One day during the spring of 1974, three guys came toward me on the street and started patting my pockets. “Got any money?” they asked. I told them no. They said, “All the money we find, we keep.” So they started turning my pockets out, but I didn’t have anything. Then they said, “Where are you going? Do you want to fly with us?”
“What’s that?” I said.
So we walked over to the school, and they had me climb the fence and throw some plastic milk crates over to them. We started walking a few blocks and then they told me to go into an abandoned building. I didn’t know if they were going to kill me. We climbed up to the roof and I saw a little box with some pigeons in it. These guys were building a pigeon coop. So I became their little gofer, their schmuck-slave.
Flying pigeons was a big sport in Brooklyn. Everyone from Mafia dons to little ghetto kids did it. It’s unexplainable; it just gets in your blood.
One day we were on the roof dealing with the pigeons and an older guy came up. His name was Barkim, and he was a friend of one of these guys’ brothers. He told us to tell him to meet him at a jam at the rec center in our neighborhood that night. The jams were like teenage dances, except this was no Archie-and-Veronica shit. All the players and hustlers would go there, the neighborhood guys who robbed houses, pickpocketed, snatched chains, and perpetrated credit-card fraud. It was a den of iniquity.
So that night I went to the center. I didn’t know you were supposed to go home and take a shower. I went straight to the center from the pigeon coops, wearing the same stinky clothes with all this bird shit on me. I thought the guys would accept me as one of their own, because I was chasing these fucking birds off these buildings for them. But I walked in and those guys went, “What’s that smell? Look at this dirty, stinking motherfucker.” The whole place started laughing and teasing me. I didn’t know what to do; it was such a traumatizing experience, everybody picking on me. I was crying, but I was laughing too because I wanted to fit in. I guess Barkim saw the way I was dressed and took pity on me. He came up to me and said, “Yo, Shorty. Get the fuck out of here. Meet me back at the roof eight in the morning tomorrow.”
The next morning, I was there right on time. Barkim came up and started lecturing me. “You can’t be going out looking like a motherfucking bum in the street. What the fuck are you doing, man? We’re moneymakers.” He was talking fast, and I was trying to comprehend each word. “We’re gonna get money out here, Shorty. Are you ready?”
I went with him, and we started breaking into people’s houses. He told me to go through the windows that were too small for him to fit through, and I went in and opened the door for him. Once we were inside, he went through people’s drawers, he broke open the safe, he was just really wiping them out. We got stereos, eight-tracks, jewelry, guns, cash money. After the robberies, he took me to Delancey Street in the city and bought me some nice clothes and sneakers and a sheepskin coat.
Barkim started introducing me to people on the street as his “son.” It was street terminology that warned people not to disrespect me. It meant: “This is my son in the streets, we’re family, we rob and steal. This is my little moneymaker. Don’t fuck with this nigga.” He bought me a lot of clothes, but he never gave me a lot of money. He’d make a couple thousand from robbing and he’d give me $200.
Some people might read some of the things I’m talking about and judge me as an adult, call me a criminal, but I did these things over 35 years ago. I was a little kid looking for love and acceptance, and the streets were where I found it. It was the only education I had, and these guys were my teachers.
One day I went into this neighborhood in Crown Heights and I robbed a house with this older guy. We found $2,200 in cash, and he cut me in for $600. So I went to a pet store and bought a hundred bucks’ worth of birds. They put them in a crate for me, and the owner helped me get them on the subway. When I got off, I had somebody from my neighborhood help me drag the crate to the condemned building where I was hiding my pigeons. But this guy went and told some kids that I had all these birds. So a guy named Gary Flowers and some friends of his came and started to rob me. My mother saw them messing with the birds and told me, and I ran out into the street and confronted them. They saw me coming and stopped grabbing the birds, but this guy Gary still had one of them under his coat.