UP FROM THE WALKING DEAD: The Charles McGregor Story by Sharon & Charles McGregor Sopher

UP FROM THE WALKING DEAD: The Charles McGregor Story

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Anyone who's given up on ""rehabilitation"" within the present criminal justice system should check out McGregor's story. Born in Harlem to a Jamaican mother who used a clothespin on his flared, flat nose to make it look more ""white,"" McGregor was ""jailin'"" by 1940; there were a few brief ""flirtations with freedom"" until a 20-40 year sentence on charges of manslaughter and armed robbery consigned him to the walking dead. His anguished account of life on the inside (he swears he was innocent) is as raw and brutal as anything you'll find. The long years behind bars made World War II, Korea, the 1950s and the early '60s a remote blur, though when TV came in 1959 the cons felt more in touch. McGregor still remembers the absurdity of it: ""Killers, rapists, bank robbers, swindlers, forgers, and muggers all hopping around the prison yard doing the 'jerk,' the 'swim,' the 'mashed potato,' . . . and the 'monkey.'"" More signs of the changing times came with the advent of Black Is Beautiful, Right On, and Power to the People behind prison walls. Says McGregor of the slogans: ""I thought all three were meaningless."" Nevertheless, at some point--and who knows why--a sense of his own potential was born, along with a determination to get out. He began to educate himself, shed his street name ""Peewee,"" became a jailhouse lawyer, and with the help of ""the young warrior""--a Legal Aid lawyer who cared--filed a long series of appeals, in the end, they lost, but in 1967 McGregor was paroled. From there on the story takes an almost miraculous upswing: he becomes a paratherapist and public speaker for the Fortune Society; from a documentary about ex-cons he goes on to Hollywood--Superfly, The French Connection, Shaft, and more. There are a lot of powerful emotions coursing through McGregor's narrative, not all of them resolved, but courage is certainly what predominates.

Pub Date: May 5th, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday