The Story Behind The Homecoming, My Poem About Prison
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
I saw Butch about a month ago on Bloor Street. He rode by on a bike as I was talking on a pay-phone. (Yes, pay-phones still exist and some people still use them.) Our eyes locked briefly, I turned my head and he kept riding.
I’ve known Butch since I was a kid. He was the guy everyone’s parents warned their kids about:
“Don’t hangout with that guy!”
It’s kind of the wrong thing to say to a kid. They end up doing the complete opposite.
Butch had been incarcerated several times as a youth and as a young adult. He was the building drug dealer who no one wanted to fuck with. That led to a lot of us young boys looking up to him. Even guys his age saw him as the cool guy.
When I was 12 Butch paid me $5 to break someone’s car windows. The guy owed him money. I didn’t like the guy anyway and I was already used to throwing rocks at cars. Taking the white part of a spark plug (a trick I learned from someone who taught me how to steal car stereos) and throwing it at a car window close range was nothing for me.
“You start with me,” he said after that.
Start as in work for him.
It never happened. I’ve always been more of a leader than a follower so I started doing stuff myself: stealing bikes and car stereos and selling them.
Butch would be in and out of the joint as I grew up. I always heard stories of his happenings:
1. He was arrested in the laneway and had guns put to his head by cops
2. He choked my building landlord and janitor at the same time in the lobby
3. He robbed drug dealers in different parts of the city
4. He had $50 000 U.S under his bed
5. He knocked a guy out with a kick by the ice cream shop
The myths behind the man.
When I was 15 he started hanging around us more. He had just got out and was trying to change his life around. But he went back in shortly and got some weekend visits in between.
A year and a half went by and he was released. A lot of us were excited for the wrong reasons. We thought he could hook us up with connections for things.
The day he came back we all took a walk and heard his stories. That’s the basis of my poem The Homecoming.
Our walk and talk went well. There was lots of laughter. He told us stories about fights and drugs and groups who ran different rackets. We all loved it.
Then came the moment where my view on Butch changed: his taking of a marker and writing a statement on the wall under the pool of our building.
Six Brown guys including me were with him. Butch is white. And he viewed his skin as power, which it is. But boasting about it and acknowledging it are two different things.
Rod, a guy from South America groaned loud when seeing the literal violence Butch wrote on the wall. My eyes opened wide. Mex, my friend, sighed in disgust; I can still hear his breath:
Rod, Mex, and another Brown guy and I are Mestizo (Indigenous and Spanish) from different parts of Central and South America. The two other Brown guys there were from the Middle East.
How could a white man think he could write such bullshit in front of us?
It’s called privilege and entitlement.
It also told us who he was hanging with inside.
Butch went downhill after that. As opposed to dealing drugs he started using them. The guy who rode around in a car with a sick bassline pumping Brandnubian and sporting British Knights runners with Fila tracksuits was showing up at my door with bags of groceries he robbed people of in the Loblaws parking lot.
“Lots of ketchup for Georgie!” he told my mom as we handed him $10 for a couple of bags worth $90.
In about one month from being released as a big, muscular man he lost about 60 pounds and looked sick. The lowest point I saw him was pushing a shopping cart full of crap with a well-known user. He ignored us out of shame.
Less than a year later he got pinched for armed robbery and was sent to the pen. We were sad for him. We were also sad out of selfishness:
“He could have been so big,” said Mex with a tone of sadness as we talked by the elevators on my floor.
Big as in connected.
Who knows? As I’ve grown older I think there was more myth than meat to the stories surrounding Butch. He could fight and he sold drugs on the street. Was he on the road to being Toronto’s next kingpin? I doubt it.
One thing I know is he was a full-grown man when he announced his race politics to us under the pool. Politics I oppose.
Butch looked rundown as he rode his bike passed me. His head was shaved but his face needed the affection of a razor much more; he wore black boots, and he had a medium build. He wasn’t the hulk of a man that was just released from jail or the sickly string of mozzarella cheese roaming the laneways around my building.
Butch also isn’t someone I look up to anymore.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Friday May 18, 2012 for a video of BCP reading “The Homecoming”.