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One was a 20-year-old Irish Catholic who had been a Georgetown University student in Washington. The other was a seven-year-old African American boy living in a D.C. homeless shelter. Their paths crossed in one of life’s random moments and altered both of them forever. The college student became a well-known human rights champion who works with George Clooney and other Hollywood activists. The boy from the streets became a drug dealer – before turning his life around. In a new book, and in an interview with Diane, they tell their story. How a brotherly bond forged decades ago helped each of them find their way in the world and taught them the power of commitment.
- John Prendergast Human rights activist; co-founder of the Enough Project; author of several books.
- Michael Mattocks Co-author of "Unlikely Brothers."
Forming a Bond
When, as a young man, John Prendergast decided to become a big brother to Michael Mattocks, he wasn’t sure he could identify his motivations for joining the program. But now, decades later and after they two have co-written a memoir about their enduring friendship, Prendergast realizes he became a big brother at least partially because he was a “sad person” at the time.
“In any kind of memoir, you really have to examine your motivations. Why did you do this stuff? I was a…depressed person, and I was looking to fill a void with external things.”
Michael, who was 7 years old at the time the two met, says his first memory of John was a happy one. “He asked me and my brother if we knew how to read,” Mattocks said. He and his family were living in a homeless shelter at the time.
A Hard Life
Mattocks’ mother was young, and his family was bouncing from shelter to shelter. Sometimes all he and his brother would have to eat in a day was cereal. He remembers his mother and other relatives crying when his Aunt was beaten to death by her husband.
“[Her husband] wrapped her body in plastic and stuffed her body in a wall. And he made her kids help. And he plastered over the wall,” Mattocks said.
Prendergast, who grew up in a stable working-class family, had a relationship with his father that was rocky and very tense at times. He was a Korean War veteran, and he couldn’t accept any kind of deviation from his rules, Prendergast said. “As soon as I would begin to assert my own individuality and independence…he was very abusive and it became a very very hard situation for me,” he said.
But when Prendergast would bring Mattocks and his brothers home, his father would welcome them as if they were his own children. ” He lit up like a Christmas tree when they were around. Even though I wasn’t speaking to him, I admired him and was so grateful for the model he was providing for the kids,” Prendergast said.
A Downward Spiral
As Predergast grew older, he decided he could make a difference in the human rights campaigns in parts of Africa, including Ethiopia, and he traveled abroad for months at a time. During that period, Michael was enticed by street life and fell into a pattern of taking and selling drugs.
“What was happening in your life when you were selling drugs?” Diane asked.
“It was painful. I hurt a lot of people. There was a lot going on. My mom was hurt. And I was using drugs, drinking, carrying a gun. I was out there doing grown-men things. I lost my best friend. He got shot in the face with a .45. I saw that and it hurt me so bad,” Mattocks said.
Turning Things Around
Prendergast admits that in hindsight, he wasn’t there in Michael’s darkest hour, when Michael needed him the most. But eventually, Prendergast did come back from Africa, and the two reconnected.
For Mattocks, in addition to Prendergast’s friendship, it was his wife and kids that really helped him turn his life around. He cleaned himself up, got off the streets, got his commercial driver’s license, and now drives buses for a living, which he loves.
John admits that he could have been a better big brother. But today, he tries to spread the word that anyone can volunteer and make a huge difference in a youth’s life. “I sort of hung around, and the fact that I was around, he thinks, is one of the reasons he could make it through the darkest parts of his life,” Prendergast said of Michael.
Author Extra: John Prendergast and Michal Mattocks Answer Extra Questions
John and Michael stayed after the show to answer some questions we couldn’t get to on the air.####
Q: John, may times you’ve been in physical danger requiring a lot of courage. How does that compare with the emotional courage it took to write this book?
A: They certainly are different categories of fortitude! In African war zones, your adrenaline is going and you just have more of a sense of ‘whatever will be, will be.’ And you get through it. There is a major psychic toll later, but at the time you see all the suffering around you and you don’t wanna complain or show the emotions you might be feeling. I think after a decade or so I began to become a little numb, which is certainly not good for emotional health and stability. So writing this book has been a bit cathartic, because I was able to go back and look at the things I have been through and re-process them, or better yet process them for the first time, and come to terms with some of the more difficult memories. And of course there is the trauma from my childhood in the mix as well. I wish my dad was still around to read this. We never did have a real conversation or meeting of the minds about all the madness that went on in our home when I was growing up. This book I think could have opened up some doors to understanding, or at least acknowledging, the pain and vulnerability that I felt as a little kid.
Q: Michael, what was it like writing the book?
A: It was painful writing the book. I had to bring back all those memories. At the same time, I was excited to tell my story. I hope it can help out others that are in difficult situations, that they can overcome painful things in their lives.
Q: John, why has it been so important for you to fight injustice?
A: I felt very early on an affinity with those who would stand up against things that are wrong. I felt injustice ACUTELY, at a cellular level, for many complicated reasons I try to plumb in the book. So when given an opportunity to fight against human rights abuses in Africa, I feel utterly compelled to do all I can. And when I had the chance to be there for Michael and his siblings as they made their way from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, I again felt compelled.
Q: Michael, it was hard for you at first to have a steady job that paid so little compared to what you earned as a drug dealer. How did you come to terms with that?
A: My wife helped me. She told me I wasn’t on the streets any more, and I had to maintain.
Q: Michael, you told Diane that you love your job driving a bus. What do you love about it?
A: Sitting in that bus puts me in an indescribable zone. It’s like you are in heaven. I am so relaxed and focused on what I have to do. Everything in my brain just goes away and I am just focused on driving that bus. It’s like nothing else in my life. Unbelievable. I love that bus!
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. John Prendergast and Michael Mattocks grew up in completely different worlds. But each of them was deeply scarred by childhood circumstances. A chance encounter brought them together and now they've co-written a book about how their 25-year friendship profoundly affected their lives.
MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled, "Unlikely Brothers." John Prendergast and Michael Mattocks join me in the studio. I hope you'll join us as well. It's wonderful to have some good stories and we don't get them often enough. Join us by phone, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to both of you.
MR. MICHAEL MATTOCKSGood morning.
MR. JOHN PRENDERGASTGood morning. Thank you for having us.
REHMLovely to have you here.
REHMReally good. Michael, tell me about your first memory of John Prendergast?
MATTOCKSWell, my first memory of John, it was a wonderful when I first seen him.
REHMWhere were you?
MATTOCKSWe lived in the shelter.
REHMYou lived in the shelter?
REHMAnd how did John happen to come in?
MATTOCKSWell, we was at the shelter on -- like, certain Saturdays we would go to his buddy's room and he would let us get changed. And one day, John happened to just walk up. Me and my brother was up there getting changed out of a little chair. We see John, we really didn't pay no attention to him at first and then he asked his buddy who we were.
MATTOCKSHe introduced us to him and from that day forward we just been brothers, you know. And I mean, it was amazing. You know, because once he seen us, he took a liking to us. I just see the spark in his eyes that he have for us and he just became our big brother.
REHMDid you have the same spark in your eyes for him? Maybe not so quickly?
MATTOCKSNot, not so quickly. Not so quickly. But at that moment, I knew because he asked me and my brother, did we know how to read, and we told him a little bit. Started taking us to the library, teaching us how to read and went from there, been for 25 years.
REHMJohn Prendergast, why? What was it that happened in you that day?
PRENDERGASTWell, that was a funny part about writing this book. You know, my initial answer to that maybe two years ago would've been, well, because, of course, I'm such a great guy. But then, in the process of starting to write this book and you really have to, in any kind of a memoir -- in our case, it's a dual memoir, you know. You have to examine your motivations. Like, why did you really do this stuff?
PRENDERGASTAnd I realized that were huge holes in my life at that time and I was very, very -- I was a sad person, depressed person and I was looking to fill it with things, with external things, you know. I was fighting for justice in the neighborhoods of Washington D.C. and Michael and James, James is Michael's little brother, were just two sort of manifestations. And if I could somehow work with them and help them, maybe I could help the bigger issues.
PRENDERGASTBut really, I was trying somehow to find meaning for myself in my own life. Looking back on it, I mean, I sure didn't think that then, but I now understand it to have been a big...
REHMAnd clearly, something happened that very day?
PRENDERGASTYes, they really broke through the sort of crusader that I fashioned myself to be at that very young age of 20. You know, Michael and James were right in front of me and there were just these extraordinary, joyful kids in the midst of a very terrible circumstance, that they were living out of Hefty plastic bags in a homeless shelter, going from shelter to shelter one week to the next.
PRENDERGASTAnd it was a very, very difficult experience and yet they were -- I don't think I ever had as much fun when I were to hang around with those guys. They were just full of joy. So it really -- it impacted me on a human level. I was estranged from my father and I didn't really have a close family connection at that time.
PRENDERGASTI was sort of a satellite without a mother ship, you know, and here is a new family in effect. And I sort of cottoned to these guys in a way that I just, you know, hadn't imagined that kind of a relationship had any room in my life.
REHMMichael, tell me about what your life was like back then?
MATTOCKSMy life back then, it was -- it had its bad moments and it also had its good moments. But, you know, being at the young age where, you know, we was homeless and that was like a hurtful situation. You know, when we met John, it, like, kind of -- he took a lot of that away, you know, because he did things with us, you know. It wasn't just all about us being in that shelter. He made sure we had fun. And he was young himself, you know, so he made sure we had a lot of fun when we was small.
REHMWhere was your mother and how was she taking care of you and your four siblings?
MATTOCKSWell, my mom, she was young, you know. She was around, but at the same time, it was stressful for her, too, you know, being young, we bouncing from shelter to shelter...
REHMShe was scraping by?
MATTOCKSYes, she was. You know, I mean, it was kind of rough -- really rough for her.
REHMWhat kinds of meals could she prepare, provide for you?
MATTOCKSWhatever, you know, basically she could. Sometimes it wasn't really nothing. You know, we ate cereal here and there. Just, I mean, whatever was there to eat and whatever she could get to eat for us. You know, some days we wouldn't eat but the cereal, you know, so it was, you know, a rough situation. It's painful, it's painful.
REHMYou describe on the first page of this book seeing your mother and other relatives crying because of what happened to your aunt. What happened?
MATTOCKSWell, when I was younger, my aunt, you know, her husband had beaten her to death and killed her. He basically wrapped her body in plastic and stuffed her body in a wall and basically made her kids help him do that. And plastered the wall back over, painted back over. And, you know, my aunt, she was missing so when they back in there to that apartment, they smelled actually the body.
MATTOCKSThey smelled it. They just didn't see it, but it was there and they noticed that that one particular spot, that's where her body was at, and broke the wall and, I guess, got her body out of there.
REHMWas your uncle taken to jail?
MATTOCKSYes, yes. I think he got 25 to life. You know, which he did his 25 and he's -- I think he's home now.
REHMHe's home now?
MATTOCKSYes, I think so.
REHMTell us about Willie?
MATTOCKSYes, Willie was a great guy, you know. He -- we wasn't his kids, but, you know, we didn't never see, you know, any signs that we wasn't kids because he took care of us. And, you know, he didn't show no favoritism because, you know, James was basically his only son and he made us all feel like we was his kids.
MATTOCKSSo, you know, I always thought, you know, that that was my dad. And he was a great guy, he really was. He took us fishing when we were smaller too. He did things. We went up to New Jersey with him until, you know, he took sick real bad.
REHMHe took sick real bad?
MATTOCKSYes, he died. He died.
REHMHe took sick, as I recall, and spent six months...
REHM...away from home...
MATTOCKSYes, he did.
REHM...and then when he came back, he didn't know anything.
MATTOCKSNo, he -- that was a hurtful situation, hurtful. Because, you know, he went from this guy that knew us and loved us from this guy that didn't even know us no more. He would blank in and out knowing us and then he don't know us. You know, that was kind of -- you know, we were small, but at the same token, it was painful and it was hurting.
REHMMichael Mattocks, he's a former drug dealer.
REHMHe lived in a homeless shelter as a child. He's now a husband and father who works as a shuttle bus driver. John Prendergast is a human rights activist, co-founder of the Enough Project to end crimes against humanity. He's a former Clinton administration advisor and together they have written a new book titled "Unlikely Brothers: Our Story of Adventure, Loss and Redemption."
REHMAnd if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. John, your childhood wasn't so great either.
PRENDERGASTYes, I had really, what I would consider, an idyllic one up until perhaps the age of seven or eight. My dad was a real pied piper, one of these guys that's just a giant of a man, Irish-Catholic storyteller from Pittsburgh and he would just -- every neighborhood we'd move -- we moved a lot.
PRENDERGASTEvery neighborhood we lived in, you know, the kids would come knocking on the door, when can Mr. P come out and play? You know and -- but as soon as I would begin to assert my own individuality and independence – again, looking back, I didn't understand at the time. He was a Korean war sergeant and had had a very difficult childhood of his own in terms of his father just coming down on him like a ton of bricks.
PRENDERGASTSo he just couldn't accept any kind of deviation from his way or the highway and so I -- it became very, very hard. He was very abusive and it was just -- it became a hard situation for me.
REHMJohn Prendergast and Michael Mattocks and the book is titled "Unlikely Brothers." We'll take just a short break. When we come back, more of our conversation and your calls.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us we're talking about a new book. It's titled "Unlikely Brothers: Our Story of Adventure, Loss and Redemption" written by two people years apart, experiences apart, racial divide but they came together and have been dearest friends for 25 years, John Prendergast and Michael Mattocks. And if you'd like to join us, questions, comments on the phone, email, on Facebook or Twitter. Michael, did you ever meet your father?
REHMTell me about that.
MATTOCKSWell, the day I met my real dad, my mom had a party. We was living in the southeast and one of my aunts brought my dad over there. And that day he brought -- she brought my real dad over there. And when he walked through the door -- I always thought Willie was my dad, but when my real dad walked through the door, I knew that that was my dad.
REHMYou knew it.
MATTOCKSI knew that was my dad.
REHMHow'd you know?
MATTOCKSThe feeling I got and the way he looked.
MATTOCKSYes, and I was a little boy and I looked just like him.
REHMHow old were you?
MATTOCKSI think I was probably nine.
MATTOCKSAnd it was wild because I was young, but I knew that that was my dad at the same time. And I was like, oh. And it hurt me so bad. It really did. I was so hurt because Willie -- that's who I knew as my real dad was -- but when I found out that that was really -- my really, really dad, it hurted (sic) me. It crushed me as a little boy. But I still consider Willie as my dad 'cause that's who I knew who took care of us.
REHMWhy did -- why do you think your aunt brought your dad to your home?
MATTOCKSI think he wanted to see us, I really do.
REHMDid you have any contact with him afterwards?
MATTOCKSWell, yeah, he came around for a little while, but he left back out again.
MATTOCKSYou know, he left back out again.
REHMWas your mother happy to see him?
MATTOCKSYeah and no. You know, my mama was happy to see him, but she, you know, asked my aunt why does she bring him around...
MATTOCKS...you know. But it was too late. He was there. And, you know, he stayed around for a while. I guess they got back together for a little while and he left right back out.
REHM...seeing people come...
REHMBut your dad stayed, John, and you as, I gather, the oldest of your siblings, he took it out on you.
PRENDERGASTYeah, it's interesting because I think of so many boys, you know, growing up have this experience where, you know, you just -- and then mine was certainly sort of prototypical. He just -- it was volatile. And we were constantly -- screaming matches and then we went silent. And we basically didn't speak to each other for 20 years.
REHMWhat about your mother? How did she react?
PRENDERGASTAlways trying to -- you know, trying to bring us back together. I mean, she worked very, very hard praying. I mean, she probably prayed more than any other woman I know for her son and her husband to reconcile. And it took us 20 years, but over time, we began to re-thaw the relationship. But those years of sort of adolescence were very, very painful.
REHMHow'd you deal with his rage?
PRENDERGASTI sort of -- in two ways. Inside the house, I just built a big turtle shell and just stayed inside it all the time. I used to go down in the basement whenever I was home and just stay in the basement wherever we would live. I had my little hiding places and I'd go there. But outside, I think I became more and more assertive, you know, very combative. 'Cause I was always battling -- I've a combative personality to begin with and certainly that probably was part of the seeds of the problems that we had in the first place, my dad and I. But I think that became sort of a dominant trait as I grew older. I was just somebody who was always fighting for something, you know.
REHMAnd then, you began bringing Michael and his siblings to your house.
PRENDERGASTIt was in some ways awesome and probably was the seed for eventual reconciliation with my dad because he lit up like a Christmas tree when Michael and James and the other -- and some of his other siblings used to come and stay. And he -- you know, he had his chance to...
REHMOnce again, yeah.
PRENDERGAST...be dad all over again.
PRENDERGASTAnd he was phenomenal. I mean, he -- there is simply no one I've ever met that dealt with kids like him. And so we had these incredible adventures -- or mostly him taking the kids off and me going off and working somewhere 'cause I was always sort of on the edge of minimum wage. And I just -- I certainly -- even though I wasn't speaking to him, I certainly admired him and was so grateful for the model that he was providing to these young guys.
REHMWhat was it like for you, Michael, to be in that house to sit down to have dinner, to talk? You know, what was that experience like for you?
MATTOCKSIt was amazing. It was like an experience we never had before. You know, Mr. P. and Mrs. P., they was really, really awesome. You know, and Mr. P. loved us to death, he really did. We had so much fun with Mr. P. and Mrs. P. But Mr. P. he was -- you could see the child in him come out. You know what I'm saying? He would pack us in his station wagon and there was this little hill he used to always like to jump over in the station wagon. And we'd, do it again, Mr. P., do it again. He turned the station wagon back around and do it again. I mean, it was wonderful.
MATTOCKSYou know, and we'd all sit around at the table and, you know, eat dinner as like a family and it was amazing, it really was.
REHMHow was it then to go back to your own home?
MATTOCKSJust to go from that good life, you know, for that weekend and then gotta go back. You know, it was --
REHMGo back to...
MATTOCKSOur own house. It was like, oh, man.
REHMDid your mom have a house by then?
MATTOCKSWell, when we first went to Philly, we was in a shelter. When we first went to Philly, we was. So when we did go back, we had to go back to the shelter. And that was like, I wanna stay up Philly with Mr. P. and Mrs. P. That's where it's good at. You know, we had to go back to that shelter and, you know, it wasn't good at all.
REHMTell me why and how you turned toward the streets and drug dealing?
MATTOCKSWell, it came a time in my life when I was young. And, you know, we got teased a lot when we was small, you know, younger. And...
MATTOCKS...you know, the stuff we wore. You know, we got teased a lot and I basically -- we started seeing the drug dealers on the street, you know, with the gold and dressing good. And I'm like, I wanna be like that. You know, I wanna -- that's what I want. I want that look. And you see the power they got. I want that power, you know. And I'm being a -- I'm a young boy.
REHMHow old are you at this point?
MATTOCKSI was probably just turned 11 years old. But John was still coming to get us, you know, and I was still going with him at that time. But at the same token that's when it all start kinda, you know, turning around. And I started watching more of the drug dealers, how they do this and how they do that. But I was still going with John and turned 12 years old and you start dying down a little bit. Thirteen, that's when it all -- you know, I ain't wanna do the John thing no more. I was out there on the streets.
REHMHow did you get started?
MATTOCKSHanging with a little group of guys, you know. And then, I was hanging around an older gentleman, you know. I got started with him. And, I mean, just went from there and just became a drug dealer at a young age.
REHMSelling them on the street.
MATTOCKSYes, selling it on the street.
REHMAnd where, John, were you at this point?
PRENDERGASTWell, just a year after I first met Michael, I had my sort of career transformation when I was sitting in a chair one day and watched this little advertisement for one of the humanitarian organizations. And they showed all this footage of the Ethiopian famine. This is 1984. It's the height of the famine. A million people eventually died in that famine in Ethiopia. And it just hit me at such a deep level that people could suffer this extremely in this sort of magnitude. And I just felt compelled that I had to go.
PRENDERGASTAnd so I end up going to Africa and it forever altered my own destiny, that trip. And I came back and basically switched career paths away from my sort of crusading for local justice and economic justice and to the global. But it was really Africa and conflict in Africa.
REHMHow'd you get the money the first time you went to Africa?
PRENDERGASTBegging and borrowing and just a little stealing. I think my parents chipped a little bit in, even though they were extremely reluctant and skeptical, and then other relatives. And I had saved from my landscaping jobs and other kinds of things. So I just said, you know what, I'm gonna go all in and get a one-way ticket and go and just let -- just roll the dice and see what happens.
REHMAnd you knew you were leaving Michael and others behind.
PRENDERGASTI think there was a lot of self delusion. I think that I thought, you know, I can do both, no problem. And, you know, I felt like, I'll just come back. I'll just pick it right up. No problem. Nobody'll worry about me being gone for a bit. And, you know, because I wanted to believe that instead of, you know, facing the truth, which is you're making a choice and there's going to be some severe consequences.
REHMHow old was Michael when you left?
REHMHow did you feel about his leaving?
MATTOCKSWell, at that time, we really didn't know that he was gone to Africa. I thought we wasn't gonna see him no more, but he popped back up. Months later, he popped back up and we was excited to see him. You know, we was real excited to see him. You know, I just wish he wasn't gone too long like that, you know.
REHMAnd apparently over the years, you really wanted to pull John aside and tell him that you had gotten involved in drugs, but you were afraid to tell him.
MATTOCKSYes, I was. I didn't want -- you know, I think I was worried about him criticizing him -- criticizing me. And I thought maybe, you know, he probably would've turned his back on me or didn't wanna talk to me no more. And I was really -- I didn't want that so I just would lie -- you know, lie -- you know, I just act like...
REHMLied to him.
MATTOCKSYeah, I just act like I wasn't into the, you know, the life thing, you know.
REHMBut at the same time, probably deep inside, maybe you were waiting for him to say...
REHM...to you, get out of this.
MATTOCKSYes, yes, yes.
REHMDid you have any idea, John?
PRENDERGASTYou know, again, the self delusion, you know. His mother, when I would come by -- 'cause they eventually moved out of the shelter into these little subsidized apartments in different places, once in southeast D.C., then up to north Capitol Street and then up to George Avenue. And each place, you know, she'd be telling me, you know, this is what's going on. There's all this stuff.
PRENDERGASTBut Michael looked like Michael. I would talk to him. I'd say like, what's going on, buddy? And he was like, nothing. I don't know what she's talking about. You know, she's just crazy. And so, you know, I sort of -- you know, you -- I didn't have any time. You know, I was working so much. I was obsessed with trying to build my little fledgling career. I was going over to Africa all the time. So when I would come back to the United States, I would only have a short time before I was going back again. So I'd be in such a hurry.
PRENDERGASTSo I'd have all these ideas. Okay, I'll go to Michael's school. I'll talk to the people there. I'll go to the social worker. I'll talk to them there. I'll work with him on these things and then they would just crumble in the face of all these competing priorities. And I just let him down once after -- one time after another.
REHMJohn Prendergast and Michael Mattocks. Their new book written together is titled "Unlikely Brothers." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Michael, what was going on in your life when you were dealing drugs?
MATTOCKSThere was a lot going on. Like, you know, it was -- it was painful. It was painful, you know. I mean, I hurt a lot of people.
REHMWho'd you hurt?
MATTOCKSYou know, my mom. She was really hurt by the situation 'cause, you know, I was out of control and wasn't nothing she could do about it and I was young.
REHMAnd you were using drugs as well.
MATTOCKSOh, yeah. Yes, I was using drugs. I was drinking, you know, carrying a gun. You know, I was, you know -- and young. I was out there doing grown man things, you know.
PRENDERGASTYou lost your best friend, didn't you?
MATTOCKSOh, yes. I lost my best friend.
MATTOCKSHe got shot in the face with a 45.
REHMYou saw that happen.
MATTOCKSI saw it, yes, I did. It hurt me so bad. And I -- that's why the really -- the drinking, you know, came along because I couldn't sleep. I was having nightmares. And the only way to get away from that pain, I would drink myself to sleep. I would drink, I mean, so much liquor and just pass out. And that was the only way that I could sleep if I drink. And I started drinking so heavily. You know, I started drinking heavily.
REHMWhat about your brothers, James and Tyrell?
MATTOCKSOh, yeah, that was like -- that right there, when that happened, too, that...
MATTOCKSYou know, my brother James got shot in the stomach, you know.
MATTOCKSYes. Hurt me so bad. I had just left my brother 30 minutes before he got shot. Thirty minutes before he got shot, I left my brother.
MATTOCKSYeah, Tyrell, he hung his self, you know.
MATTOCKSWell, really don't even know for real, I really don't. I mean, this is, you know, sad, you know. I think about them every day and I think, you know, about what happened and it hurts every day. It really do. I think about my brothers every single day.
REHMWere they also involved in drugs?
MATTOCKSMy brother James was, but he had straightened his life up. He had straightened his life up. He became a plumber. You know, he just wasn't that mean boy no more. He straightened up. The last words he said to me before I left him was, I see you in church tomorrow. But that night, he got shot in the stomach and died. You know, he was just -- he turned his life around -- he was turning his life around. He was a plumber taking care of his family.
REHMAnd what did it take to turn your life around?
MATTOCKSMy kids. I love my kids, I do. You know...
MATTOCKSI got five boys.
REHMYou have five boys.
REHMBut you didn't then.
MATTOCKSNo. I didn't stop then, but it just -- you know, things happen, you know. And I was tired and, you know, just, you know, I knew at a point in time that I was gonna have two choices, was jail or death, and I didn't want neither one.
REHMMichael Mattocks, John Prendergast. Short break, right back.
REHMI'm sure there's a great deal that each of you, John Prendergast and Michael Mattocks, have learned about each other in writing this wonderful book "Unlikely Brothers." One thing that we haven't talked about, John, is the acne you had as a young man, which really affected your outlook on life.
PRENDERGASTIt's really interesting. You know, at the very moment that my father's and my relationship blew up, you know, just exploded, my face similarly exploded in these lesions. And it was -- it's very difficult because you hide, you know, because you're just so horrified by how you look and you think that everyone is watching you. You think that everyone is commenting and laughing. And how that affects -- I mean, there are so many things that affect our psyches as we grow up, as we're kids and get older. And I think this is one of those things where if you're even temporarily disfigured, it has a profound impact.
PRENDERGASTAnd so I just closed off in many ways and just became, again, very combative with my father at home, with the face and with all these other issues that any kid faces. We're moving constantly. You know, this self protection, the walls just kept getting built up.
REHMOf course. And, Michael, that was something you learned about John you had no idea that that was such a problem.
MATTOCKSNo idea at all. No, we never, like, you know, we seen it, but, you know, we didn't judge him on that or we didn't know it was a big problem, like, with his face at all.
PRENDERGASTBy that time we found Accutane.
REHMYes, yeah, yeah. Here's an email from Montague, Mich. -- or Montague, Mich. It's from Chris, who says, "Given the racial and class divides that separate us in many communities, what do you think ordinary citizens can do to bridge this divide?" John.
PRENDERGASTWell, I think one of the things that we are very interested in promoting in effect from our lives and our experience is this extraordinary opportunity that every single human being has to mentor someone younger. Whether it's joining formally into something like the Big Brother, Big Sister's program or something less formal like a tutor at a school or a mentor, there are so many different programs you can do through your community and your church.
PRENDERGASTAnd, you know, if I look back on it, frankly the biggest lesson I learned from looking back at this part of my life, the part with Michael, you know, I was not the best big brother. I abandoned him often. I wasn't there for him in his most important moments, his moments of biggest need, but I sort of hung around. And the fact that I was around he thinks was one of the reasons why he was able to make it through the hardest and darkest period of his life and be able to merge on the other side to be a great father and a great husband. So just the idea that even someone as flawed as my mentorship of Michael could have that kind of impact, we hope it inspires people to say, you know what, I can do something too.
REHMDid you ever get angry with John, Michael?
MATTOCKSNo, I never got angry with John at all. But, you know, he worked a lot. And I think them times when I started, like, ran off to the right, you know, to the other side, if he was around, like, constantly, I probably wouldn't have ran off that way, you know, 'cause he was constantly...
REHMInto the drug world.
MATTOCKSExactly. If he was around more, you know, like, I probably wouldn't have went to that side. You know, there were some times John will leave. We wouldn't see him for two, three, four months. He'd come back around. And at that time in four months, you know, there's a lot that could be done in four months.
REHMYou bet. You bet.
MATTOCKSSo, you know, ran off and he'd come around and, you know, I get snatched back a little bit, but, you know, it's, you know, more and more. So if he was around, like, constantly, constantly...
REHMThat would've helped.
MATTOCKSYeah, it would've helped.
REHMLet's open the phones. Let's go to Jay in Greenville, N.C. Good morning to you.
JAYGood morning. My question is for John. Since the organized authority in genders and perpetuates, a lot of the injustices that you seem to work against so ardently, how did your experiences within the most powerful (unintelligible), how did it inform your real world efforts as a humanitarian? Furthermore, how do you remain positive knowing this? Thank you.
PRENDERGASTWell, thanks, Jay. I mean, I feel like, again, hindsight is a great aid to vision, but what I've been fortunate enough to be part of over my lifetime is a series of things that maybe at the time didn't seem like they were worthwhile, marching in front of the South African embassy during the Anti-Apartheid Movement, standing in front of jewelry stores talking about something that nobody heard of called Blood Diamonds in the late 1990s or spending all these years with Michael. You know, these are all examples of things that often I felt were time -- at the time, like, wow, are we really gonna make difference?
PRENDERGASTWell, South Africa is a majority ruled democracy today. As we all know the great story of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the influence it had. Nelson Mandela who I worked with very closely when I worked for President Clinton said there wouldn't have been a transition as it happened without people out there all over the world marching in front of embassies and doing the kinda things. The Blood Diamond campaign led to peace in three countries in West Africa. And my relationship with Michael somehow helped contribute to him being a pillar now of his community against all odds. People certainly wouldn't have predicted that when he was 13.
REHMCharles in North Carolina asks, "If you, Michael, had any African American Men who are influential in making the decision to turn your life around."
MATTOCKSNo, there really wasn't. You know, 'cause, you know, my cousins and, you know, my uncles, they, you know, was drug addicts or, you know, drinking heavily, so there wasn't really no role model. But my wife's dad was a good guy, a real good guy. He was...
REHMYour wife's father.
MATTOCKSYes, he was, real...
REHMTell me about your wife.
MATTOCKSMy wife is a wonderful lady. She really -- I mean, 100 percent pure woman. She's the boss lady, the real boss lady.
REHMThis is Nicki.
MATTOCKSYes, that's my baby. She real good girl. She basically keep me straight, like, right to the end of the day. I mean, she's smart. You know, she don't take no mess. 'Cause we do got five boys and myself, you know, she keep us in line. You know, she real good girl, real smart.
REHMAnd your work, tell us about your work.
MATTOCKSWell, I drive buses now. I drive buses for two companies. I drive a shuttle bus and I also drive a motor coach bus. And this is a good -- I love -- I got a passion for driving them buses. I fell in love with the bus. When I first learned how to drive the bus, it was amazing. It gave me a feeling to -- the feeling is so awesome 'cause you behind a big bus and you know what you're doing and it's -- I love it. I love driving that bus.
PRENDERGASTHe took out a -- he took out a loan and took a chance, you know, 'cause if you don't pay that sucker back, it's trouble.
PRENDERGASTAnd then he took the course, commercial driver's license course, passed the test. And then as soon as he passed it and started working, you know, talking to all these different guys who own the companies, man, they immediately snapped him, so...
REHMFantastic. Did you ever find yourself missing that life of money and drugs and all the rest?
MATTOCKSYes, yes, I really did. I really did. But I look back on it, you know, it was good while it lasted, but, you know, I'm doing better things now with my life, with my wife, my five boys and my dog, you know, so...
REHMAnd your dog.
REHMWhat kind of a dog do you have?
MATTOCKSI got a little white Bichon. Her name...
REHMOh, that's wonderful.
MATTOCKS...her name's Sugar.
MATTOCKSHer name's Sugar.
REHMHere we go to Susan who's in Chevy Chase, Md. Good morning to you.
SUSANGood morning. And I just wanna commend both of you for participating in this relationship. I have an eerily similar experience here in Washington, D.C. mentoring a little girl when I was 22 and now have known her 22 years and watched her graduate from college and have a successful career. I would just urge your listeners -- it's an amazing experience as these two have relayed to mentor.
SUSANAnd it can be informal and it really can change -- it changed, I think, my life more than the girl I mentored. Although I do think it was exactly a similar experience. My parents became involved. And -- but she -- it took a village and her church helped her. It wasn't just me and my family. But that's what it takes in our local communities. And if you're retired, if you're a recent college graduate, you can really make a difference.
REHMDid you, Susan, have some difficult times with her?
SUSANI did and I was wondering about if -- and I think the question was answered though by John. This little girl, her mother was schizophrenic. And it was hard to watch and it was hard for me to know what to do, whether to involved Social Services. And I eventually -- I didn't because I worried so much. I read the publicity about the Social Services were struggling here.
SUSANSo there were some life lessons that were hard for me to learn, but through all of it, just it's the first time I realized I could be a mother, watching this little girl walk away into that house where there were drug dealers and I didn't know how to protect her. But I'll never forget that feeling I had that I can be a mother. I mean, I love her. I wanna protect her. And I did everything I could short of involving Social Services.
PRENDERGASTThe analogous situation in our lives, Susan, was that in 1984 or '85, probably somewhere in there, similarly looking at the Social Services in D.C. and what a mess it was and they were thinking about -- at least one of the Social Workers told me they were thinking about taking the kids away. You know, they are living in these homeless shelters and it was very, very difficult.
PRENDERGASTSo I said -- I went to Michael's mom and I said, why don't I take Michael, Sabrina and James, the three oldest kids in the family, I'll take them up to Philly for the summer and they can live with me in my apartment and then you can focus on the smaller kids and sort of pull yourself together and hopefully these guys will get off our backs here. And they did. They came and lived with me in the summer in Philly, down in South Philly, and it was an extraordinary experience. I learned that I in fact could be -- just as you say I could be somewhat of a parent. You know, and it definitely took...
REHMHow'd you deal with three kids in your life?
PRENDERGASTOh, it was crazy. I'd bring them to work. I had my -- all my buddies were coming from different places and they were taking -- helping me take care of them. I mean, everybody was involved. It was really a remarkable thing. You know, everybody just pitched in and said, okay, look at John, he's drowning, he's underwater, we better go help him and pull those kids out before he takes them all down.
REHMDo you remember that summer, Michael?
MATTOCKSYeah, I do. I really do. I remember that summer we went to Philly and there for the whole summer. We enjoyed it 'cause we had different people watching us every day. And we had fun. We really did.
REHMAnd your mother was able to get herself...
REHM...back on her feet.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Brenda.
BRENDAGood morning, Diane. And I'm so glad to be on your show. I'm enjoying listening to your two guests. I have a question for John.
BRENDAJohn is the guy whose father was -- it sound like early when he talked about his dad was abusive and didn't -- wasn't a good father to him and I guess -- I don't know if he had siblings. But when you brought these other children in, you made it sound like he changed. What was your relationship with him then?
PRENDERGASTYou know, I think that he just really could handle younger kids better and the kids that don't talk back that are just, you know, you get this -- it's almost like a laboratory where you can just try anything and do all kinds of fun stuff and he was just a magician with young kids in terms of creativity and thinking of stuff to do. And it was when kids would get older and start to say no or have different -- that's when we'd have problems. But I think, you know, that was just great because he just -- and his father was described to me similarly by my dad's siblings as somebody who everybody looked up to and everybody loved.
REHMInteresting. John Prendergast and Michael Mattocks, their book "Unlikely Brothers." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Malta, Ohio. Good morning, David.
DAVIDI wanna make a comment. They were -- you referred often to the black, white situation. I'm a person of color. And in the '60s, '70s I recruited and trained volunteers to work with men and women in prison, supervised 110 male matches. And what I found I don't think is so much a problem today is that people don't identify so much across color lines of the hurts and the pains. And I had quite a few white volunteers match with black, also did it for juvenile probation. But today I think there's less of a problem because of growing up in the school situation.
REHMDo you agree with that, John?
PRENDERGASTYeah, I think -- I mean, we never saw -- we never thought about color too much and...
PRENDERGAST...and I just think it's become in many ways less and less of an issue.
REHMAll right. Now, last question, Michael, John is about to be married. What advice do you have for him? You've been married for 11 years.
MATTOCKSAdvice I got for John is -- the advice I got for John is, it's like honesty, you gotta keep it spiced up, keep it communicating, everything is 50/50, you know. And, you know, take your wife out, you know, take her to dinner, do special things for her. You know, I think one of the things my wife did love that I did for her was that bubble bath with them candles and the roses with a bottle of champagne. I mean, that -- I mean, my wife had a smile on her face that was so unbelievable. And once I did that for her, she called everybody and told them what I did for her and she loved that.
REHMHow many times did you do that?
MATTOCKSI did that for probably about five times.
REHMGood for you.
MATTOCKSShe'll love it.
REHMThere you go, John, I should say.
PRENDERGASTThat's pretty good advice. Yeah, I got my -- I got my marching orders.
REHMYou got your marching orders. John Prendergast, I want to wish you all success on that marriage.
REHMI hope everything is wonderful. You're being married at Mia Farrow's house.
PRENDERGASTYeah, we've been longtime allies and friends, dear and almost soul mates, and so it's just an honor to be able to -- be able to (unintelligible)
REHMHow wonderful. John Prendergast, Michael Mattocks, the book is titled "Unlikely Brothers: Our Story of Adventure, Loss and Redemption." Thank you both so much.
MATTOCKSThank you so much, Diane.
REHMAnd congratulations. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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