A young African-American man’s memoir of a life of crime redirected.
Born poor in Haiti, St. Germain came to America with his family as a youth and, in the streets of Brooklyn, lost himself in the illegal economy that thrived on the streets. He fought and stole, “trying to process this new world and answer my own questions, all the while wearing a tight mask that showed none of this.” As a self-styled “street pharmacist,” he earned the nickname Buffett, because, as a helpful older friend explained, “Warren Buffett is gangsta,” a model money machine among the Scarface crowd. Rather than becoming filthy rich, as that name portended, St. Germain fell into the system, winding up in Spofford Juvenile Center in the Bronx, “a notorious intake place for troubled teens” whose alumni included Mike Tyson and rapper Fat Joe. But there, St. Germain was given an opportunity: rather than the normal machine of turning broken youth into broken men, he was placed in the Boys Town boot camp system, which teaches values of responsibility and respect. Said a staff member, “the purpose here is to retrain your behavior,” and retrain St. Germain’s behavior it did. “It went against everything I’d ever known,” he writes. At first, he went along with it to game the system and gain the merit points that earned privileges, but eventually he became a committed advocate of the system—and, moreover, a devotee of reading and education, guided by books of African-American history and in particular a memoir called Dreams of My Father, affording St. Germain “a kinship with this mixed-race senator with a foreign background, a funny name, and the gall to think he could change the world.”
An affecting and earnest testimonial to the power of a humane criminal system built on rehabilitation more than punishment.