They framed them for crimes they did not commit. They took payoffs to let gangs operate. They robbed drug dealers and resold the product they stole and spent the cash. One elite special operations group of the CPD has been implicated in significant series of serious crimes including attempted murder for hire on a police officer.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/chicago-police-charged-wi_n_846528.html

Chicago is just one of many departments that committed crimes against the community they swore to protect. While victims were many and diverse, the bulk of the crimes were committed against black men.

There are more good cops than bad cops if we use a yardstick based on intent. But if we use a different measure which requires a good cop to be intolerant of bad cops, we have a serious shortage of good cops. We need to challenge police officers to rise up intellectually and spiritually to actively do the Right Thing. When what is intolerant is police misconduct and when peer pressure weighs against misconduct, then we may see a seismic shift in policing practices and an end to the need for BLM.

We can not change people’s racist attitudes but we can diminish their impact. We cannot fix the stubborn racist black or white who tenaciously clings to his hate. But we can deprive him of permission so that he acts alone if he acts at all. Racist should be as afraid to come out of the closet just like a pedophile. It should be a source of shame in the presence of our society to proclaim your racial animus. Lest we forget what community norms result in, remember Emmett Till, a 14 yo black boy beaten to death.

http://time.com/4399793/emmett-till-civil-rights-photography/?xid=time_socialflow_facebook

We are the frontline of defense against racism and its harm to our entire way of life. No more uncomfortable laughter at cocktail hour racist jokes. No silent acquiescence to locker room chatter about “those people”. Our young white athletes and students need to be given our permission and encouragement to stand up to this insidiousness. Power to the people ought to mean all people. You may just be the best example of a human being that some people ever see.

Who are we people that you hate?

This my attempt to examine the way we deal with differing ideologies and viewpoints. I just discovered that a grade school Facebook friend has unfriended me because of my “stance on guns”. There were no preliminary exchanges before he did it. I didn’t know he had done so until I sought to look him up on my friends list and see what he was up to. (He didn’t appear in my friend list of course which was the first clue.) He is not the only one who reacts strongly to my views. But in the case of other friends who told me they were going to unfriend me, none actually landed up doing so….yet. I attribute that to the fact that by telling me their intention, they opened up a dialogue. And that dialogue engendered some willingness to tolerate what feels distasteful for the sake of friendship.

I have never hunted nor have I ever killed an animal on purpose in my life. I am not now nor have I ever been a card carrying member of the NRA. I actually go out of my way to eat vegetables instead of meat as often as possible for my health and the ecology. I recycle most everything. I voted for a democrat for president since my first vote cast. I also have something called hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Thus, if I do not feel protected and ready to engage threats I am in a constant state of increased anxiety. As a result, I may respond to my environment different than others. My closest friends can tell you that I am guarded in public and can consistently discern threats which others miss. It has served me well in dangerous situations, like living in the inner-city, evading Catholic school bullies, working with street gangs, representing criminal defendants and traveling across country on motorcycles and in cars.

It happens that I was riding my bicycle Sunday morning when a large man on a large motorcycle started yelling profanities at me. I had just gone around him on my bicycle at a stop sign. He caught up to me and yelled at me about breaking the law and what a fucking asshole I was. I stopped my bike and asked him why was he so upset. This seemed to enrage him. He clearly thought about getting off his bike. I calmly asked him why what he thought I did was making him so mad. I asked what harm had I done him. He kept yelling at me, strings of profanities, his face flushed. I tried using deescalating techniques, which I am well-trained in. It didn’t work. In the old days, before I carried a firearm I would have escalated the situation by meeting his aggression with greater aggression. It is very effective in averting violence to convince the initial aggressor that I mean to do him great harm if he pushes me. This tactic was precipitated by the fact that I am fearful of violence and experience dictated the best defense is an aggressive offense. My rationalization? If you sought to intimidate me, I would demonstrate what real intimidation looked like.

I found I didn’t need to escalate in that fashion when I have a handgun. I know that if I am armed and someone intends serious violence, I will be able to respond quickly and effectively to protect myself. This helps keep me calm. Most folks never have violence visited upon them. Not sure yet why I am so special. But between my past work, my travels and my being the odd looking one, I have seen dozens of assaults and I have been attacked or threatened with attack on dozens of occasions.

When the girls were young we sometimes went walking or hiking together in Tucson. One day we went walking but there was no sidewalk where we were. So whenever a vehicle approached around this curvy road, I would step more into the road to force vehicles away from my young girls. (If we tried to step off the road it was all cactus) A man pulled over and got out of his truck and started yelling at me for walking in the road. This guy went nuts. As soon as he had pulled over and I saw him getting out, in the middle of nowhere, I placed my hand on my gun in my pocket. I tried to calm him down but he just had to tell me that he had been proceeding safely and I had no business causing him to slow down. Understand? He is yelling at me and is highly agitated in front of my two young girls. Do you think I would have hesitated to prevent him if he made any physical threat? In fact if I didn’t have the gun, I probably would have used the rock which I was holding in my other hand.

So you may have handled yourself differently in all these encounters. You are more self-assured, more pacifist, more gracious. You are probably sweeter and more intelligent than me too. Maybe you go to church on Sunday and the good Lord keeps you and protects you.

We should be doing all we can to combat societal ills which are tearing at the fabric of or country and the world. I think we should recycle, be vegetarian, donate often to charity and be kind to strangers. If you do that then I admire you and I want to be just like you. Then you deserve a platform to discuss gun violence, an issue which gravely needs to be addressed.

I find no usefulness in yelling at or being yelled at about my political views and ideologies. There are so many issues which are critical to our survival and comfort as a species and they are all related. I suggest we attack violence holistically, as an ill which needs to be addressed at so many levels, including, but also beyond firearms.

I hope all can agree, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; a real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato  It is my experience that all persons have boogeymen. Our world is many things and dangerous is one of those things. We are a vulnerable little eco-system of a human trying to thrive in an environment fraught with chemical, ecological, climatic and accidental perils.

My friends cover the spectrum of political ideology. I doubt any of my friends is wholly insensitive to the concerns of others, but most are quick to dismiss the viewpoints they do not agree with. I have urged friends to open their minds up to the discourse in a more loving way but it generally falls on deaf ears in any ideological discussion. Guns is one of many issues that tear at my friends and family. (My family is generally quite anti-gun and was very disdainful of my owning a gun range) In fact, I will continue to urge my gun owning pals to open their minds to the need to explore solutions not approved or encouraged by the NRA. I will continue to tell them that they only think they know what a liberal wants much less what a liberal thinks.

If you read this far, thanks. I keep saying I have nothing more to say about guns. But yesterday, a crazy man randomly stabbed a jogger to death on my regular bike trail. Being hyper-vigilant I remain alert when riding alone in wooded or isolated areas. I have no wish to die from the repeated stabbings of a lunatic. I don’t want someone to bash my head in as I ride beneath an overpass where homeless men with liquor sit or reside. So this incident yesterday, the death of a random victim makes me sad. But it makes my spidey sense tingle just a little stronger. Forgive my frailties and my lack of faith in . Forgive that I place faith in myself and my training and my weapons. I don’t pretend it is best, it is just my way.

So once again I will assure you that I wish to have no part in this debate. It is a polarizing issue which is complicated and divisive. I lose friends because of it. As Paul Simon the songwriter noted, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”. See ya on the other sid

My first acid trip was a trip!

It started as a trip to the north side with some guys for a party in the summer of 1968. I was 15 and had recently returned from boarding school after being expelled. I went with some guys from a nearby high school. I don’t remember a whole lot until the moment that one of the guys, Eric opened his wallet at the party and in the plastic photo section displayed a blue tablet he said his older sister had given him. She told him it was LSD. We all stared at it. There was certainly a lot of interest since most of us had never seen LSD. Eric said he was scared to try it and so I volunteered to take right then and there to see if it was for real. I had never done hallucinogens before nor had anyone else there. But I swallowed my apprehensions and my fear along with the LSD. We stayed at the party a while but I didn’t feel anything. I remember calling some guys, Jimmy and Tom from University of Chicago Lab School. They were not friends but guys who had professed to have done acid. They said if I hadn’t felt anything already it was probably fake.

So we jumped in Eric’s car, a Fiat Spyder, and he even let me drive. It seemed uneventful going home to Hyde Park except when we arrived at the next party my foot was all tingly like I could still feel the Fiat motor purring beneath it. I began to feel real weird. I went to the party at 5000 East End and had my first encounter with the Hyde Park counter-culture. Preppy kids and hippy kids all twisted up in this hi-rise lakefront apartment. It was the first time I met the notorious long-haired hippy kids I had been warned about.  I remember we got in an elevator to leave and someone screwing around had pushed every button for very floor. I felt claustrophobic and wanted out. But there was nowhere to go.  I recall the relief I felt when we finally got to the ground floor. I walked home to the large lakefront apartment of my parents which was on the 18th floor.

It was in a great old art deco building called the Powhatan and it was a beautiful place with a view of the lake and downtown Chicago. I had heard the building also hosts the only 24-hour elevator operators in Chicago. I had my own section of this great big apartment. I snuck into my room that night and tried to relax, listen to music and chill. But I was real antsy and dreamy at the same time. It was late. I called Lynda, a friend from a suburb, Kenilworth. She was the logical choice because she was the only one I knew who had her own phone in her bedroom, so I wouldn’t wake up her family and get in trouble.

We chatted for quite a long time. I will have to call her soon and see if she remembers what we talked about. Before we hung up she asked me if I would be all right. I assured her I was fine. But shortly after we hung up I got antsy again. It was about 4.30am by now. I went to the back door. The front door was a manual elevator, which required the elevator operator. He would be the night man and would be sleeping on the couch in the lobby by now. I could ring him with the elevator bell, but I figured he would wonder about my timing and my mental condition. So I walked down the 18 flights of stairs in my socks, holding my shoes to muffle my footsteps.

As luck would have it, after all that, I tripped as I approached the building’s front door and woke up the doorman. He looked at me quite curiously (or it was the LSD) and let me out and off I went into the night/morning. It was dark and quiet. I had no idea where I was going, None, Zero.

But off I went. We were new to the area, had only lived there a few months. I was home for the summer from boarding school and really hadn’t had time to get that familiar with the hood. I had often visited friends in the area but it wasn’t my home turf yet.

 The weather was lovely. It was a Chicago summer and that hour brings the best of the cool breezes. I walked away from the lake and towards the central part of the neighborhood. There was a commuter railroad that ran through the area. Its rails ran above ground level but to cross over the neighborhood you had to find a viaduct that went under the train. These were not unlike the tunnels that one traveled under the main road to get out to the lakefront. They had their own ambiance and sound, a good place to whistle and late at night a good place to get mugged. As I approached one of these viaducts I saw two people walking up ahead, a guy and a gal. They looked back towards me and for some reason it just scared me. Not hard to do to a kid on his first acid trip. I looked around, spotted a Yellow Taxi nearby and flagged it down. I jumped in with no destination in mind. Upon quick reflection I directed him to take me to a restaurant back in my old neighborhood, further south at 71st and Jeffrey.

  The restaurant at 71st street when I was growing up had always been called Peter Pan’s.  The new name was the Orange Pig. They probably changed it to reflect the changing racial composition of the neighborhood from white to black. It probably wasn’t the smartest place to go. But it seemed the right thing at the moment. I had grown up only two blocks from that corner. We had only moved out recently. But it had been a long time since it was safe to be out late at night in that neighborhood. As indicated, the neighborhood had been in transition from white to black. Didn’t bother me much but when the cab pulled up to the restaurant on the corner of 71st street, I suspected I should have stayed in bed. The restaurant was all plate glass in front. It seemed everyone in the place looked up at my cab when we stopped. As I paid my fare I looked at a sea of black faces. They certainly had reason to look. I was indeed the only white face around and I was only 15 years old and it was now 5.20AM. I know the time because while I hung around outside the place afraid to go in, I looked at the bank building across the street and it was supposed to give the time and temp. But right now it was only giving the temp. There was a black man standing nearby who answered when I asked him “Isn’t that sign supposed to give the time also.” He replied as he looked at his watch, “Sure is and I am tired of waiting for this lady to show up. It is 5.20 young blood.”  And so we struck up a conversation. I remember that he was a medium complexioned black man about 25 years old. He was wearing a straw wide-brimmed hat, not unlike the Chinese bamboo ones you see in the movies. He had a goatee. He wasn’t a big guy. He laughed easy as I made wise cracks, which is what I do whenever I am ill at ease or just plain scared. I was wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, a blue jean jacket and a metal peace sign hanging around my neck from a leather strip. My hair was long by the standards of the day although I was a long way from the hippie hair I would soon adopt.

He asked me “Are you high on what I think you’re high on.” I asked him what he thought I was high on. He said, “You know, the big L”. I replied ‘I don’t know what the big L is so I couldn’t tell you if I was high on it.”  He laughed and said, “You know, LSD.” I got real scared and thought this guy might be a narc.  But for some reason I answered him truthfully, that I was in fact high on LSD. He laughed again and said he had once smoked some LSD.

Shortly thereafter he said he had to go in and eat his breakfast and bid me goodbye. I purposefully followed close on his heels, through the revolving doors into the restaurant. I did so that it would appear I was with him or knew him. I was trying to make it to the counter to sit down and evade the stares. When he got to his table where a friend of his was sitting he noticed me behind him. He asked me if I wanted to join them. I was grateful and of course I accepted his invitation. He introduced himself for the first time and then his companion. He was Eugene Hairston and his friend was William Throop.

We had only been sitting there a moment when he excused himself to make a phone call. I got real scared again. It occurred to me that he was a narc again and he was calling for police to come get me.  I was distracted from my reverie when William called for the bus boy. The bus boy came over and asked “Yea brother?” William stared hard at him. The bus boy said “Yea man?” but sounded a little strained. William stared harder and said with intensity “Stone run it!”  The bus boy said, “Yea, Stone brother, stone run it.” William spoke harshly, “Where’s my steak and eggs?” The bus boy looked scared and said he would go get them right away. Before it all had sunk in, Eugene returned to the table. We began to chat. He asked me why I was there. I explained that I grew up there and used to live right down the street. He then said “Oh, you got the Stone in you.” Oblivious to its meaning we chatted on. When he asked why he had never seen me around I explained it really wasn’t safe to come around anymore because of the gangs. I told him that even though I had grown up there the local Blackstone Rangers had taken over and could be dangerous. He asked me my name again and I told him. He asked if I knew anyone from the gangs. I told him I knew the former branch leader J.B. but that I had heard JB had quit and in fact that was why it had gotten dangerous for me. He smiled and asked “You really know JB.”  “Yea” I replied. He asked whom else I knew. “I know Paul Gibson too. “ He smiled and said “You know them huh? Yep. Then he asked me if I knew who he was. I replied he was Eugene. He said, “I am Eugene “Bull” Hairston. And this is my warlord Bull Sweet Jones“ (AKA Sweet Pea), pointing at William.

I knew the name of Eugene, aka Bull, Hairston and it seemed unlikely he was who he said he was. The name had been in the papers constantly because Hairston was on trial for solicitation to commit murder. It was alleged that he paid three 12 year old boys to shoot two drug dealers who had failed to get permission to operate in the Rangers territory. The murder attempt failed, the boys were caught after shooting and wounding the 2 dealers and they had given up Eugene.

So I put foot in mouth and accused this man of lying.  “So you mean you are Bull Hairston from the newspapers? I don’t believe you.”  He got agitated for a moment. But then he said, “You a funny little white boy. You tickle me.”  After some back and forth he pulled out his wallet and showed me his driver license.

I was having breakfast with one of the two most powerful guys on the south side of Chicago. This was one of the two original leaders of the Blackstone Rangers, the most powerful street gang to ever exist. His co-leader was  young man by the name of Jeff Fort who himself has been serving time in prisons for over 20 years. At the time it was estimated that the Blackstone Rangers numbered over 30,000 members.

I couldn’t believe it. I asked for his autograph. I was having breakfast with Cappo di Cappi of  Black Chicago gangs. He laughed some more and instructed William to write me a note. William complied and a moment later wrote me as follows. To a fellow Stone. ABSR signed William Throop. I believe ABSR meant All Mighty Black Stone Rangers.

I paid my check and went outside. William had gone to get the car and bring it around for Eugene. It was a clean white Cadillac. Before Eugene got in passenger side, he patted my head and told me to come back next week and have breakfast with him again.

I noticed as we left the restaurant that he did walk with the air of confidence that accompanies power. And when he paid the tab he had a roll of money. Course I now understood why the busboy was terrified and why “Stone” was the only acceptable response to William. “Stone” was the common reference to the gang and “Stone Run It” was their battle cry. Lucky for me that even though my old classmate JB had in fact quit the gang, he was still respected by OGs (Original Gangsters) like Eugene Hairston. The name of JB got me in good with Eugene and saved my ass just as JB had when I used to call upon his assistance in high school to ward off bullies.

I had every intention of going back the next week to meet them. But midway through the week I read that Eugene had been convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison. A war for control of the Stones broke out and William Throop survived an attempt on his life when he was shot 7 times in a motel on the south side. His girlfriend died in the barrage of bullets.  William Throop did not survive the second attempt on his life.

Eugene was shot and hit three times shortly after he got out of prison on parole. He survived. They say it was a warning from his successors to stay away. In 1988 his luck ran out when he was gunned down in a south side housing project. The papers conjectured it was gang-related.

As to that note that they wrote me, I tucked that in my wallet like it was a get out of jail free card. Remind me to tell you how that worked out when I it was discovered on me by Chicago Police officers.

As acid trips go it was pretty fulfilling. I took a cab home to Hyde Park after the sun had come up. My head was ringing and my eyes burned with fatigue by the time I got home. I was worn out from the hours of sleeplessness and psychological hyper-awareness that I had paid to trip the light fantastic. I would soon become a full-blown acid-head, ingesting untold amounts of hallucinogens over the next two and a half years. I would trip in a variety of places like Kenwood High School, Museum of Science and Industry and a lakefront location called The Point. Every trip was weird and of course under a variety of conditions but I doubt I ever brushed up against the likes of Eugene and William again.

 

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.

Hurt people, hurt people.

The title is a statement about what hurt people do to others. Hurt people in turn often hurt other people. So follow along as we stroll through my mind, surprised by what we might find.

I was driving to my AA meeting this morning and as usual I was watching the car behind me to monitor how close it followed me. I get agitated if I am tailgated. I decided I should really just look forward and wondered why I pay so much attention to the cars around me. It struck me that I have always driven this way. I walk this way. I am in a constant state of vigilance.  I wondered how did I get this way. I had sudden recall back to 1966. I was standing in the hallway of my high school. I was supposed to be in class but I had pretended I was going to the toilet so I could stand in the hallway. 

A young black kid approached whom I recognized from another class. I said hello to him. He didn’t say a word but he quickly struck me in my chest and knocked me down. Some change fell out of my shirt pocket. He picked it up and walked away without ever saying a word. I was stunned by the swiftness and the silence of it. I never told the school just as I never told them about the other assaults on me. Importantly, I was not stunned by the violence of it. 

I have tried to remember the number of times I was robbed or assaulted in high school. I can recall only a few. Maybe 20 or so. A lot of it was black on white crime but I had my fair share of white on white, greaser vs Jew assaults. But the assaults started with my dad when I was about 4. It continued in grade school as I was jumped by other kids starting in the second grade. The assaults increased when I lived on the streets. Most didn’t result in much harm. I either escaped quickly, bluffed my way out or won against the attacker(s). I would guess that I could have avoided some of these encounters had I been where I was supposed to be and generally speaking less openly. Like do not hang out on the streets at night, do not go to the go-carts without an adult, and do not walk by the drug store that the Catholic kids have claimed for themselves. Do not talk back when tough kids threaten, don’t mock hoodlums and don’t scoff at threats.

As an adult I faced dozens of violent incidents working with street kids. Kids that I talked with one day could be dead the next, always from gang violence. What is manifestly clear to me is that hurt people, hurt people. Abused children often become abusers, sexual victims especially men, become sexual predators. It probably always has been and probably always will be.

So, is there a way out of this hyper-sensitivity and vigilance which I practice without intention? If my experience is any measure, the answer is no. At best damaged people will find healthy, new ways to cope. They will find mentors and techniques which will serve them well. Or they won’t. And they will suffer addiction, institutions, incarceration or simply have a gnawing sense of insecurity which follows them into everything they do. 

If you have a friend or family member like me I would look for opportunities to introduce them to 12 steps, or meditation or something which has been shown to successfully be a catalyst for change. I am convinced I will have to live with my demons despite every effort to shed them But I am also sure that my demons serve me well at times. I have known danger was imminent when most others were unaware. I have been heard by very damaged humans who could otherwise not hear. I have intervened and helped facilitate change in the lives of persons believed to be beyond reach.

My demons will go anywhere with me. Physically or mentally or spiritually they have staked a claim to a portion of my brain, heart and soul.  Dark alleys or sunlit mountains, they have treaded fearlessly with me. (Along the road of happy destiny)Always protecting and always threatening my well-being.  And it is this awareness that grants me an ability to understand that hurt people, hurt people. 

Dedicated to my friend Tiny

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. diamond interior.

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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.

Civil War in the United States

People who despise guns and wish to control access or ban them altogether have no idea what they are embarking on. The war over abortion and other divisive issues will be minor in contrast to the polarization of this country if you attempt to criminalize and further demonize gun owners. If you could succeed which I do not believe you can, you would lose. You would have a country that mirrors Chicago, where gun  specific courts overflow and the homicides rates are extremely high.

I marvel at how little I feel threatened in Dallas. There are areas to avoid but if I need to go there I take protection and I don’t need to get agitated that I am having to be there. I can enter communities which I could never safely enter in Chicago. There is very little graffiti here in contrast to Chicago. Poverty is always a threat to the stability of a community. Violence is always a companion of poverty it seems.

We allow people who have never had a felony convictions, who have not been convicted of a misdemeanor and who have no convictions for family violence, to carry a concealed gun here. They must pass a 10 hour class, take a shooting test and submit fingerprints to the state police. If they meet the requirements the state must issue the concealed carry license.

Blood does not run in the streets. Persons with CCWs do not randomly shoot people. They do not resolve disputes by pulling a gun on someone or shooting someone. They can defend themselves or third-persons from assaults when threatened with great bodily harm. Police officers who pull over a CCW holder, know instantly, more than they would ever know about someone who can only produce a driver’s license. A DL tells an officer that the bearer has a home address, and has passed a driver’s test. It does not speak to criminal history.

This path of criminalizing the possession of firearms will not succeed and what would be worse is if it did. If I could wave off those on this road, I surely would. If you think the people who own firearms are crazy now, wait till someone tries to disarm them.

Sadly, I am one of those who will resist if my government makes such an effort. Know who I am and where I live. It matters not. I wouldn’t be marched to an death camp given what I know about the Holocaust. I will not be disarmed even if it is mandatory and involuntary.And I am one of the nicer ones.

Kill or be killed?

I grew up strange. I despised violence and I reveled in it. I was beaten regularly but not severely by my father. My middle-class neighborhood turned less middle class at some point in my grade school days. Along came bullies meting out violence to the small and defenseless.

Why was I bullied. I was small, for my age and for my grade. I was 12 when I graduated grade school. I was a mouthy kid. I couldn’t fight physically, at all. But I never went down without a verbal barrage. I learned to manipulate the streets to accommodate my desire to live free or die. Others chose to get off the streets when it became unsafe. Go do homework.

Not me. With almost no friends or protection I sauntered to the local playground and watched from outside the fence. The tough kids and the athletes moving freely. I stood apart, locked in fear.

Maturity or something resembling that put my skills to work making pals. On every side of the fences. Gang kids, high school fraternity pals, Jews, Black, Ricans, but not Irish or Italian. The Catholics were bad news for me. Christ killer they said.

I learned to act tough. I learned to adapt. I learned to thrive on violence. I hung with criminals. I became a criminal. A burglar, a thief, a dealer. I threatened people and I was threatened. I was arrested. Repeatedly. And I prepped for prison. Simultaneously, I joined in the love, peace and drugs movement. I dropped LSD and grooved to Jefferson Airplane. I marched against the Vietnam War. I was called up to serve and I dodged the immoral war and refused to kill in the name of peace. The sergeant at the draft board took a look at me and said “we need tough guys like you in Nam”. The cop on the beat said I looked like a felon. Subsequently I was convicted of unlawfully carrying a handgun in Chicago.

Then I became a social worker specializing in street gangs. I buried about 13 kids in 3 years who were homicide victims and perpetrators.  Social worker to the very emotionally disturbed and I preached peace. I denied violence as a credible response to conditions. Then, I worked the next 2 years with kids enmeshed in a race war on the far south side of Chicago. I was attacked by both sides and took some physical licks to the head in the process. And I preached peace and preached against violence as a solution.

I became a drug counselor in Woodlawn. A hard-core inner-city community. I made home visits and prayed I wouldn’t get beaten or killed….again. A community infested with various black street gangs whose reputation for violence was well earned.

Then I became a criminal defense lawyer. Always in the streets with my clients. Always aware of the threat of violence being all around.

Eventually, I became a gun range owner and seller of firearms. I became real good with a gun. I taught the proper and legal use of deadly force. I taught the application of violence to certain conditions. And I preached peace and denied violence as a proper rsponse to conditions.

I am lost. I have violence and aggression permeating my thoughts. I have lived in acceptance of violence for years, even when I preached against it. I defended the users of violence when I was their social worker, lawyer and friend. I made friends with violence even as I chastized its application.

Now I am too old to protect myself physically. I have injuries. I have lost strength and muscle tone. I could not prevail against threats to my well-being. But with a gun, I can dominate situations that a weaker man would lose. I have the mind-set and the skill set to apply deadly force when I think it prudent. All the while unconvinced that it should ever be prudent if I were to mind my manners, stay out of conflicts, avoid making eye contact with aggressors and practice my Buddhist precepts and meditation.

Kill or be killed? I don’t know exactly how I got here nor how this will turn out. I accept that exposure to violence has left me damaged. I recognize I am eager to live by peaceful principles. I know I have to work at it. But soon I will be teaching and selling guns again. I do so without much reservation. I know I am a good teacher and a good pistolero. This battle has not been decided yet.