Get Rich Quick Scheme #1: Dad decides to become a Miami Cop
I'm following up my last blog with another personal story. This one from my childhood.
Please don't think I'm blaming my parents for my breaking the law. I'm not. When I became an adult, I had the power to make a choice whether I did right or wrong. I chose to do wrong.
I hurt a lot of people along the way: Friends, family, loved ones, people I didn't even know--and myself. It took me going to prison to change my way of life, realize the harm I was causing, and, FINALLY, choose to do the right thing.
My upbringing didn't cause me to break the law. As you will see, though, I had a pretty odd childhood.
I come from a family of fraudsters. Hell, I come from an area of fraudsters.
Not everyone in Eastern Kentucky scams people. There are hard working individuals who strive every day to feed their family and make ends meet. But there is also a mentality among a number of people to do whatever they need to to make money.
My family was always involved in some sort of illegal activity. Mom was the ringleader, always working on some sort of scam or hustle. Stuff like faking stolen cars, burning cars and homes for insurance money, food stamp fraud, falling and suiing someone, kiting checks, stealing heavy equipment--all kinds of stuff. If there was a scam, she'd pull it. I remember her buying over the counter diet pills and selling them to druggies as speed. I remember her scamming to get government cheese.
Dad? Not so much the fraud thinker. He was more the enabler. Remember that small dog in the Looney Tunes Cartoons. The one that follows that big black dog, Spike, around jumping and screaming: "Yeah, Spike, Get 'em. Get 'em , Spike. Show 'em Who's Boss!" That small dog was my Dad. Mom was Spike. Dad rarely came up with an idea on his own.
Except for two occasions.
The first was when he decided to be a pilot for the Mexican Mob, running drugs across the Mexico border into the US. I was maybe 8, my sister Denise 7.
Dad went through the interview process and was set to begin work when things came
crashing down. Dad's point of contact, Tommy Allen Combs was killed in a 6 hour shootout with several law enforcement agencies. Dad decided to decline the job offer.
I dont remember my parents reaction to that. I suppose they were sad. Afterall, their ticket to untold riches was riddled with bullets.
The second time? Well...
Dad was an avid watcher of 60 Minutes. He watched it every Sunday come Hell or High Water. This particular Sunday they were talking about all the drug seizures taking place in Miami. They showed the Tons of Cocaine. They showed the Pallets of Cash. Dad sat staring at the TV, studying.
Mom noticed, “Ray, what is so damn interesting?”
“Shut up a minute, Carolyn.”
Mom wasnt used to that. It must be something important. She started watching, too. Denise and I had no friggin clue what was so interesting about Miami. No idea what cocaine was or anything else. We knew Mom and Dad are watching something and we knew to be quiet.
The segment ended. Dad walked over and turned the TV off. He went back and sat down in his chair. He was quiet for a few minutes. Carol Sue--Mom--sat quiet as well, the cogs turning.
Finally, my Dad looks over to Mom, “I think I'll see about being a police officer in Miami.”
“Yeah,” Mom said.
“Might be able to make some money down there.”
Dad called around and found out that the Miami-Dade PD was most certainly hiring and that his military service would also be considered and he would be given credit for such.
Basically, “Hey Mr. Ray Johnson! You were a Captain in the Army? Shit yeah! Come on down. We need some help rounding up all these drug dealers!”
Dad looked at me one day and explained his plan.
“Its like this, Son,” he said. I figure all I gotta do is just find one of those drug deals. I'm not gonna bust them. Just going to tell them to go on their way and take their drugs with them. But leave the cash.”
I looked at my father, “That'll work?”
“Of course it will work. Nobody wants to go to prison the rest of their life.”
“But,” I started.
“They get to keep their drugs. All Im asking for is the cash that is there. One score like that and we got it made.”
“What if they just shoot you instead?” I had seen all the guns these drug people had.
Dad looked at me for a minute like I was a fucking idiot. “They aint gonna shoot anybody, all us cops are gonna be there.”
I considered this for a second. “If all those cops are gonna be there, how you going to walk away with all the money?”
Dads mouth dropped slightly open. Ha! Gotcha on that one, Ray Johnson! Dad regained his composure, looked at me and said, ”All I gotta do is give everyody a cut. You saw how much money there is there. Plenty for everybody. And everybody walks away happy.”
I shook my head, “I dont know, Dad.”
“Well, I do. It will work. I know.” And that ended the discussion.
$3000. That is how much they had. Mom had taken a fall at work and sued her former employer. We had an old Chrysler we had bought at the auto auction. We loaded it full and rented a U-Haul and packed our house in it. Then we set off for Miami. No other money in the world. No other possessions.
I dont know if God exists. I fancy he or she might, but you just never know. I have what I like to call the Langston Hughes Problem, a severe lack of faith. I do know if God exists, that he or she has a pretty dark sense of humor.
We arrived in Miami, May 18th, 1980.
Now what is important about that date? May 18 marks the date the Miami Riots started in earnest. Four Miami Dade Police officers were acquitted in the death of Arthur McDuffie. McDuffie was a salesman and former marine. He died from injuries sustained following a high speed chase. The officers had claimed he wrecked. In truth, they had beaten him to death. The officers were acquitted and the city exploded. They were the most violent riots since the 1960s and would remain so until the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.
We got there the night things really got going. Mom and Dad had never been to Miami. Didnt know a thing about it. We pulled into the first Days Inn we spotted off the interstate. It was right next to an over pass. Living beneath the overpass were all these homeless people set up in little shanties. Some of them had recliners next to their cardboard sheds. I kept wondering how a person without a home could have a recliner. How did he get it down here?
Dad paid the hotel bill and we went in and turned on the TV. All the channels were loaded with details about what was going on outside the door.
“Ray Gene, where the hell have you brought us?” Mom wasnt happy. Mom kept looking out the window at the homeless people across the way. She'd look out the window and then back at Dad. Guess she thought it was his fault all those folks were out there.
Dad kept looking at the TV, taking in the riot and everything that was going on. You could see he was thinking this whole cop idea might not be a piece of cake, afterall.
“We cant stay here, Ray Gene.”
“Do you not see what is going on out there? We cannot stay here. Just look out there. They could come over here any time.”
“Those people arent rioting, Carolyn, they're just homeless.”
“Just homeless? I saw the way they were looking at us when we pulled in. Probably steal
everything we have in the truck tonight.”
“Would it make you feel better if I slept in the truck tonight?” Dad asked.
“Sleep in the truck? And leave us in here alone?”
“What?” Dad didnt understand.
Mom looked at Dad with disgust, she couldnt believe he could be that stupid. “And leave us here to be raped and killed.”
“Dont 'Carolyn' me. You saw those people. Its right there on the news!”
“Dont you sigh at me, You Son of a Bitch!”
Dad went the next day to the Miami Dade Police station. Mom, me, and Denise sat in the hotel room. There was a pool outside, but Mom had yelled something about “whores” when we asked if we could go swimming. So me and Denise sat there peeking through the blinds at the homeless people.
Dad came back that evening looking dejected.
“What happened, Ray?” Mom asked.
“Damn people are crazy over there.”
“Well, they ended up arresting 10-15 about halfway through the class.”
"We had class going on and several officers come in the middle of class and hauled out about half. Said they had outstanding warrants.”
“Warrants, Carolyn. All those people had applied to be police officers and they had warrants out for them.”
“That doesnt make any sense.”
“Sense or not, thats what happened.”
We left Miami the next day.
The problem was Mom and Dad only had about $1100 of the $3000 left. They had no home to return to, no job to return to. They were fucked. So were Denise and me, we just didn't know it.
Mom and Dad drove North on I-75.
We ended up in Panama City, Florida.
How? They made it to Central Florida and remembered they had spent Spring Break in Panama City. We went there. Good a place as any considering the money and gas were running low.
Dad got a job making $140 a week working as a 7-11 clerk. Mom got a job as a nurse, but pretty soon quit so she could cheat on Dad.
Me and Denise are in Panama City under a year when Mom decided to tell us we are going to Eastern Kentucky to visit. Me and Denise dont see our father again for years.
I grew up like that. You will read more stories like this as I continue posting.
Im not blaming my later career in crime on my parents and upbringing. Lots of people have had far worse childhoods then me and came out just fine. Hell, my sister grew up to be a very good teacher and never thought of breaking the law. I broke the law because I chose to. But Maw and Paw Johnson certainly made sure I had the necessary tools to do so.