Advanced Search
Michael Patrick MacDonald
Michael Patrick MacDonald
All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
ISBN: 0807072125
All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
In this searing, coming-of-age memoir, told through the eyes of the troubled yet keenly gifted observer he was even as a child, MacDonald describes growing up in Irish South Boston.
—from the publisher's website
All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
Program Air Date: December 12, 1999

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Patrick MacDonald, what is your book, "All Souls," about?
Mr. MICHAEL PATRICK MacDONALD (Author, "All Souls"): It's a story of growing up in south Boston in the Old Colony Housing Project. It's my family's story growing up in a neighborhood where there were three large housing projects, mostly populated by Irish-American families, a lot of single-parent, female-headed households. And it's a story of growing up, basically, in the ghetto, but i--what's different about it is that it's not your unusual American picture of--of ghetto. Most of the residents are white. It's a neighborhood that US News & World Report found to have had the highest concentration of poor whites in America, a 1994 issue of US News & World Report.

And a lot of the issues are on poverty, crime, drugs and so forth that we experienced growing up in the neighborhood, were issues that we weren't really to talk about and--for a number of reasons. One was the tendency for denial, perhaps cult--for cultural reasons; mostly Irish-American neighborhood. But also because of organized c--crime's control of the neighborhood and suppression of the truth by organized crime.

LAMB: On the cover of your book--and I'm opening it to i--you know, on--on the one side here, it's just really the cover. I have to open the whole book to show it. There are six kids here. How many of these are still alive?
MacDONALD: Of those, four of those kids are alive.
LAMB: Who are they?
MacDONALD: Those are the first six out of 11 children. We had 11 altogether in our family. My mother lost four children in all. The first, on the far left, is my oldest brother, Davey, who killed himself. J--he jumped off of a roof in the housing project we grew up in at the age of 24 and died.

The next brother is John, who was--who got out, so to speak--got out of the--the neighborhood, made it out of Old Colony Project, went to Tufts University, became a lieutenant in the Navy SEALs.

The next one is Joe, who went into the Air Force and who eventually ended up moving out to Colorado and--and helping my mother flee from the neighborhood and got her out of Old Colony Project finally a few years back, in the early '90s.

And the next one is my sister Mary, who's a nurse in the operating room at--at the Boston City Hospital. She also got out, so to speak.

And the next person is my brother Frankie, who was a four-times Golden Glove champion boxer. Frankie's dead. At the age of 23, he got involved in an armored-car heist. He was--it was the first time he'd got involved in anything like that and the last time. And he was brought into that by older, more experienced gangsters who used him for his youth and strength to--to kind of get the job done that they needed to get done.

LAMB: Who's the baby?
MacDONALD: The next one is Cathy, who went off a roof in the--in the housing project also. She's brain damaged after being pushed off the roof in a fight over drugs.

And then not pictured in--in that is my brother Kevin, who was found hanging outside of his prison cell in Bridgewater Hospital in Massachusetts, which may have been suicide, may have been murder, but it was a suspicious death.

LAMB: So how many children does your mother have?
MacDONALD: Eleven, but seven of us alive--are alive. I always--I always go with the--the original number because that's still--they're still all her children.
LAMB: And how many fathers were there out of those 11 kids?
MacDONALD: The first nine children--no, the first eight children, up to Patrick, who was a baby that died before I was born--first eight children were by her first husband, Dave MacDonald, who she was married to through many years of abuse and who she stuck with, despite the abuse and womanizing and so forth by him, because she was a Catholic, Irish--daughter of Irish immigrants and was even told by her local priest that she should make the best of it, despite the beatings and so forth. Finally, when the baby died, she--she left him and took the kids and--and was raising the kids in--in a housing project, a mostly black housing project, on the south Boston-Dorchester Waterfront. I was born by another father and--who my mother wasn't married to. And then my two younger brothers were born 10 years after me to a--a--a third father.

But growing up in Old Colony, we--we, like a lot of the families there, had fled a mostly black housing project, and it was a neighborhood where people just had this incredible sense of place, incredible sense of community, incredible sense of common struggle, so to speak. And part of that was because most of us came from similar families, a lot of single-parent, female-headed households.

LAMB: Where is David MacDonald, the father of whatever--What was it?--eight of those children?
MacDONALD: Yeah. He--he died a few years back. I don't even--in the book, I don't even get so far as what--what became of--of different people's fathers because they kind of become irrelevant after a while and--to the story.
LAMB: You--let me just home in on one of the stories. Your sister, Cathy, who is--where is she today?
MacDONALD: She's living in Colorado with my family. My mother moved out there, and she's brain damaged and partially paralyzed. She was in a coma for five months and, really, miraculously lived. But when she came out of the coma, she--her brain started to deteriorate, and she's kind of degenerated into almost like a schizophrenia, where she's half the time in a--in a fantasy world.
LAMB: And h--how did she injure herself?
MacDONALD: At a young--at a young age, Cathy got involved in the streets. Really, of all--of all my family members, my--my sister Cathy and my brother Kevin were the most involved in the streets. And Kevin, as I said, died young. He was found hanging outside of his prison cell. And Cathy went off a roof at the age of 18 after a fight over drugs with a boyfriend...
LAMB: She just jumped off...
MacDONALD: ...a guy she was going out with.
LAMB: ...the roof?
MacDONALD: She was pushed...
MacDONALD: ...more or less. It was a...
MacDONALD: It was a--it was a fight with a boyfriend, where she--it probably wasn't intentional, like, `I'm going to, you know, do you in,' type of situation. But it was a fight over drugs, and there was a struggle and she went off the roof, you know. So it was a cold, winter night. And Cathy, at the time, was pretty high herself.
LAMB: On what kind of drugs?
MacDONALD: Pills. She had--she had gotten involved in angel dust at a young age. In the 1970s, the neighborhood became controlled by a local drug lord name of James "Whitey" Bulger, who's pretty well known because he was the Senate president's brother.
LAMB: Bill Bulger.
MacDONALD: Yeah. And he took control of the neighborhood in--in the '70s. Probably around the same time that bussing took place, around 1974, is when he really started to get a stronger hold on the neighborhood. And when the neighborhood was under such siege because of bussing--a sense of siege and--and people were in so much pain, a lot of people jumped into the arms of people like him and other gangsters and politicians for a sense of safety.

Ironically, we recently found out that through all those years of Whitey Bulger's drug dealing in the neighborhood and poisoning of the local children, that he was actually protected by the FBI because he was an informant for the FBI, informing on the Italian Mafia across town. And his relationship with the FBI began about 1974, same year that bussing happened. And--and the neighborhood was really kind of in--in a state of upheaval from desegregation.

LAMB: Back to Cathy for a second. First of all, how old are you today?
MacDONALD: I'm 33.
LAMB: How old is Cathy?
MacDONALD: Cathy's 37. And she--she--her--her injury was in--well, when she was 18, in 1980.
LAMB: And the range age of all the kids, wh--how old is your youngest brother or sister right now?
MacDONALD: My youngest brother, Stevie, is 22 now. Yeah.
LAMB: And your oldest?
MacDONALD: The oldest, Davey, would be 43. Well, most of us are about a year or two apart, and my--there's a--a 10-year difference between me and my two younger brothers.
LAMB: But part of your book--I--I don't know if you can talk it, because it's--it's complicated, but I want to go back to the moment when Cathy was in the hospital...
MacDONALD: Right.
LAMB: ...because after--when Cathy's in the hospital, you begin to list--I've got the names written down here...
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: I mean, I don't know how long this list is, but wh--give--what were the circumstances--how old were you then? And were you--did you--did you even know what was going on when Cathy was in the hospital?
MacDONALD: I knew what was going on. I started to sense what wa--what was going on in the neighborhood at a young age, started to try to always make sense of the chaos I was seeing in the streets and started to maybe separate myself from the chaos a little bit. And that was part of my own survival instincts, I think.
LAMB: So when she was in the hospital and in a coma for--five months?
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: Was she in the hospital that whole time?
MacDONALD: Yes, she was.
LAMB: And you were about 14?
MacDONALD: Yeah. But most of the time intensive care, and she was lots of times on the danger list, and lots of times they didn't know if she'd live or die. And most days I was there at her bedside while she was in the coma.
LAMB: But you started the list, and I've written the names down here. Karen.
MacDONALD: That was a local nurse that--that was from Old Colony, a girl that everyone loved dearly in the neighborhood who was a nurse in the City Hospital, and she used to come by and give my mother updates about Cathy. But she was...
LAMB: What hap--what happened to Karen?
MacDONALD: She was murdered by a--a--her boyfriend, and that was a real shock to people in the neighborhood. It was--it was while writing that chapter--I mean, Karen was the nurse that was in the hospital, but it was while writing that chapter and remembering Cathy's friends that came in to see her in the coma that I started to realize that all these people that I was writing about are now dead. So I started jumping around a bit and--and wrote about her friends visiting her, but then would have to tell the reader that, you know, within two years, he was found killed.
LAMB: Well, let me go through some of them, though, because it--it helps to tell the whole story.
MacDONALD: Of course.
LAMB: Karen was strangled by her boyfriend?
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: Why?
MacDONALD: Oh, I--who knows? I mean, that's--you know, there's no--never any answers to that. It was domestic violence and...
LAMB: Who's Timmy Baldwin?
MacDONALD: Yeah, he was Cathy's boyfriend, who was murdered outside of a local pub in front of about 200 people, and nobody spoke, nobody saw anything.
LAMB: When?
MacDONALD: This was probably a couple years after I--about three years after I saw him visiting Cathy in a coma, in 1984, which was a pretty bad year. 1985 actually--yeah--is when he was murdered.
LAMB: Who's Mark Espy?
MacDONALD: That's the person that allegedly murdered him, according to people in the neighborhood. But a--a few years ago he, too, was murdered, also in front of a lot of witnesses, none of whom would speak.
LAMB: Did he come to visit your sister?
MacDONALD: He was someone that I mentioned in relation to Timmy's death, but he wasn't really--he was kind of part of the same thing generation, but he wasn't into the hospital visiting Cathy.
LAMB: Who was Julie Meany?
MacDONALD: That was one of Cathy's best friends, and she was a young girl who, like Cathy, was getting into the angel dust that was being brought into the neighborhood by Whitey Bulger. And--and as a teen-ager, the two of them hung out and got into trouble together, and she ended up dead; kind of a mysterious deaths--death. She--it--it--it was probably a--a suicide, but--but there was kind a neighborhood myth around her death. Maybe--I don't know how--whether it's a myth or not, but supposedly she walked into the ocean and didn't come out. So...
LAMB: And at what time in her life did she do that?
MacDONALD: She was a teen-ager--well, she was probably just a--a few years older than Cathy was when she was in the coma. So most of the deaths around that time, throughout the '80s, happened to people in their late teens, early 20s.
LAMB: Who is Frank McGirk?
MacDONALD: He was a friend of Cathy's as well that was murdered in a hallway in the--in the housing project, a good friend of Cathy's. He was actually someone who sold angel dust and--and was doing it himself, and he's someone my mother blamed for Cathy's involvement in that at the time. But, anyway, when he was murdered--what I wrote about in the book is kind of the neighborhood attitude; when something like that would happen, something so visible, something right in our--our hallways in the housing project, the--the neighborhood attitude would be almost like `good riddance' because, you know, he was no good anyway. You know, he--you know, but that--that...
LAMB: Was he--did he--did he visit your sister?
MacDONALD: Yeah. But that kind of attitude about a lot of the deaths in the neighborhood was a way for people who--who hadn't been through those things to feel safe. Like, `This stuff isn't going to happen to me. This stuff only happens to bad people.'
LAMB: Who was Tommy Dooley?
MacDONALD: He was a friend of Cathy's as well that was murdered at the local bar, Kelly's Cork and Bull, just outside the bar. And...
LAMB: At what point in this whole story?
MacDONALD: He was murdered in '85, I believe, and he--again, a lot of witnesses, nobody would speak, nobody saw anything. And...
LAMB: Who is Eddie LeClaire?
MacDONALD: He was a--another fr--friend of mine, actually, someone I hung out with at a young age. And he was run over, and...
LAMB: By a car?
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: And was that an accident?
MacDONALD: It was--a lot of people said it was intentional, but, you know, there's--and a lot of people witnessed it, and, of course, you know...
LAMB: Why would somebody want to run over him?
MacDONALD: I don't know. I mean, there are a lot of things in south Boston that's just, you know--there's all this--you know, you see someone one day--back then anyway. This isn't the case now. I mean, now it's more on heroin. Back then it was angel dust and--and, into the '80s, cocaine. But a lot of things were happening to people where, you know, here today, gone tomorrow. And--and people would justify those violent deaths by--again, by--by making like the person somehow deserved it, which isn't necessarily the case. So that's why I don't even care to get into what he was doing or what anybody was involved in because it's--in the end, there's no way you can justify those--this type of bloodbath that happened in the neighborhood that was brought on by Whitey Bulger, the neighborhood drug lord.
LAMB: Who was Oakie O'Connor?
MacDONALD: Oh, he was a good friend of Kevin's.
LAMB: That's your brother.
MacDONALD: Yeah. And--and my brother Frankie as well, someone that my mother loved dearly. He was a good kid that ended up, like a lot of people of that generation, hanging himself.
LAMB: Was he--did he visit your sister?
MacDONALD: He was--oh, yeah. He was very good about visiting my sister in the coma. It was--it was just amazing that--you know, going through these people and--and remembering them visiting her and remembering them for their loyalties to her, but also realizing that so many of those people that--that--that, you know, had such a--a good side to them also possibly had a--a--a shady side or a--you know, things that it would lead to.
LAMB: Who's Brian Billadough--Billadough?
MacDONALD: He was a kid that my mother taught in an alternative school for juvenile delinquents, and he became friends with the family. And he--at a young age, even while he was at this school, he tried to rob someone's house in the D Street Housing Project, the next housing project over from us. And he was shot and paralyzed. So most of the years that I knew Brian, he was in a wheelchair at first with--with his legs, and--and he--he eventually lost both of his legs from disease and--and gangrene, I believe. But, in the end, he overdosed on heroin in more--in recent years actually. But he's another person that would come in to see Cathy and was wheel--wheeled in all the way from south Boston. He was kind of like a neighborhood character. We had a lot of them--a lot of neighborhood characters, you know.
LAMB: And then finally on the list, Michael Dizo?
MacDONALD: Oh, he was from the--the--the Zoglio family. He was a young person that was--my mother always remembers for having just gone to his graduation one week, and then within a few weeks he was--he was murdered. His--i--his murder was--an uncle and a n--a nephew were murdered together. The nephew ran up to try to see what was happening to his uncle when he heard the gunshots, and he was shot as well.
LAMB: Now all these people visited your sister over that five-month period?
MacDONALD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. A lot of--a lot of other people did as well who--who also ended up dead. But it was--there was only so much I could give the reader in terms of the bloodbath that...
LAMB: How'd you handle all this?
MacDONALD: For me, the--it's--it's been a commitment to healing through activism, through talking about it since 1990. 1990 is when I got involved as an activist and a community organizer citywide, mostly working in black and Latino neighborhoods 'cause that's where these people--that's where these issues were being talked about. And people, like my brothers, were being remembered and--and people like my family were talking about what they had been through.

So I found it easier to talk about these things and to work in the black and Latino neighborhoods because my neighborhood, you didn't really talk about these things. These things didn't exist. Those things are black things. Those are things that don't exist in our neighborhood. Those things don't happen to us; we're white, we're Irish, we're proud. And--and kind of--Whitey Bulger kind of kept that party line going, even though, you know, we--we--we all saw the--the--the number of wakes and--and the number of young lives snuffed out.

LAMB: Where's Whitey Bulger today?
MacDONALD: He's on the run. The FBI a few years ago, you know, have--have dec--well, he--there was an--an indictment on him for drug dealing and murder and racketeering, and he was actually--they say he was warned by one of his associates in the FBI that an arrest was pending, and he fled. And some people believe he's being protected by the FBI, still hidden by certain agents, because if he ever came out of hiding, he would give up a lot of secrets about the--the way that the government works with gangster informants.
LAMB: Where's his brother, William Bulger??
MacDONALD: He's the president of the University of Massachusetts. Now Whitey--I--I think what's interesting about his involvement with the FBI is that--to me anyway, is that he--it's not just, you know, y--working with a low-level criminal to get information about higher, more-dangerous criminals. He was a drug lord, and he was a--a--a Mafia don. He was the head of the Irish Mafia in Boston and con--controlled a lot of the drug trade in Boston. And this is who agents of the FBI worked with for the big--for what they thought was the bigger prize, the--the Italian Mafia across town. But, of course, as I've said, nobody took into consideration the--the number of our young lives that were being snuffed out by drugs and violence in those years.
LAMB: You have some photos inside. The two top photos here on this page, who's in them?
MacDONALD: The first one is my mother surrounded by her four--first four children. Behind her is Davey, the oldest. The young girl at her side is Mary. On her lap is Joe. Mary and Joe are twins. And the next one is Johnny. She's pregnant with her fifth child. She's 25 years old in that picture.
LAMB: Who's the fellow with the gloves on?
MacDONALD:That's my brother Frankie. In that--in the first picture, my mother's actually pregnant with Frankie. And the second picture is my brother Frankie, four-times Golden Glove champion boxer and dead at the age of 23 in a--in an armored-car heist.
LAMB: Where's your mom now?
MacDONALD: My mother fled to Colorado, and she's living a much quieter life out there in a--in a pretty functional community that's, for one thing, socioeconomically diverse and--and, you know, not a ghetto. And so--and--and there's a lot of space and a lot of fresh air and so forth. She's raising my niece. My sister Cathy, who went off the roof, had a daughter named Maria, and my mother's raising her. And my little brothers spent all their teen-age years out in Colorado, and as a result, are completely different people leading completely different lives than they might have led had they stayed in south Boston. My mother went out there to give the--give them a better life and to give my niece, Maria, a better life.

My little brothers ask about a lot of the friends, some of their best friends, growing up in south Boston, and a good number of them are in jail or in trouble over racial violence. The--the housing projects were recently integrated, and there's been a lot of racial violence around the integration.

LAMB: Is your mother married now?
MacDONALD: No. She's...
LAMB: Do people where she live know...
MacDONALD: ...happily single and doesn't even date.
LAMB: Does--do the people where she lives now know this story?
MacDONALD: Oh, yes. Well, they do now, definitely, 'cause...
LAMB: What did she think of you writing this?
MacDONALD: She's--she's happy about it. She's committed to--to the truth. She knows what's in it. She can't read it, but she knows what's in it. And she...
LAMB: Why can't she read it?
MacDONALD: It's too painful for her. And she--you know, we all--all survivors have their own techniques in--in what they can and can't deal with and what they can s--you know, what levels of doses they can swallow of their traumas. 'Cause I'm only writing from a perspective of a brother who have lost--who has lost so many siblings to violence and--and crime and--and suicide, and--but I could never--and I hope I never know what it's like, but I could--I just can't imagine what it's like to be the mother who's lost one child, never mind that many.
LAMB: What kind of rel...
MacDONALD: So I--I--I--you know, whatever she needs to do, if she--if she can't read this right now and take it all in kind of one sitting, then I respect that.
LAMB: Why did you decide to write the book?
MacDONALD: I wrote it as an extension of the--of the healing process. As--as I said, I got involved as an activist in those neighborhoods, eventually brought it back to south Boston in 1994 when I moved back to south Boston, took a lot of the experiences I have learned in the black and Latino neighborhoods about community organizing and about telling the truth back to south Boston. And that just led to me eventually wanting to go even deeper into my story, 'cause a lot of times I use my family's story as an activist to raise awareness, to do work against gun violence, to do work on youth development in the communities. I would use stories from my family lots of times. So I--so I knew this was--I--I wanted to tell this story and go deeper into it by writing this book.

And so, for me, it's been an extension of the healing process. It was--it was something I--you know, that--that the actual results were--were not what I expected. I mean, I just didn't expect it to be this--to--to feel so good to have written this, to have told this story and to--to go deep into the truth about my family and--and my community.

LAMB: What kind of education do you have?
MacDONALD: I went to the University of Massachusetts and graduated from there, but in high school I was--I was going to Boston Latin School, which is the--the city's exam school. And I--it's a public school, but it's considered, you know, an elite school kind of. I was going to visit my sister a lot when she was in the coma--actually, every day--and, as a result, was missing a lot of school. I was just--I was playing hooky to go be at her bedside and talk to her. And, you know, I didn't know what I thought I could do; maybe help bring her out of the coma by exercising her brain--and would just talk to her about, you know, people, friends that were asking for her and so forth, people that were coming in that day.

And when I finally went back to Latin School, of course, they--they said that I would probably need to be kept back the following year. And all my life I'd always gotten straight A's, and I couldn't deal with the idea of being kept back. So Latin School allowed you to get promoted if you would leave the school and go to a regular Boston public school. So I went with that. And when I found out that they were assigning me to Roxbury, a neighborhood across town that was a black neighborhood, to probably be the only white student in the classroom--because a lot of--after bussing, a lot of people of my generation, if they were assigned to schools across town in the black neighborhoods, they ended up dropping out. And I did the same thing.

And I--I was, you know, really probably one of the more liberal-leaning people in--in my neighborhood, but even--even I didn't want to be the guinea pig, you know, especially--not just being--being the only white kid in the class, but to be from Southie in one of those neighborhoods, after the amount of racial violence that erupted in south Boston as a result of bussing and the--the--the label that we got and we still have to this day, is, you know, a bastion of white racism in America, a label that I think is unfairly applied to the neighborhood without much consideration for--and a distraction, really, from a lot of the other--the real social problems in the neighborhood around poverty and so forth, a convenient distraction.

But lots of times we'd have to, outside the neighborhood, say that we were from somewhere else. Most people, when you leave the neighborhood, don't want you. We didn't want to say that we were from Southie, whether it was in a--in a racially mixed area that we were going to or in a more cosmopolitan, upper middle-class, white, liberal area. We would never say we were from south Boston 'cause to do so would be to--you know, to be the enemy.

LAMB: Go back to your--your sister Cathy, that five-month period when we went through all those people who died.
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: What's the story about her coming to, after being in a coma for five months?
MacDONALD: One of...
LAMB: And your grandfather.
MacDONALD: Yeah, one of the people I would meet in the hospital was my grandfather. He was from County Kerry in Ireland from a small town called Castle Island. And he and my mother had kind of a strange relationship, mostly hostile, but they were actually very cl--close. And he--he didn't--wasn't really that involved with my family. My mother was kind of like the black sheep of the family. After a while she ended up in the project and so forth and--and she was divorced. And then, of course, having me--she had me out of wedlock, which was, you know, the ultimate. So there was--there was a--a little bit--bit of, you know, alienation between the two of them.

But it's when Cathy was in the coma that my grandfather really started to try to come around and to try to be more involved, and he was kind of--he had become kind of a fan--a fanatic about some of the ap--apparitions by the Blessed Mother around the world, in Fatima and Lourdes and so forth. And he had--he had been to those places many times and brought back holy water.

And I met him in the hospital one day when he--he pulled out of his--his big, baggy trousers of--this big jug of holy water and--and started splashing it all over Cathy, and--and the nurses started coming in the room trying to stop him because they're afraid she'd be--get--she'd get pneumonia. And he was swearing at them and cursing and throwing the holy water on her and--and screaming into Cathy's ear to--you know, if--if she can hear him, r--raise her arm. And--and she did. You know, he said, `Cathy, if you can hear me now, raise your arm.' And she--and she did raise her arm. And it's then that she started to wake up.

And I write about that in the book because, for me, it--it was kind of a funny story at the time to see him, you know, with tears in his eyes, really, for his daughter and for his granddaughter and--and the amount of passion he put into that ritual of spreading the holy water. It was--was kind of a need for him to be closer to his--his daughter and to her daughter--his daughter's kids. But myself, on the bus going home afterwards with him, I'd just had a really good feeling and he was talking about he had a good feeling about Cathy, that she was going to wake up from the coma. And I--I--I talk in the book about how I had a good feeling, but it was more because I--I--I realized how close my grandfather really was to my mother and how much he cared about her, even though he couldn't say that kind of thing.

And a lot of the dynamics between the two of them are kind of typical stories from Irish families, really, I think. There's a lot of difficulty with affection in Irish families, and--and there's a lot of affection expressed through hostility sometimes. And--and that's something that you see throughout a lot of Irish literature I think.

LAMB: There--there are a lot of terms that I wrote down. Just to get a definition from you, what's an Irish whisper?
MacDONALD: Oh that's--that's basically when someone's telling you a secret, but they're screaming it from across the street. It's not much of a secret at all. But I talk about that because I kind of had a big mouth as a kid and I'd be talking about things like Whitey Bulger and gangsters, you know, really loud and--and my brother Kevin would be more careful and--and tell me to shut my mouth and, you know, keep it down. And when I was older, my little brothers used to refer to the--the liquor store at the end of our street as the Irish mafia store. And my little brother Seamus went screaming up to the window 'cause--you know, asking for 50 cents to go to the Irish mafia store to get some candy and so forth.

The Irish mafia store was where Whitey Bulger ran his drug trade and--and in south Boston. It was right at the edge of--of the Old Coloney housing project, probably the most lucrative place you could possibly set up the drug trade, you know, on the edge of a housing project. Very wisely set up there. And I ref--I referred to Seamus' yelling up--things like that up to the window like that as--as an Irish whisper as well, you know?

LAMB: Who was Scootchie?
MacDONALD: She was a local kleptomaniac who went door to door with shopping bags selling stolen goods to a lot of the families, including my mother, and--and--clothes for the kids and so forth at a big discount. And she was just someone--she was a neighborhood person that was just getting by, you know. She--she's someone that I write about with, I--I think, a lot of sympathy because she was--she was--you know, a lot of this book is, to me--one of the things that came out in writing it was I started to realize the, you know, just the--the feminization of poverty regardless of race. I--I had never thought about that before, but a lot of these people that I'm writing about were women. And people like Scootchie were women doing what they had to do to survive.

I mean, there are bad guys at the--at the--at the top of a lot of the drug and criminal activity in the neighborhood, but those are real higher-up bad guys that are making literally millions of dollars. And--but I--I really--you know, people like Scootchie and other people involved in--in petty crime or--or drugs I have a lot of sympathy for more as victims, you know...

LAMB: Who were...
MacDONALD: ...who played into the victim role themselves but--but nonetheless were victims--were poor people that were used and manipulated.
LAMB: Who were the project rats?
MacDONALD: Project rat was just a term that you would use in the neighborhood for anybody from the projects. So, myself, I was--I would be called a project rat by somebody from outside the project. There were kind of these--these tiers in the neighborhood. There was the--the end of town called City Point that was uphill, and the kids from up there protected their turf like the kids in Old Colony protected their turf. But the--but City Point was more working-class to middle-class part of the neighborhood, very nice section of the neighborhood, not part of those lower-end census tracks that have the highest concentration of white poverty in America. These--these are more families with fathers--usually working-class fathers in construction and so forth. But we thought they were rich.
LAMB: Who were white niggers?
MacDONALD: Basically us again.
LAMB: Why would you use that term?
MacDONALD: That was a term that people--you know, a few times as a kid, people referred to--people from my project referred to the kids in D Street as kind of a--a lower group. And--and I--it was explained to me once that they were white niggers. And I was really confused about the meaning of that. It was when we first moved into the neighborhood, and I was trying to figure out what all this meant. And then I found out that I was one when I would go up to City Point to what I thought was the rich end of town, which was the--actually the middle-class end of town, and I'd be chased back to the projects called--called that. That happened once.

But it was just--it was very confusing, and it was--I--this term that I was trying to make sense of, even to hear the--you know, to hear the N-word at all 'cause, you know, we had come from Columbia Point, which was an all-black housing project, and then we lived in a racially mixed neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. So I was trying to, as I said in the book, make sense of this hierarchy of niggers, and it was a lesson to--quite a lesson to learn at a young age about how people always have someone that's lesser than them. No matter how low you are on the totem pole, there's always someone that's lower than you.

LAMB: What do you do for a living now?
MacDONALD: Right now I--I'm an activist in Boston, been taking some time off to write the book and am planning to actually do more writing--more full-time writing. And I--I've been involved in community-organizing efforts in Northern Ireland. This summer I was up on the Gavahie Road during the marching season, when the Orange Order marches through Catholic neighborhoods and basically terrorizes the community and--and flaunts their bigotry, anti--anti-Irish Catholic bigotry.

And it was really interesting being up there. I was there for--for half the summer, and I was staying in the housing estate, which is a fancy word for housing project over there. And the neighbors over there were people who looked exactly like my neighbors growing up in Old Colony Project. They all had these Irish faces and--and--and even dressed like a lot of my old neighbors and--and smoked as much as a lot of my neighbors w--you know, a lot of people in--in south Boston smoke, and same thing in Ireland and especially up there in--in the troubled place like the Gavahie Road.

The difference was that these people looked so much like my old neighbors, but they knew--as poor people and working-class people, they knew where they stood in the world, and they knew where they stood socioeconomically as well as racially because the situation up there is almost like the--the racial situation over here, except it's--it's--it's ethnic. And they all were speaking this incredibly progressive language about their solidarity with black South Africans, about their solidarity with African-Americans and how they were so influenced by the civil rights movement in America.

And--and I was shocked 'cause these people looked like my neighbors. And, of course, my neighbors are Irish-American, proud to be Irish, all about the shamrock in Ireland and so forth, but don't really know a lot about the culture and history of Ireland and don't really know about people in Ireland's awareness around--around racial issues. They didn't want to hear about Irish-Americans. They wanted to hear about African-Americans up there.

LAMB: What are the personal traits of someone who's Irish?
MacDONALD: The personal s--traits?
LAMB: Isn't that a way--when you say somebody's--`Oh, that's an Irish thing,' what does that mean? W--give me the--what--what do Irish people do that other people don't do?
MacDONALD: Well, I don't know if the--you know, what they do that other people don't do, but I know--there are some things that I've identified as definitely very Irish, like I--I pointed out my--my mother and her father's relationship. I think that they--they had a very Irish father-daughter relationship.

And one of the biggest things for me that comes through in the book is the--the culture of denial, which is something that you--you see in Ireland as well as America; probably even more so in America now because, see, what happens that--what happened, I think, is that later gener--the--you know, in--in south Boston, you have people who are third- and fourth-generation Irish-American, and they're carrying on a lot of the traits that their grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country with.

You know, even a place like south Boston was created as an enclave--as--as an Irish enclave to feel safety from the WASP ascendancy in--in downtown Boston and so forth. And--and things like that don't have as much relevance in the modern world as they did at one time, but people in that neighborhood are still carrying out those things. And that--and there are a lot of--there are a lot of things like that that--I would say that, you know, fourth-generation Irish Americans are still living that Irish people themselves may have moved on from.

Ireland is this incredibly progressive country where peop--you know, the economy is moving forward. People have entered the--the age of technology. They were way ahead of--of us on that. And people's attitudes--a lot of the Irish immigrants that move into the neighborhood now are these young people, you know, with, you know, pierced eyebrows and shaved heads, and our own kids are--are much more conservative and all about being, you know--conforming to the Southie--the Southie look and so forth, you know, which is more of an old-fashioned Irish immigrant look sometimes, with the scally cap and so forth. So it's--it's funny, Ireland's kind of moved well beyond south Boston into the modern age.

LAMB: You--you often refer to the fact that your mother liked to wear spike heels. Red hair...
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: ...spike heels.
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: And you kept referring to the fact she was a good-looking woman.
MacDONALD: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: She still good looking?
MacDONALD: Yeah. She's 65 and she looks, you know, probably about 15 years younger. But she was always known for her looks. My mother's whole personality, her appearance and so forth I think is what keeps this book from being a really tragic book because she--she kind of lifts the story up. Whenever it's getting really tragic, she's the one to lift it up. And in real life, that was her role in the family as well. And for other people who were sur--surviving horrible atrocities in the neighborhood, she--she served that role as well. She would lift them up and she would--she would inspire them to keep going and to keep moving on and...
LAMB: What was her reaction--I mean, you--you talk about it in the book, but I don't know how--I don't know if you can describe it, but when Davey died or Frankie died or all that, I mean, how did she handle all those times?
MacDONALD: She would--it was different every time, and i--and you see how when--I--I witnessed my mother crying. My earliest memory that I talk about in the book is witnessing my mother crying for the loss of her baby, Patrick Michael, who basically I replaced. I was born a year later.
LAMB: And you're Michael Patrick.
MacDONALD: Mm-hmm. And he was a baby that was brought to the emergency room at the Children's Hospital and was denied admittance because this was one year before Medicaid, and it was a welfare baby and they had a system whereby they would--they would have their quota of charity cases and they'd fill their--their quota of charity cases for the night, and they also didn't think that--that Patrick was an emergency situation. He died that night of pneumonia. He was sent home--sent home to die, which basically wouldn't have happened if--if he weren't a welfare baby with no insurance.

I was born in the shadow of that, and so I--I was--you know, I was able to witness my mother and some of her most intimate mourning for the baby that had died. S--and I also saw how she dealt with Davey's suicide when he died.

LAMB: How'd he die?
MacDONALD: When he committed suicide, he jumped off the roof.
LAMB: Again, why though?
MacDONALD: He was schizophrenic, Davey. He had had a breakdown at the age of 14. Probably--he had--he had witnessed a lot of bad things in the family. You know, from--his father--he had experienced abuse from his father. He--you know, beatings and so forth.
LAMB: Who saw him...
MacDONALD: He was the oldest.
LAMB: ...jump off that building?
MacDONALD: I--I was--I was home that day.
LAMB: You saw it happen?
MacDONALD: Yeah. I saw it happen. I saw him on the ground covered in blood. I was 13 years old. I was minding my two little brothers, Seamus and Stevie. And my brother, Frankie, who died only a few years later, was at the kitchen table eating dinner. And there were all these screams out front and pounding on the door, and the neighbor was screaming that Davey jumped--or, actually, they said he fell.

We re--we realized he jumped. I mean, he--he had been suffering from mental illness for a long time. And--but that--I'll never forget that day and I write about that--that was one of the most painful things for me to write about in the book. And again, it's something that--that felt so good after I wrote it and wrote the details of--of his blood-stained flannel shirt that he was wearing and--and my descriptions or my memories of Davey, how I--how I, after his funeral, sat and thought about him and what his life was like as a mentally ill person.

And--and as a mentally ill person who was sent out of the mental hospitals during deinstitutionalization into this housing project that was probably more insane than--than the mental hospital that he had come from. I mean, he went from one asylum to this, you know, bigger asylum in the midst of busing chaos and the riots in the streets and--and SWAT teams on the rooftops and the National Guard everywhere and--and helicopters hovering above our windows. It was a crazy world during busing.

LAMB: What year were you born?
MacDONALD: I was born in 1966.
LAMB: And what year did the busing start?
MacDONALD: 1974.
LAMB: Who was Louise Day Hicks?
MacDONALD: Louise Day Hicks was a local councilwoman. She was on the school committee. And she's one of the reasons that busing happened in the first place. She was considered a defender of the neighborhood by--by local people because she was, you know, standing up to the liberals and so forth. But really when she was on the school committee, along with a man named John Carrigan, they were the reason that busing was forced upon the city in the first place because they would not admit inequality--the inequality of the school system and the--the level of deterioration happening in the black inner-city schools. And they wouldn't admit to that and they wouldn't admit to de facto segregation in the city. And eventually they--they were sued and that's when the--the federal judge stepped in and--and ordered forced busing.
LAMB: Where is she today?
MacDONALD: She's an--she's an older woman. She lives in City Point. She's from City--the City Point end of town. Of course, the nicer end of town. Her--her father was a judge. She probably grew up more upper middle class than I did.
LAMB: Is there busing today in your area?
MacDONALD: Just this fall the school system has gone back, as a result of a--of--of another lawsuit brought on by parents who want more choice, the school system has ended its previous school assignment plan.
LAMB: Did it work?
MacDONALD: Race based. It's going to actually be implemented starting next fall. The busing...
LAMB: No, but--I mean--yeah.
MacDONALD: Busing didn't--you know, it might have worked for some things. It--it--it--some people just had the agenda of black kids going to South Boston High. But I don't think people really knew that--you know, how--how bad a school South Boston High was at the time. Only 10 percent of the people from South Boston High were going on to college. I mean, so rather than developing a plan where--where both black inner-city kids and white inner-city poor kids would gain access to--to better school systems, perhaps in the suburbs, you know, or course, they took the--the poorest white neighborhood, the poorest black neighborhood and set them on each other. And, of course, it failed. And I sometimes wonder if these things aren't designed to fail 'cause that--that was either incredibly dumb or incredibly brilliant setting up those two neighborhoods.
LAMB: Wh--where do you live now?
MacDONALD: I live in south Boston.
LAMB: Southie?
MacDONALD: Yep. S--in the neighborhood of Southie.
LAMB: Why did you go back?
MacDONALD: I moved back in 1994 because I was drawn back to the neighborhood. I've always felt a draw because of my memories of my brothers and my family's. When my family left south Boston in 1991 and went to Colorado, I felt uprooted. I left the neighborhood, moved to another neighborhood, always missed Southie, would wander through Southie sometimes just to kind of--just to kind of find my family's spirit or my brothers' spirits. And I felt like it was there. And I was--I was drawn to move back there after I gave a tour to a reporter from US News & World Report who was writing this story about what he called the white underclass of south Boston. It was being called the white underclass capital of America.

And when I gave him that tour, I realized I--how much I missed the neighborhood. Despite that--I was pointing out s--s--spots in the neighborhood where some of the worst atrocities happened, I just kind of abruptly told him, you know, I really miss this place. And I've--I've always had that love-hate thing with the neighborhood. And was--just had to go back there. And--and when I went back there, I found out why I went back there. I went back there to do some community organizing and to write this book. And I didn't realize that until now.

LAMB: Picture there of the most--what--the most kids are located. What's that picture?
MacDONALD: Oh, that's a picture of a bunch of kids from the project visiting my brother John, who is the--the guy in the--in the--with the Afro and the--and the plaid pants. He was up at Tufts University. He was the one in the family making it out and we would all come up and invade his new world. And, of course, you know, his fellow students would find out where he really comes from so...
LAMB: Where's John live today?
MacDONALD: He's in South America.
LAMB: What's he do?
MacDONALD: He--he's built--he's retired from the Navy SEALS, but he's working on building a development. He does labor--labor work, you know.
LAMB: What's the story of Stevie?
MacDONALD: My little brother Stevie, in 1990, was falsely accused of murder and...
LAMB: What were the circumstances?
MacDONALD: His best friend was--who was 13 years old, died from a gunshot wound to the head. And Steven found him dying. And I got very involved in his case once the police--once I started to realize what the police were doing, once I found out that the police had falsified his call to 911 and so forth. He found his friend dying and called 911.
LAMB: Where was his friend?
MacDONALD: His friend was in the house. He had--he had fallen under a bamboo chair--a large bamboo swivel chair. This was one of the--the hardest tragedies for me to live through. Really, it w--it was--it was definitely the worst because it was something happening to a younger brother and because of the--the--the--the horrible tragedy of this 13-year-old boy's death in that apartment and--and...
LAMB: What year was this, '90?
MacDONALD: Yeah.
LAMB: And he was--your brother, though, was convicted?
MacDONALD: Yeah. He was convicted and--and when I really saw the level of police misconduct and police abuse in this case, falsification of--of evidence and so forth--and he--when he called 911--well, they submitted a transcript of his call to 911 and it had him say...
LAMB: The police.
MacDONALD: Yeah, the police submitted this as evidence that there was g--you know, it was going to go into a court. They had my little brother saying twice on this sheet of paper, which I have copies of to this day, `I just shot my friend in the head.' So it had my little brother calling in and confessing to have shot his friend. When I first saw that I thought maybe he did do it and maybe he blacked it out or something. And we ordered the cassettes of this call to 911. It took about a month to get them but when we heard that cassette, there wasn't even anything you could mistake for, `I just shot my friend in the head.'

So it was him giving his address, screaming, crying and so forth. But these--the four detectives at the center of that case were very involved in a very high-profile racist investigation in the city. It's what we call the Stuart case, when the man called Charles Staart, a white man from the suburbs murdered his pregnant wife and--on the--on the way from birthing classes. And when the police arrived, Charles Stuart s--told the police that a black man had carjacked them from the nearby black housing project of Mission Hill.

And as a result, the police and the mayor completely tore that community apart. People were pr--dragged out of their houses, kids were stopped and searched. It became like a police state, Mission Hill. And witnesses were coerced into giving false statements about a local junkie named Willie Bennett. Anyways, it turned out that Charles Stuart had, in fact, shot his wife and that the police were so quick to believe this racial accusation--anyway, the--the cops at the center of--of railroading this guy in the Mission Hill project were the same cops involved in my little brother's case.

And that's what got me to cross town, to cross neighborhood and cross race and get involved with activists across town on some of these issues, whether they were police-community relations, issues to work on as an activist or the stuff around gun violence.

LAMB: How did you get the conviction overturned?
MacDONALD: It took us four years to do that. But my little brother had been released from DYS.
LAMB: What's DYS?
MacDONALD: The Department of Youth Services in Massachusetts. And they have--they--they make the decision about how long a person is to stay with them. And they--when he was released, his psychiatrist there had to apologize to him for the whole entire criminal justice system. And this was before his conviction was overturned. Because the psychiatrist was saying, `Even'--you know, `Even if I took you--even if I believed that you were guilty and that you shot your friend, I still don't know what you're doing here.'

And he said, you know, `So many times you see it on the news where two children are playing with a gun and one shoots the other. And you see that there's no prosecution that takes place. Lots of times the victim's family is--you know, doesn't want the prosecution.' The same year I saw that happen on the news. And in this case, Steven wasn't even guilty, I believe wholeheartedly but this psychiatrist was saying that, you know, `Even if I believe you're guilty I still don't know why you--you were dragged through this system as you were, as a child.' And he said, you know, `I have to believe that it has everything to do with who you are and where you come from.'

LAMB: Who overturned the case?
MacDONALD: It was overturned by the state Supreme Court and it was unan--a unanimous decision by three judges based on the lawyers and the--the original trial lawyers' incompetence in relation to some of the obvious police abuse and misconduct and falsification of evidence.
LAMB: Where's Stevie today?
MacDONALD: He's in Colorado. He's in college. He's, along with my other brother, Seamus, doing very well. They have good grade point averages and they want to be lawyers. So again, I think that's--that's a theme that comes out a lot in the book, whether it's my mother, who's, you know, helping out some of the mothers in the neighborhood who--who are losing their children. You know, s--sharing some of her strength and myself getting involved as an activist or--or my little brothers wanting to be a lawyer. I think a--a common theme is this--this survival through action rather than medication or therapy or whatever. I think that's a big issue that comes through in the book.
LAMB: Why didn't you get in trouble all through these years?
MacDONALD: I didn't get in trouble because I think at it--because at a young age--this is something that I figured out while I was writing the book. At a young age, I--I was able to kind of step outside of the chaos with one foot even while keeping another foot there. I'm still from that neighborhood. I'm still from my family. But I was always able to be kind of--to--to see that world from the outside and to see the bigger picture so that I wasn't trapped in it. I never felt trapped in it. I never felt like my life is going to be determined by this. That's a common factor that you see in a lot of what--what teachers and--and--and psychologists are calling resilience in young people. It's a common factor, that ability to step outside of any kind of situation, chaotic situation growing up and to say, `That's not necessarily me. That's not going to determine who I am.'
LAMB: What's your long-term goal?
MacDONALD: To keep writing. I love writing and I--and I really miss it during all this publicity, but I can't--can't wait to get back to writing. I'd like to write more from stories from my life, to maybe get deeper into some pieces of the book. And I'd also like to write about other places where--that need this kind of truth telling. And my only goals in general are to tell the truth and to help kids live. I just want kids to live. That's--that's really why--why I wrote the book, so...
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. "All Souls" is the title. And our guest has been Michael Patrick MacDonald. The story of a family from Southie.
MacDONALD: Thank you.
LAMB: Thank you very much.
MacDONALD: Thanks a lot.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1999. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.