Michael Patrick MacDonald recently spoke out on the need for a new gun buyback program in Boston. Raised in the crime-ridden Old Colony projects of South Boston during the Whitey Bulger era, MacDonald is no stranger to the toll gun violence can take on a neighborhood, or a family: his older brother, Frank, was fatally shot in a botched robbery, and his younger brother, Steven, was wrongly convicted of murder for the death of Tommy Viens, a friend who accidentally shot himself while playing with a gun. In the following excerpt adapted from All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, MacDonald revisits the beginnings and overwhelming success of the gun buyback program he helped organize in the wake of his family's personal tragedy, and the need for more like it in poor, inner-city neighborhoods like the Southie of his youth.
After I’d left Old Colony, I rested a few hours a night on friends’ couches around Boston, secretly eating at soup kitchens, and spending my days and nights investigating for Steven’s appeal and getting involved in efforts against violence and police abuse, especially in Roxbury, where things had only gotten worse since the Stuart case. At the same time I was trying to finish my studies at UMass, and taking extra courses in juvenile justice. I’d found Citizens for Safety only after many liberal organizations in Boston had shut the door in my face, since my story didn’t fit with their upper-middle-class white plans to organize around civil rights issues. While Steven was locked up in the Department of Youth Services, I called every organization in town that talked about violence and the police department’s reactionary ways in the black and Latino neighborhoods. One guy listened for fifteen minutes while I told him about the abuses in Steven’s case, until I said “South Boston.” Then he asked me if Steven was, by chance, a minority who’d moved into South Boston. “Nope.” “Well, unless he’s a minority or gay, I’m afraid there’s not much we can do.” That was the end of that conversation.
I finally decided to call just one last place to volunteer. I didn’t like the name Citizens for Safety. It sounded wimpy and suburban, and I was looking for a revolution to put all my rage into. But Kathie and Muadi were cool, and I soon figured out the name was a front; they were ready for battle.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
Today's post is a cross-post from a post by Willow Pennell on the Bright List.
"An incendiary, moving book that startles on nearly every page . . .
"MacDonald's nimble prose and detailed recall of grim times long past make for luminous reading; his hard-won conception of how ghettoized poverty spawns localized violence, and the dignity he brings to lives snuffed out in chaos, gives All Souls a moral urgency usually lacking in current memoir or crime prose.
Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up believing his mother and the politicians who said Boston's Southie neighborhood was the “best place in the world.”
But the tight-knit, community was also insular and hostile to outsiders. Violence on the street was ignored even as it affected nearly every family there. Politicians like William "Billy" Bulger and gangsters like Whitey Bulger cooperated to keep crime and punishment in the neighborhood and out of sight.
This insider’s tale is revelatory and heartbreaking. MacDonald's writing: evocative and sharp. It’s easy to see why, even as he describes the murders and overdoses of friends and family, he loves his neighborhood.
Rather than join in the cycle of violence all around him, Michael Patrick MacDonald used his sorrow and his outrage as an anti-violence activist helping to start a gun buyback program and the South Boston Vigil Group which helped the community acknowledge and bring to light the violence around them.
The trial of Whitey Bulger continues at the Federal Courthouse in Boston. One of the witnesses "on deck" for the prosecution is Paul "Pole Cat" Moore, so here's a timely excerpt from All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald. All Souls is, among other things, an excellent guide to Southie under Whitey Bulger's criminal empire. In this excerpt, MacDonald describes Pole Cat's connections to the local boxing world, the popular rock club the Rathskeller (or "The Rat") and Bulger's drug-dealing operations.
Hard hitting Frank MacDonald of South Boston met and defeated
a very comparable Jose Miguel from Cranston, Rhode Island. Frank
totally devastated his opponent with a series of crippling punches to
the body which succeeded in incapacitating Miguel, who was of great
courage but unable to fathom Frank’s awesome body attack—congratulations Frank, and corner men Paul "Pole Cat" Moore and
Tommy "Stove Man" Cronin.
—South Boston Tribune
Frankie was one of the few young people in the
neighborhood not being dragged down by drugs and crime in
1980. His boxing career was one of the only things that brought good
news to the streets of Old Colony in those days. Frankie was fast
becoming a neighborhood hero, not only in Old Colony, but all
over Southie. Everyone knew who he was, and he had a nickname
now, "Frank the Tank," for his "hard hitting" style that was bringing him championship titles, from Junior Olympics bouts at Freeport Hall in Dorchester to the New England Golden Gloves tournament in Lowell.
Mary and Kathy said all their girlfriends talked about Frankie’s
looks, and the guys who hadn’t yet got caught up in the world of
drugs talked about getting a ripped body like Frank’s. He was working out seven days a week, running from Old Colony, through the
Point, around Castle Island, and back to the project, always in his
combat boots from his days in the Marines—and sometimes he ran
backwards. Frank was welcome all over Southie. The little kids in
the neighborhood would run after him, asking him questions about
his bouts and begging him to show how he knocked out his opponents. That’s why Frankie was so intent on being what they called "a stand-up guy" in Southie. That’s what they called anyone who
would never snitch, even if it meant doing a life bid because of it.
But in Frankie’s case, it just meant he was clean-cut. Sure, he knew
all the top gangsters in the neighborhood; anyone with Frankie’s
status in the Southie boxing world would. But he never got involved
in their rackets, stayed away from the dust and coke they were
pumping into the streets, and refused to work for Whitey, telling
Ma that he never wanted to be "owned."
But still Frankie had "the boys," as we called Whitey’s troops,
working in his corner as he fought his way through four years of
New England Golden Gloves championships, starting out as a two-time middleweight champ in the novice class, and ending up a light
heavyweight champ for the whole region in 1982 and 1983. South Boston Tribune articles always pointed out the sound advice and leadership "the boys" were giving Frank in the ring:
Following closely the instructions of trainer Paul "Pole Cat" Moore
and manager Tommy Cronin, Frank pursued his opponent most aggressively with a savage body attack which . . . wore down O’Han to
the point of becoming a bit careless and somewhat frustrated . . . at
being unable to figure out MacDonald’s technique. Frank, once again following the instructions for his corner, succeeded in landing a barrage of lefts and rights to the jaw and head of his adversary. This
will prove to have been a most excellent victory for Frankie in the
upcoming bouts he is to have.
In Southie having the gangsters in your corner, in the ring or on
the streets, meant that you had the ultimate protection and power.
Grandpa didn’t believe that, though. He had warnings for all of us,
from his own days as a longshoreman on the Southie docks, where
he said he’d worked alongside some men who ended up in the
Brinks robbery of 1950, "the big one." Grandpa always told us how
the rule on the docks was to keep your mouth shut about the rackets
you saw. He said many a time the longshoremen were lined up by
the cops and asked to step forward and speak about crimes. That’s
how a waitress from the local diner got killed, after she stepped forward among the silent longshoremen. She was found murdered the
next day, her blood scrawled into the letters snitch all over her
cold-water flat. Grandpa had another rule of his own for the underworld: "Watch out whose hand you shake," he told us. He said there
was no such thing as a gangster giving something without wanting
more in return. "They’ll give you a quarter for a dollar any day," he
said. Grandpa had been trying to get closer to us since Kathy’s coma
and had even bought a condo in City Point. He got a closer look at
the neighborhood, and he kept coming around the house cursing
"that fuckin’ Whitey Bulger, a no-good bum if there ever was one," and wondering if the Bulgers were even Irish at all, with Senate President Billy Bulger’s insulting Irish brogue imitations at drunken St.
Paddy’s Day festivities. "They’re a shame to the Irish altogether,"
he said, "and what respectable Irish person would name their kid
William?" he asked. "That would be like a Jew naming a kid
Kevin started to go to the Rathskeller downtown, where Frankie
along with some of the other boxers and some of the boys were
working as bouncers. They were big and tough looking, and good
for keeping the college students and punk rock types in line. Frank’s
corner man, Pole Cat Moore, worked at the Rat, and introduced
Frankie to Ricky Marino, an ex–state trooper, who became Frankie’s
best friend. Then there was Kevin "Andre the Giant" McDonald,
not to be confused with my brother Kevin "Mini Mac" MacDonald.
He was a Southie champion too. Ricky and Paul Moore were pretty
high up in what the papers in later years would call the "Southie
underworld." But Frankie knew his little brother wasn’t going to
get involved in their plans, no matter how much he wanted to. They
were too high up to be bothered with Kevin, who despite his involvement in some of the big stuff was still just a kid to guys like
these. They also had a position to maintain, and weren’t about to
bring someone with Kevin’s potential into their rackets.
My brother Joe would go to the Rat too, whenever he was on leave
from the Air Force. Joe told Ma it was weird how Frankie’s friends
pulled each other aside when they were "talking business." We all
knew Joe was the tattletale in our family—he told Ma everything—and the boys must have sensed this too. But one night at the Rat, he
did overhear Pole Cat Moore telling Ricky that he’d be getting his
cocaine directly through Whitey’s Colombian connections, rather
than going through Ricky. Pole Cat had a job with the Boston Housing Authority, and an apartment with his brother, right next to ours on 8 Patterson Way. Pole Cat never touched the stuff. He was too
into his body, coming and going from our building with a gym bag
and a clean white towel around his neck. But he was starting to make
a killing on the coke, by the looks of the number of kids knocking
on his door day and night. Joe said he would know if Frankie was
into that stuff, though, and that Frankie had never been involved in
Pole Cat’s huddled conversations with Ricky at the Rat.
Then I started showing up at the back door of the Rat most
nights. Ever since I was fifteen I’d gone there to see bands. Frankie’s
friends knew who I was, and snuck me downstairs through the piss-puddled hallways, to where the bands played. Frankie snuck me in
too, but he didn’t know I was there on weeknights, and I told his
friends to keep it quiet. I hadn’t returned to Latin School since Kathy’s coma. They’d tried to make a deal with me that I could be
promoted, despite all my absences, if I left Latin and went to Madison Park High School in Roxbury. "Yeah, right," I said, "and be the
only white kid in the class."
Latin had been my only escape from the busing, and now I felt
guilty for messing it up. I couldn’t believe I was a high school dropout. I’d always been the straight-A student Ma bragged about, along
with Johnnie, and Davey. For a while I was still pretending to go to
school, even after Kathy was out of the coma. I’d wander around
Boston all day, freezing at bus stops when I didn’t have money for
the three-hour-long coffee refills at Mug and Muffn, trying to stay
awake after a night at the Rat. Ma eventually found a letter I’d written to myself about my guilt for being a dropout, and she was bullshit that I had pulled one over on her. She confronted me about it
and said I’d have to go right to work the next day. She too knew high
school in Roxbury wasn’t an option. That’s when I switched from
pretending to go out to school every day to pretending to go out
looking for a job. I was still freezing at bus stops, or getting warm at
Mug and Muffn; and I still snuck out of the house at night to go to
I had my own group of friends at the Rat. While Frankie, Pole
Cat, Andre the Giant, and the rest of the gang hung out upstairs, I
was down in the basement with misfits from all walks of life. Some
were working-class kids, others were suburban white-picket-fence
types, and others were rich. "What’s a trust fund?" I remember asking. "Ah, man, it’s nothing—just ’cause my dad’s rich doesn’t mean
I am. I gotta wait on it. Got a dollar for a beer, dude?" But wherever
these people came from, they didn’t like it. I’d always preferred
black music—soul, then disco, and now hip-hop and rap. The words
made more sense to me. But I also liked the energy and rage of punk
rock; I just couldn’t relate to the lyrics about life in the suburbs, and
having strict parents. Then I discovered the original version of
punk, from England. I’d never thought about the fact that there
were poor and working-class English people who hated the Queen,
and her mother, and the whole British establishment. I could get
into that. This was a movement of people who didn’t fit in where
they came from, and they’d made that cool. I could get into that too.
Punk music became an escape for me, but I still had to come back
to Old Colony every night. I often hitched a ride with Frankie’s
friends, the whole way home not knowing what to say to men as
powerful as "the boys." Other times I had punk rockers drop me off on the outskirts of Southie, so they wouldn’t see that I lived in the
project, or accuse me of being a racist for living in my neighborhood. But I was protecting them too; I didn’t want them to get bottles thrown at them for being different in Southie.
In honor of Mother's Day and moms everywhere, where sharing a few of our favorite Mom moments in Beacon books. In these passages we've posted on the Beacon Press Scribd page, we have three varied perspectives on motherhood. Michael Patrick MacDonald reflects upon his mother's strength in a passage from All Souls: A Family Story From Southie. Amie Klempnauer Miller recounts the decision-making path she and her partner went down on their way to becoming moms in an excerpt from She Looks Just Like You. And, in Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words, Kate Whouley tells the story of the challenges funnier moments of one Mother's Day with her mom.
"No one made us feel better about where we lived than Whitey Bulger. Whitey was the brother of our own Senator Billy Bulger, but on the streets of Southie he was even more powerful than Billy. He was the king of Southie, but not like the bad English kings who oppressed and killed the poor people of Ireland. No way would we put up with that. He had definite rules that we all learned to live by, not because we had to, but because we wanted to." -- Michael Patrick MacDonald, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
Whitey Bulger was apprehended yesterday in California, after sixteen years on the run, a time during which Whitey sightings were greeted in Boston with an excitement to rival those of Elvis Presley or Sasquatch. But unlike Big Foot or the late King, Whitey was really out there--a fugitive from justice, wanted for racketeering and murder--and still very present in the Boston media and minds of everyone around these parts (and the FBI). Now, an old man, he's surrendered and, allegedly, confessed his sins.
Whitey was a larger-than-life presence in profoundly poor South Boston, where Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up, and a driving force behind the violence that claimed the lives of many--not just those nineteen souls for whom he's been officially charged. The Southie of MacDonald's youth was an insular community that, out of desperation, embraced Bulger as its king, but suffered under his rule.
I'd "gotten out," as we like to say -- though we don't say it too loud because it insults the people that are there and offends a lot of people. But when I went back, I saw a lot of the people that had been affected by crime and violence in the '80s, who had lost family members, and who were still living in silence. [...] The world that was created by organized crime and Whitey Bulger -- the culture of death, the culture of drugs, death, and denial.
Of course, Bulger was not the only terrifying force in the neighborhood where MacDonald grew up. In the same interview, Sarah McNaught asks him, "Did you ever draw back for a moment and think, it may not be good, it may not be in my best interests to tell this story?" to which MacDonald responded, "I wasn't scared of neighbors, I wasn't scared of organized crime -- I was scared of my mother."
Dropkick Murphys collaborate with Michael Patrick MacDonald to bring the story of Cornelius Larkin to life
Win signed copies of Dropkick Murphys' latest CD Going Out in Style and Michael Patrick MacDonald's All Souls! See Beacon.org for details.
On March 1, 2011, Dropkick Muphys released their seventh full-length studio album, Going Out In Style. The songs take the band's own personal experiences and family folklore and roll them into the story of one fictional character, Cornelius Larkin. Fueled by fiery riffs and unforgettable choruses, Going Out In Style traces Larkin's journey, whether it's the Irish immigrant's first person account of his own wake or the band's in depth interpretation of his life and lineage throughout the album's lyrics. Ken Casey (lead vocals and bass guitar) reveals, "Cornelius has passed on to the other side, and the album becomes a retrospective of his life. He's one of those guys who immigrated to America at 16, got drafted into the Korean War, married young, had lots of kids, worked hard, and lived a full life rife with different characters, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations. Some of the stories are fictional, but most are odes to our grandparents, friends, and loved ones."
The Dropkicks felt that there was no way to tell a man's whole story in just thirteen songs. In order to round the story out, the band called on their friend, best-selling author Michael Patrick MacDonald (All Souls, Easter Rising). MacDonald wrote an eloquent obituary for Cornelius Larkin in the album's liner notes, along with the beginnings of a more extensive narrative about the album's main character for listeners to delve into. MacDonald became immensely engrossed in the character's development, particularly as Cornelius began to take on elements of MacDonald's own family history. At that point, the story grew into a much longer saga that is available on the band's and MacDonald's websites in conjunction with the album release.
"Collaborating with the Dropkick Murphys is, for me, a family affair," says MacDonald. "Cornelius Larkin represents all that we come from. And this story is about embracing the good, the bad, the ugly and beautiful that we all come from; ultimately learning to work with all of it. Past is truly prelude."
Casey elaborates, "I wrote an outline which began leading to songs. At the same time, I wanted the obituary to have that author's flair, a little more description, a more detailed narrative, and a deeper story. Michael listened to the songs we'd written, and he fleshed out the story and really put a name and a face on the character. It's a new approach and a unique partnership, especially in this day and age. The songs inspire the story, and the story inspires the songs. It's a deep record, and it celebrates a life."
After lamenting the absence of a One Book, One City program in Boston, the Globe decided to launch an experiment: a citywide reading program of its own. The comments that followed the story after it ran in the Books section and on Boston.com confirmed what we suspected — local citizens are certainly among the country's most opinionated readers. What better place to host a reading program than Boston? Here's how the Globe online book club will work: What follows is a list of 10 books, many of which were culled from readers' suggestions. The list — we hope — has something for everyone; each book certainly has plenty of meat for discussion. The only theme: All the books have local interest. Readers will have one week to vote for their pick (voting closes July 13). Once the winner is announced participants will then have a month to read the book. At the end of the month Boston.com will host a discussion with an expert moderator.
Go to the Globe website and vote now for the title you'd like to read. The poll closes tomorrow, so cast your vote now!
While many see July as a time for extra vacation days, our authors are hard at work promoting their books both across the country and here in Boston. With topics ranging from controversy over pornography to violence in our prison systems, here is a look at our authors' achievements this week:
In her new book, Pornland, Gail Dines analyzes how the lucrative pornography industry has-- through violence, racism, and sexism—destroyed how the public views sexuality. (The twoexcerpts available on Scribd have been very popular.) At the Huffington Post, Dines discusses the research process for such a controversial subject. The blog at Ms. Magazine has posted the firsttwo parts of a three part interview. At the Guardian, Dines's work sparked debate in the comments stream. Her interview at Pulse was picked up by Andrew Sullivan and moredebate ensued.
In Wealth and Our Commonwealth, Chuck Collins warns about the possibility of a permanent aristocracy in America. In an article for The Nation, Collins makes a connection to Teddy Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" speech and the dangers that accompany giving too much money and power to a select few.
California Lawyer praises Carlos Ball's From the Closet to the Courtroom, saying "[Ball] offers lawyers an enlightening shift of focus, enabling us to understand who 'makes law' in this country, and what motivates them to do so." The book examines five of the most groundbreaking cases that have shaped LGBT rights in the United States; in the Huffington Post, Ball looks at a recent victory.
In response to youth violence in the city of Boston, officials have created 400 jobs for at-risk teenagers according to Boston.com. Ninth graders in the program will receive a copy of Michael Patrick MacDonald's memoir All Souls, which recounts his childhood growing up Irish Catholic in the violence of South Boston.