Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Can An Ex-Con Become A Professional Writer?

It was acrimonious common cold in Durham, North Carolina when I stepped off the Trailways autobus at the business district terminus that Monday evening, and hailed a cab to take me to my aunt's house on Cleveland Street in a vicinity on the northern end of the city. I had barely made it from American Capital D.C. after a life changing experience with my married woman who was living in New House Of York at the time. After being released from prison house on Dec. 9, and going to Tarboro where my mother-in-law lived with two of her three step-daughters, Iodine had struck out trying to happen a job. Iodine had talked with my married woman a couple of clip on the phone, and she had said she was glad I was out, even though the ground I had returned to prison house in 1966 was because I attempted to sock her caput in with a scattergun barrel. Yes, those were my mean value years.

I had about $500 when I walked out of the prison house house Gates in Creswell, North Carolina, a little prison camp, where the overseer had said to me: "I'm not going to change the sheets on your bunk. You'll be back. For more than than 10 old age until he died, I sent this overseer a card every December that said simply: "Not Yet! I trust the sheets are holding up!" The money had been saved from my work release occupation with the span care crew where I had worked for about a year. So I decided to fall in my married woman in New York. In Washington, I called from the autobus terminus to state I would be delayed because a snowfall violent storm had halted the buses. Her conversation on the other end was not what I had wanted to hear. I will save you the gory details. They're not of import to this story. But that conversation was why on December 23, 1968, I was in Durham, North Carolina instead of New House Of York City.

My auntie Hattie, an aged invalid and her son, Leon, a confirmed alcoholic, seemed happy to see me, and they had made a downstairs sleeping room available in the large, old two-story house. I was glad to have got someplace to live. My female parent was in Virginia, but had told me before I was released that she just didn't have got room for me in the nursing place that she operated and in the dawdler where she lived.

First docket item--get a job! I had grown up in Durham and had committed all my law-breaking there. Most of the city's police force knew me on sight and would go immediately leery that I was still a criminal. A occupation would not change their belief, but, in improver to other advantages, it would give me an brassbound eight or nine hr day-to-day alibi. Tuesday was bitterly cold, too, but it didn't matter. I had to happen a job--today. About 2pm, I did! The adult male who hired janitors for a celebrated business district hotel--The American Capital Duke--hired me after hearing my narrative of law-breaking and change. He said: "I don't cognize why Milton, but I believe you. I'm going to give you a chance. But if you allow me down, I'll be in prison, 'cause I'll kill you myself." So there I was, out of prison house house just 15 years and employed. But delight note, I was not a hotel janitor. In my mind, I was a professional writer, working temporarily as a hotel janitor. The differentiation was both powerful and critical to my future. Because of how I believed, I never wore the hotel's janitor uniform off the premises. My co-workers made it a point to be standing out back when I turned the corner off Chapel Hill Street to come in the hotel's employee's entrance. They laughed loudly and called me the dressed up janitor. I didn't ain many clothes, but I wore my clothing to work and away from work, never the uniform. Oh, the pay? Imagine $1.25 per hr for a nine-hour twenty-four hours that began at 7am and ended at 4pm, with an hour--Noon to 1pm for lunch. I worked six years per week, and my return place wage averaged about $53 weekly.

Winter weather condition fluctuates in North Carolina. It can be freeze 1 twenty-four hours and balmy the next. Therefore, on a Friday payday in January, it was much warmer when I walked into Sam's Pawnbroker'S Shop on Main Street downtown, and spent $25 for a beat-up Royal typewriter. I knew from my research in prison house that newspapers and mags did not accept handwritten copy. Besides, I had taught myself to type while working as an helper instructor in the GED programme at Odom Farm. During January and February, 1969, I tried to acquire in school, but the managers of the two concerns colleges I applied for refused to give me a chance. Undaunted, I began correspondence a personal educational program

That's wherefore on a warm Spring twenty-four hours in 1969, I strode into the Managing Editor's business office at the Durham Morning Herld, across the street from the hotel and applied for a job. As I had learned after an awful experience in Tarboro, lying about my criminal background would not work. So I laid the whole narrative on the line. Alex Crockett's determination to not engage me neither suprised, nor fazed me. Iodine had a trump card card. "Okay, I understand," I said confidently. "Well what about letting me hang around the newsroom when I acquire off work at the hotel and see if I can pick up some arrows from the reporters. I am going to go a professional writer, and this is just as good a topographic point as any to begin." Davy Crockett agreed. So there I went mundane after work, across the street and up two flights to the newsroom.

The lesson was painful, but enlightening. I saw myself as an excited "wannabe professional person writer," but the professionals in the newsroom apparently saw me as a "go-fer." Whenever I came by to inquire a question, person would inquire me to travel across the Street to Palm's Restaurant, or down the block to Amos&Andy's hot dog stand, or downstairs to the interruption room where the java pot was. They gave me the money. I ran the errands, and when I returned, they were always busy. Iodine had to toss the script.

I explained my quandary to my auntie and cousin, and asked them if they would allow me remain there free for about six calendar months so I could take the $20 I gave them each hebdomad and put it in my future. They agreed. So now when I entered the newsroom, I had poulet sandwiches, hot dogs, coffee, etc. Here's the large difference. I owned the food. The terms of my food? Answers to my questions! It worked because the professionals "saw" a really dense go-fer World Health Organization would not only travel acquire the food, but who would also pass his ain money. How could anyone that dense benefit from what they said? Some of them lied, a few more than often than others. That was all right. As I questioned, I began learning more than than and more about the accomplishments of reporting, which includes interviewing and dual checking what people say. I asked the building's janitor if I could take attention of the rubbish tins in the newsroom for him. He agreed of course. I wanted all of the creased transcript paper newsmen threw away so I could compare what they started with what finally published. Then with my beat-up typewriter, I would acquire up about 5am every day, and rewrite certain narratives in the newspaper. When I had about two dozen, I took them in one twenty-four hours to Roger Jolly, the City Editor, and asked his opinion. He said: "How would you like to come up in on Sundays and rewrite wire copy?"

Later that Spring, I thought I had learned enough, so I went across town to the local achromatic weekly newspaper and applied for a job. Joe Louis Alston, founder, publishing house and editor of The Carolina Times hired me, and I wrote for him for a couple of calendar months before moving to Greensboro to compose for another achromatic weekly newspaper, and by the Spring of 1970, I was back living in Durham, and authorship for a achromatic weekly in Raleigh. At every opportunity, I met and learned from professional journalists. One of them was the News&Observer's characteristics editor, Guy Munger, and another was Teddy Boy Harris, then, the agency head for the Capitol business office of UPI (United Press International). These friendly relationships soon proved to be most fruitful.

The editor at the weekly paid me $60 per week, and expected me to describe and compose news copy, as well as endeavor at least three characteristics weekly. Well, in 1970, the Afro hair style was the fury among African Americans, and one twenty-four hours in the barbershop, I listened as Barbers shared narratives about the hazards of the afro. Sounded like a good feature. I reported it, wrote it and submitted it. The editor hit the ceiling, saying it gave barbershops and hair chests of drawers too much free advertising. He rejected the story. On a whim, I asked Munger to look it over.

"You desire to independent this?" Munger asked when he completed reading the piece. Pride wouldn't let me to acknowledge that I didn't cognize what "freelance" meant. So I said "Sure, why not." He said: "I have got only a little budget for independent pieces, will $75 be enough?" The mathematics amused me! I was writing at least five articles each hebdomad for the weekly for $60 (no taxations deducted). That's about $12 per article, and Munger was asking me if $75 for one article was enough. "Sure, why not," I said, trying to sound unagitated and professional.

Munger published my characteristic story, complete with by-line, top of the fold up on the Lord'S Day characteristic presence two hebdomads later, and on Monday, the weekly editor fired me, for authorship for the competition. I went to Ted's business office to see if he knew about any authorship occupations I could use for. While there, the telephone set set rang and all Iodine heard was Teddy Boy say: "Well, I be damn; he sitting in my business office right now."

The telephone phone call was from the secretary of the Executive Editor of the Wilmington Star-News, A day-to-day newspaper in Wilmington, NC. It looks that Jim Harriet Harriet Harriet Wilson had been instructed by the publisher, Rye Page, to engage that newspaper's first achromatic newsman and Wilson read and liked the characteristic and called Teddy Boy to see if he knew me. Iodine spoke with Wilson who asked could I be in Wilmington Tuesday for an interview. I ran downstairs to Munger's business office to see if I could accumulate the $75. Payment, he told me was two hebdomads away. Back to Teddy Boy office, I asked him to loan me enough for autobus fare, a hotel room and some food. Teddy Boy gave me $125. In Wilmington, Harriet Wilson and I had a expansive time, but he was concerned because I didn't ain a car, and didn't have got the money to purchase one. I said: "Mr. Wilson, hire me as a newsman and have got got your editors give me any duty assignment they want, and the twenty-four hours I lose a deadline because I don't have a car, fire me." Harriet Harriet Wilson replied: "Okay, I'll begin you off at $90 a week, and raise you whenever you turn out yourself to be more than valuable to this newspaper. When can you be here? We agreed on A date.

That's how about mid-June 1970, less than two old age after being released from prison, a high school dropout with a GED became a staff author at the Wilmington Star-News, a professional writer, no longer working as a janitor.

No comments: