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Looking for Whitey

"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_bulgerWhitey 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. 

MacDonald, speaking to the Boston Phoenix in 1999, after All Souls was first released by Beacon Press, said this of the environment where Bulger thrived:

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."

Read the interview (on the "classic" Phoenix website), read the excerpt "Looking for Whitey" on Scribd, and, most of all, read the book to learn more about Southie, Whitey Bulger, and MacDonald's indomitable Ma.

All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, excerpt