|. . . THE CBZ JOURNAL||
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ONE MORE TIME AND NOT FOR THE MONEY
BY ARAM ROCKY ALKAZOFF
"I gotta do it again," said the tough old fighter, his face twisted into a determined mask. "One more time. I want my boys to see. I want them to know that I can. I want everyone to see. Not for the money, but for the pride. So everyone can see I'm still alive!"
The man was fifty years old, the voice was a slow, deep, Southern drawl, the head was shaved, and the body was pale white and about twenty five pounds past his old fighting weight. The temperature was 98 degrees, and the location of the conversation was the prison yard of Milan Federal Prison in Michigan.
As Jerry Evans told me this on the prison yard, next to where the heavy bag hung in the recreation yard, I wondered what he meant. Did he want to make a comeback in the boxing ring, like George Foreman? He'd be in his early fifties when he got out of prison. He certainly was in no condition to fight any tough young kids. So what the hell did he mean?
As I got to know Jerry Evans, ex contender for the light heavyweight championship of the world, I found out exactly what he meant.
Prison friendships are unlike any other friendships in the world. For one thing, its all equal in there. Out in the "world", friendships usually have alot to do with money and economic status. No matter how much a poor man has in common with a rich man, the friendship is hampered by distance amongst other things. But in prison everyone is equal. We eat, sleep, walk, and work next to each other. Its your manhood, and your heart in here. No money can hide what you are, so guys gravitate towards their equals in mind and spirit.
I guess I can take it as a complement that Jerry Evans became a close friend of mine, looking at it like that.
"Theres a guy here who is supposed to be a ex pro," said Frankie Renzo, a Chicago boy, who used to be a co manager of a few famous "hard rock" groups. "Have you met him yet Rock? Name is Jerry. Shows guys a few moves here and there."
"Yeah?" I asked as I used to as a kid. "Hows he look? Does he hit pretty hard?"
"He looks like he knows what he's doing," said Frankie. "He's a older white guy. He hits the bag and all."
Milan was a lower security prison than what I was used to. I was coming from a very high security prison, and it had taken me about 8 years plus to get here. In a lower security prison you have more privileges, freer movement, and no gun towers. "Gun towers" means a tower where a expert marksman with a high powered rifle can look at the whole prison, and will shoot if he has to. I was happy for that, although it was going to take some getting used to.
Although Milan was closer to Detroit and Chicago, my two hometowns, and I was happy for that, there was differences in this low of a security than where I came from. For one thing I had a life sentence, and was fighting it out in the courts to get it overturned. At a higher security prison most guys are in the same boat with big sentences. Those are mostly guys who went to trial and didn't cooperate with law enforcement. Anotherwards they weren't "snitches" and more trustworthy. In a lower security prison, alot of the guys have short sentences, which most times means they cooperated, or are "rats". Well guys in my position don't talk to "rats" or "snitches". So meeting people here in this place I kept one eye open. I had one of the biggest sentences in the place, that was for sure. At the last prison I was in, there were plenty of guys in my boat.
Right away I found guys from Chicago or Detroit, guys I knew and trusted. That way you can learn whos who around the yard. I found Sonny Franzeze, a New York guy who was a legendary alleged "street capo" for the Columbo family, on the yard, and I was happy as hell about that. You couldn't pal with a more solid guy than that.
Sonny had given them over twenty five years locked up, on what everybody knew was a frame. They tried to make him talk on his pals, but Sonny was too strong and took a fall. Back on a ridiculous parole violation, for speaking to a convicted felon who was a friend, Sonny only had eight or nine months more to do. I was glad for that, sorry to hear what had happened to him, but still glad to see him. Its like that alot in prison. You're sad a guys there, but happy to see him, or glad a guy is getting out and sad to see him go. Some world huh?
Sonny who was still a handsome guy, sharp as a tack mentally, and still in phenomenal physical condition was over seventy five years old, but looked about fifty. He could still play handball all day, do about seven or eight chin-ups, lift weights, and out walk any guy in the prison. But best of all, Sonny was a boxing guy, had been around all the greats, and knew the fights intimately. He was a pleasure to be around. If he said a guy was right, he was; No questions asked.
"Shorty" Lamantia, was another guy I was glad to see. Shorty was a barrel chested, strong as a horse, stocky guy about 66 or 67 years old, and a Chicago boy. An ex enforcer for the teamsters, he was a "homeboy", solid as a rock, and a real boxing guy. He had seen all the Chicago fights and knew Liston, Satterfield, Bratton, Tony Zale and guys like that very well. He, like Sonny knew what he was looking at, and could call a ace a ace and a spade a spade.
"You got some pros here huh?" I asked Shorty, who knew my boxing interest, since my boyhood days.
"Had quite a few a few months back," said Shorty, with his cane between his legs, as we sat by the boccie ball court. "Mayweather was here. Good fighter. Gave Sugar Ray Leonard a good fight. His kid is some fighter. Palacios was here too. Feather champ, I think. They say he had AIDs. He was on television from here. They had him in some program because of that. Spanish kid. But he's gone too."
"How'd Palacios look on the bag?" I asked.
"No Pep or Saddler," he laughed. "But busy as hell."
"Frankie Renzo says theres some guy here named Jerry who fought pro," I said. "You know who that is?"
"I think I know who he's talking about," said Shorty, scratching his thick neck. "Quiet guy. From the South I think. White guy with a shaved head. I really don't even know his last name. He's a nice guy, but he don't hang out. I heard his name once Rock, but I don't think I remember him. Never fought around Chicago or on television or anything like that."
"A boxer and you guys don't know him?" I said, unbelieving. "You guys usually know all the fighters."
"He kind of stays to himself Rock," Shorty said. "Works at the factory, comes out here, hits the bag, and goes back inside. I think he fought mostly down South. I can't place him."
"Hows he look?" I asked. "What weight."
"Good sized," he said. "Light heavy or heavy. Looks like he knows what to do. A pro."
Well that said something. In the back of my mind, I was going to look for him. I was also wondering if I had ever heard of him and what his name was.
In Federal prison, back in the nineties and up till just recently the rules as far as boxing equipment was the same in each prison. There was no boxing, no coaching of boxing, no slap boxing, no contact boxing, and actually no shadow boxing. There was a heavy bag, speed bag, jump ropes, and a medicine ball. That was it, so if boxing was your interest you usually hung out around the guys hitting the bags and so on. You could coach a guy hitting a bag, but not how to box. So usually everyone in prison who boxed or liked boxing, is around this area. Unfortunately the rules have changed in the present time, and all boxing equipment has been eliminated. What purpose that solved is beyond me.
"Not many guys hit the bags in prison," Curtis "The Hatchetman" Sheppard, a seasoned convict who once knocked out Joey Maxim, used to say. "It "tells" on a guy with muscles who can't fight."
Well being a wise convict, Curtis was right on both counts. It does "tell" the other inmates or at least give them a idea on how you handle your fists, and he was right that not many guys hit the bags.
Times have changed in America when it comes to boxing, and in prison it shows how much. Back in the fifties and sixties, the bags had alot of guys hitting them in prison. It was mostly black guys, but lots of white guys too. No more. Guys mostly lift weights, play basketball, soccer, tennis, and every other thing. But very few young guys hit the bags any more. Its mostly Hispanic kids now, a handful of older Black guys and a few White guys. Believe it or not the older American guys usually hit the bags better than the young guys. Guys back in the old days were brought up on boxing and it shows in their style and hitting ability. Most of the young guys just haven't got a clue.
The place you notice the change the most is in the television rooms. In the old days, if a boxing match was on, it got watched first before any other program. Boxing was "king" and took priority over any other event amongst prisoners. No More. Now unless its a Tyson or De La Hoya fight, you have to almost fight to get a crowd to watch it, or secure a television. The Latin men will watch it pretty much automatic, but with Blacks and Whites other sports, entertainment and talk shows, movies, music videos, etc are much more popular.
Getting back to the story, it doesn't take long to know the guys who box. All you have to do is show up at the boxing area and start working out. Everybody checks you out, and sizes up what you got. Well after a few sessions I got to meet most of the guys, and I heard about Jerry.
"Yeah Jerry," said Carmelo Gonzales, a Puerto Rican welterweight from Cleveland, and a beautiful guy who was in great shape and doing twenty years. "Jerry is a good guy. I heard he was a top ten fighter. But I forgot his last name."
"Hows he look?" I asked.
"He's getting in good shape," said Carmello, intelligently reflecting. "He knows what he's doing Rock. He's on a mission."
Later that night, while in the cell house, the guy next to me whose name was Rick, a long haired marijuana dealer from Cleveland, who I knew from another prison said, "You getting up for breakfast Rock?"
"Got to," I said. "I'll go for the oatmeal and skim milk."
"Sit by us," he said. "We got a good table. Same guys every morning. All solid. Hey we got a boxer at our table! Great guy. You were a fighter weren't you?"
"No," I laughed. "I boxed as a kid. "Smoker" fights. I never fought no tournaments or pro fights. I just work out and like it."
"Well Jerry Evans sits with us," said Rick. "He was a pro. Ever hear of him?"
"Yeah I have," I said remembering. "I heard of him." "Was he any good?" asked Rick with a grin.
"Sure he was good," I said, trying to remember as much as I could. "He was a contender. Ranked near the top. He had to be pretty good."
"Damm," said Rick, reflecting. "I figured he was. Rock you're gonna like Jerry. Real solid guy. A real good man."
I nodded, and told him I'd see him in the morning. Then I laid on my prison bunk and tried to remember where I remembered "Jerry Evans" from.
"Jerry Evans?" It was the seventies. It had to be then, because there were a few years when my street action was so busy, I didn't keep in touch with boxing as much as I usually did. Too many girls, too much business, not enough time in those years. But still, I never missed a title fight on television, and those were the days of Monzon, Foster, Duran, and of course Muhammad Ali. But Jerry Evans? Who the hell was Jerry Evans?
I thought and thought, and then it hit me; I had read Jerry Evans name as a top ten contender in Ring Magazine. It had to be somewhere in the heavy divisions, not heavyweight, but light heavy or middleweight. He was in the rankings for a second, kind of like other guys who made the rankings for a second that I only knew by name like Hubert Hilton, Ralph Paladin, or Tommy Hicks. Guys who got in the ratings, but lost out, never made it to major television, and never really had any stories about them in the big publications that stuck out in your mind.
"Jerry Evans?" Guess he was a "white" guy! Who'd he fight to get into the top ten? Who'd he lose to and disappear so quick? I wondered what he looked like, and how he boxed.
The next morning, as we do every work day in Federal prison, I got up at five in the morning and walked to the "chow hall" to breakfast with Rick. If you don't do that in prison, you don't eat. They don't wait for you, and todays breakfast was fried eggs, bacon, potatoes, dry cereal, and orange juice. It was the best breakfast they served, and the hall would be full and the serving line very slow, wild, load, and pushy.
I got my full allowance of food, even though I was only going to eat the cereal and skim milk. You always take everything, if only to give it away to someone you know who might want some more. Finally we got to a table, that a inmate named Emery, saved for us. Emery was a good little middle aged guy, who was doing life for murder, and had been locked up for over twenty years. His was a crime of passion, it was long over, but in here he was considered a "solid" convict according to prison morals.
After introducing me to Emery, Rick asked Emery if its okay I sat there. "Sure Rock," he said good naturedly. "As long as we have one for Jerry. They get out last today."
"Jerry" meant Jerry Evans, and I sat and waited for him.
We waited about a half hour, talking and such, and suddenly Rick said,
We all looked and there was Jerry Evans quietly standing in line, nodding to us. As I sized him up, I saw that with his shaved head, white reddish tanned face, focused eyes, and pressed prison brown clothes, he looked very much lost in the crowd. I mean he wasn't huge or awe inspiring like some guys are here in prison. He wasn't a big weight lifting guy or anything like that. Probably around fifty years old, Jerry's face was a little worn, and showed some long nights out on the street, but his body was trim and firm. It was a fighters body, a light heavyweight's body with solid working mans wrists and hands. Not muscle bound, like so many guys are in prison, but shaped for punching, shoulder and back heavy. When Jerry brought his tray over, a closer examination of his face showed the clear eyed look of some decent physical condition.
As we were introduced and shook hands, I realized Jerry was cut out of a mold I was familiar with.
"Pleased to meet you Rocky," he said, sitting down with his tray, eating quietly and with civility.
As we talked, I realized Jerry was a old style Southern man, humble, soft spoken, honest, straight forward, and someone who did what he said he was going to do. He had come up the hard way, from decent God-fearing people, and took his knocks without complaint. I knew the type, and probably so did General Robert E. Lee back in the Civil War days. Southern guys like Jerry, always remind me of brave Confederate solders for some reason.
"Just get in Rock?" said Jerry.
"Couple of days back," I said. "I remember your name Jerry. Saw it in the rankings back in the seventies. Am I right?"
He almost seemed ashamed of it, and was very shy and soft spoken with his response.
"Well I got in there for a minute," he said. "I had a shot, but it wasn't in the cards."
"I used to see your name Jerry," I said, as we kind of introduced ourselves to each other. "I always thought you were a black guy." "Naw," said Jerry, with a grin. "There was a black guy by that name. But it wasn't me. He was a heavy. I was the hard working Tennessee boy. Did you used to fight Rock?"
"Naw Jerr," I said. "Boxed "smokers" when I felt like it. But never got in any tournaments. Too wild when I was young. But I liked to go into the gyms and spar, work out. I liked the sport. Gets in your blood, you know Jer?"
"Sure does," he said, nodding. "It sure does. You gonna work out on the bags on the yard?"
"Yeah," I said. "I got my gloves last night. I'll be there today. How about you?"
"I go as soon as the yard opens for night yard," he said. "I get my work and go back and relax. I avoid all the crowd. Work all day in the factory, and then do my boxing work and go relax and sleep."
Jerry wasn't saying much. He wasn't a boxer who was a product of inner city gyms like most of the guys I knew. This boy fought out of the South, and the small clubs and long car rides to small towns were in his blood. He was a country boy, and I knew that guys like him don't say much, but mean what they say. I liked that.
"I'll be out there Jerry," I said. "I'll see you around the bags."
"Comon around Rock," he said, seemingly friendly. "We can take a walk and talk some boxing. Well I gotta go now. Nice meeting you."
As he got up, I did too, and we shook hands. Funny I got the feeling that if Jerry Evans shook your hand he meant it. I was right, Jerry did mean it.
"He likes you Rock," said Emery. "I know Jerry. I can tell he likes you. You'll see. He's like you. A real solid guy."
I wasn't sure what that meant, but I sensed Jerry had a strong spirit, and was a proud person.
That night I was in the yard and I saw Jerry, in shorts and a tee shirt, his bald head sweating, hitting the bag. The yard was about half as full as it was going to get. Many people were still eating, but there were a few people watching Jerry work, and maybe a few waiting for him to get done so they could work.
Jerry's work was steady and basic. A jab, followed by straight rights and a basic left hook. He moved around the bag, never holding it or touching it with his hand like guys with no experience did. He was "boxing", not just throwing punches. He hit the big bag with a plan, and a pace, grunting as he punched. He had slowed, the gears were working slower, but he still hit hard and he was finding his groove and cleaning the machine. He was a professional, and seemingly trying to get back in shape in a professional manner.
After he was done, he nodded to me,
"Gonna shadow box a little and do some exercises Rock," he said, in a drawl. "Then I gotta walk a few miles.'
"I'll walk with you Jerry," I said.
He nodded, and after about fifteen minutes we took a walk.
"I'm not ready to run yet Rock," he said. "But I'm a gettin' there. Walkin's a good way to get there. You look in good shape Rock."
"I've been down eight years plus Jerry," I said. "We had a hell of a bunch of good boxers at Oxford where I was at before here. Hatchetman Sheppard was there. He trained us. Forced us to get in good shape. Hell of a man. Did thirty four years and finally went home. Almost eighty years old and still hit the bag for ten rounds. Still hitting hard too."
"Did he fight pro?" asked Jerry.
"Knocked down Archie Moore twice," I said. "Only man to knock out Joey Maxim. Hell yes he fought pro."
"My division," he said. "Boy. Archie Moore and Maxim. He had to be pretty good."
"They made him wear the "cuffs" alot," I said. "He had to make a living. He ended up killing a cop over his wife. Caught her in bed with him. Got life for that."
"Can't blame the man for that one," said Jerry seriously. "Used to be in the old days, it was allowed. Down South anyway... Archie Moore. I had Foster in my division when I was fighting."
"Good puncher," I said.
"Dangerous," said Jerry turning to look at me deep in my eyes. "Dangerous. I can't think of any light heavyweight that wanted to fight him if they didn't have too."
"He didn't do too good against heavyweights," I said.
"Yeah, but the heavys that beat him were real good," he said. "See good heavyweights with the smaller gloves could beat him. But in the gym, with big gloves. Rock I seen him hook off the jab and knock heavyweights dead. I've seen that. With a quick left hook, he could do that."
"Ever get in there with him Jerry?"
"No never did," he said, thinking back hard. "Angelo Dundee told me they was thinking of matching us. But it never happened. I think Brian Kelly got the match. But I'd have fought him."
"Well that was pretty close to the title," I said.
"The closest I got was when the WBA had me fourth," Jerry said. "I fought a elimination with Gomeo Brennon in Miami Beach to see who'd fight Vicente Rondon for the vacant title."
"I remember all of them," I said. "Saw Brennon on television. Saw Rondon get murdered by Foster. What happened with Brennon?"
"It was close," he said. "Brennon was a good fighter. I got cut up real bad in the late rounds. They stopped it."
He had a far away look in his eyes perhaps remembering a smooth faced fighter full of hope, as opposed to the scar tissued veteran he became. We talked about the fighters he fought and he was very pleased to see I knew about the guys he had fought and beaten; Guys like Harold Carter, Karl Zurheide, Charlie Hall, Vern McIntosh, and a guy named Arnie Brower.
"I remember Arnie Brower," I said thinking back. "I saw him fight in Detroit. A heavyweight. Real good looking guy with curly hair. Had him made out to be the "Jewish Hope"!"
"Yeah that's him," said Jerry, with a grin. "They wrote my fight with Brower was the fight of the year in Miami Beach. I was going good then. I'd won eight or nine in a row in Miami Beach main events. Then Florentino Fernandez."
"Florentino Fernandez?" I said, surprised. "A Cuban with a big left hook. Could kill you with that hook."
"That's him," Jerry said, remembering. "I caught him as a light heavyweight. He knocked out Jose Torres at that weight." "I remember him well," I said, wondering what that Fernandez left hook felt like. "How'd you do with him?"
"He stopped me," he said, shaking his head. "I was about even with him, but he started opening up my face. They stopped it in the sixth." "Tough luck," I said. "But he was a good fighter. He almost beat Fullmer."
"Then I went to London to fight Finnegan."
"Chris Finnegan?" I asked. "He gave Foster a tough night."
"He was good Rock," Jerry said. "He stopped me. I got cut up real bad again. But they treated me good in London. Treated me like a king. I'll never forget that. Fight was on television all over England."
"Had tough luck with cuts huh?" I asked. "Like Quarry did."
"That's why I quit Rock," he said, as we walked on. "I was getting cut too easy. My style didn't need that. So I got out. Its funny, Rondon's manager said Rondon was glad I lost. He didn't want to fight me. I was a crowder and he didn't like that. Who knows?"
As we walked on, we talked about fights and fighters.
"I sparred with alot of heavyweights," he said without emotion. "Foreman, Jimmy Ellis, Muhammad Ali, Shavers, big Al Jones. Actually anybody who trained in Miami I saw. Louie Rodriguez was always around. He was something too."
"You could write a book Jerry," I said. "Those are alot of champs and big names."
"Funny out of all that," he said, with a strange look. "I remember Jerry Quarry and Jeff Merritt the best. I was really awed by them. Surprised by them."
"Jeff Merritt?" I said. "Tall, skinny guy. Came out of prison. I think it was Kansas prison. I knew some guys who did time with him." "Oh he was killing guys in the gym," Jerry said seriously. "Arms like snakes. Whip over a hook off of a jab like lightning. Just knocked guys out dead. Rough guy. Drug addict."
"I heard he was a good guy," I said. "Guys who did "time" with him said he was okay."
"He was," Jerry smiled. "We got along real good. Guess he could sense I'd end up in prison. But that guy should have been a champ. I think he broke Shavers jaw in a sparring match."
"What about Quarry?"
"He was real good," Jerry said. "Could box. Could punch like hell. Could take it. He had so much damm talent. Rock hard body too, back then. He was a good humble kid. To see him now. That's tough. I don't think Quarry would have had any trouble with any heavyweight today." "Miami is a long way from Tennessee," I said.
"I come from a small town in Tennessee," he said. "Town named Byrdstown. Just simple people. Good people. There wasn't much opportunity to do too much. I boxed and I liked it. Worked my way up. Hell, I thought it was a big deal to get to the bigger cities in Tennessee in tournaments. They called me the "Byrdstown Bomber". That meant alot to me."
"Took alot of punches to get to Miami huh?" I asked.
He turned to me, smiled and turned away. I saw the scar tissue on his eyes, and he stopped and replaced some "chew" in his mouth. On his face I could see the small towns, the smokey arenas, the struggle to get somewhere in the boxing world for a small town boy. I saw the disappointment, yet the pride he maintained. I pictured him, younger, shiny, and clean full of hope. Now he was walking the track in prison with me.
"I gave it all I had," he said. "I'm proud of that. I never gave up. Had some great trainers who took time to help me. Lou Gross and Angelo Dundee. Beau Jack. Hiawatha Gray."
"Hiawatha?" I said. "The guy with Archie Moore?"
"Same guy," said Jerry remembering. "Oh he was something. He hated weightlifting for fighters. I wonder what he'd think about Holyfield? You know its funny, I was always very thankful for anything a trainer taught me. I never forget that they took time for me. When I got cut and lost to Brennon, I felt sorry for Lou Gross and Hiawatha. Like I disappointed them. It meant alot to me that they tried to help me."
"Guess you was brought up that way Jerr," I remarked.
He put his head up high and looked straight forward.
"Well Rock, I gotta go," he said as we got to the beginning point of our walk. "I'm on a schedule. Got a goal to get too."
He grabbed his equipment bag, and came and shook my hand.
"Its been a real pleasure Rock," he said. "Its good to talk some boxing. Hope to see you work some day. I have to go now. I got a goal, I'll tell you about some day."
We shook hands and Jerry quietly walked off the yard by himself. That was the Jerry Evans style for as long as I knew him. Honest conversation, hard work, determination to reach a goal, and a man who walked by himself and didn't bother anyone.
Day by day Jerry kept the same schedule. Like clockwork, he did his chores, trained, and rested. Once I started training, we would kind of wait for each other to work and then walk and talk. Seeing me work on the bags, and talking to me, he learned to trust me and me him. We kind of forged a friendship based on boxing, and solid convict etiquette.
When we would work out, he rarely talked like some guys do. He was strictly a "Tennessee mule", straight forward without much noise. I imagine he fought the same way. But when he did comment his words meant something.
I had a style of punching the heavy bag in which I'd let my arms dangle low, and then suddenly snap out a hard left hook or straight right, making the bag jump. Now usually when guys make comments on what your doing when you're hitting the bags and such, its inner city guys doing it. A guy like Jerry Evans didn't say much or comment on what ever anybody else was doing. That's just his style. But upon seeing me punch like that, he made the only comment I ever heard him make on someone's boxing work.
"Dangerous hook," he said. "Just like Merritt's."
I took a simple comment like that out of Jerry Evans's mouth as a great complement. Jerry Evans's words weighed like that. They were few, but well thought out and very honest.
Eventually as we used to take our walk, after our boxing work, Jerry talked about his case that put him there.
"You know Rock," he said. "I feel ashamed to even talk about my situation to you. I've only got a two year sentence, and its the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I can't imagine what you feel."
"Don't worry about it Jerry," I said, realizing his sincerity. "I respect everyones time who's not a snitch. As long as your not a rapist, child molester, serial killer or beat up old people or stuff like that. Every good man's time is precious and I respect it." Jerry gave me a trusting smile. He appreciated that I okayed his talking about his situation.
"Well Rock, see I didn't steal anything or make any money coming in here," he said. "I'm divorced, and I was spending a little too much time "honky tonking" if you know what I mean."
"Well Rock," he went on. "One thing led to another. I had a girlfriend or two. I made some enemies out of some local policemen there in Muncie, Indiana where I was living. Well Rock, you know how police can be." I nodded. If he only knew how much I knew.
"Well there was a fire at this girl's house," he said. "I got set up for it."
He looked down sadly.
"Worst experience," he said shaking his head. "No matter what you say, they say something different. I got found guilty. Boy those newspapers made something really big out of it. It was like, "we got Jerry Evans". Made me sick to think about my two sons seeing that. I've never been in trouble before Rock. My boys was so proud of me, being a fighter and all. I was real proud of that."
"I understand," I said.
"Well it hurt me alot," he said. "I've made up my mind to make it up to em. To make it up to my boys and to show everyone in Muncie, Indiana that Jerry Evans came back with his head high."
"That's good Jerry," I said. "Get back, come back in top physical condition and start again. Your boys probably will be proud as hell seeing what good shape you're in now."
"You know Rock," he said sincerely. "I'd do anything if it helped you out of here. That's the other side of the happiness of knowing I'm getting out shortly. Knowing that there is some good men still in here. It hurts me."
"Don't worry Jerry," I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. "Its okay. I know you feel like that. Any good man does. I'm glad you're going home, and I'll be fighting in court to make it out too. I don't begrudge you going home and I'm always happy when a good man leaves. We all got a time to leave here, either one way or another. Its just your time."
Jerry just nodded. We couldn't articulate it very well, but we had exchanged some very sincere feelings.
"Well that's good Rock," he said. "I got a surprise for Muncie, Indiana. I've been waiting to show em something."
See I figured that Jerry just meant getting healthy, and physically fit. Then walking out of jail and going back home with his head held high. Thats what most guys want to do. I figured thats what he meant. But even though he was fifty, he had something else on his mind.
With about a month or two left on his sentence, Jerry told me he was ready to start running roadwork.
"I'm feeling good about it Rock," he said. "Its time for some roadwork."
That was all he said one sunny day, and Jerry started to run slowly around the track. He wasn't laboring, and he wasn't a gazelle either. He just got a stone face on, and ran at his own pace. Finishing up a two mile jog, he had a satisfied look. As if he was proving something to himself.
As Jerry added on roadwork to his workout, the daily running must have stimulated him, because his other boxing work intensified. It was as if he was finishing up heavy training for a big fight. He was rounding out to some pretty good condition for his age. His punches were harder, his combinations smoother, he was busier, and he flowed much more easily in everything he did. He was still the "Tennessee Mule", but he was much more vital and youthful in his movements and executions.
One day, as Jerry was hitting the bag, and I watched, I thought he looked as good in spots as I could imagine he ever was. He was really in the flow.
"Jerr, you got two weeks to go," I said. "I gotta tell you, you looked like you was about twenty four today. You look really sharp. I'm sending you home in top shape."
Jerry sat down as I said that on a wooden bench, and I saw him smile to himself, shyly. He didn't want anyone to see, but he was happy. Well why not, I figured. He was going home and in real good shape. He should be proud. He'd show Muncie, Indiana what Jerry Evans was.
Well little did I know what Jerry really had on his mind. About a week before he was to leave, Jerry and me were sitting on a bench, just taking in some sun. Jerry's leathery face looked tanned and clear. His blue eyes were bright.
"Rock you know I think about what George Foreman did," said Jerry, in a playful manner. "I got inspired. I want to try it again."
"One more time Rock," he went on. "I want to try it one more time. Find out whats happening around Muncie, and fight one more time. Fifty years old, and one more fight."
"What for Jerry?" I asked, seeing he was serious. "I know your in good shape, but young fighters are real fast. Whats the point? You proved everything already."
"Rock, I was just a poor country boy," Jerry said looking back in his head. "Boxing was the most important thing I ever did. Being a boxer meant everything to me. It made me proud of myself and I never didn't do the best I could. I'm proud of training with the great champs and having such great trainers help me. Boxing made my boys look up to me, and I was proud when people in Muncie and back home would say, "Theres Jerry Evans the fighter. He was heavyweight champ of Tennessee. He was a rated fighter."
"But when I got locked up, it kind of shamed my boys. They had to see me in those handcuffs. The people who didn't like me or were jealous of me, got a laugh on me. They brought me to my knees. But I'm back on my feet now. I want to come back to Muncie in top shape. I want my boys to see me, that I didn't fold to the lies. Then I want to fight one more time, and have my boys see me as a boxer one last time. I want that memory to wipe out the other one in their minds and in everyone else's minds too. I want to be Jerry Evans the boxer one more time."
I could see no one could talk him out of it. I just figured at fifty it was a pipe dream that would end when he got home. He'd find girls and parties and good times. He'd forget about boxing. I was just happy he was going home and in top shape. I knew his boys would be proud of him, just to see him looking so good.
So I just kind of supported what he said, told him to pick a good gym to train at, and be patient. But at fifty? No way. I mean he was in good shape for fifty, but he was still fifty. No sense telling him he couldn't do it. He'd forget it once he got out and saw his first "skirt" and a good dinner.
Well Jerry's day of release finally came, and like all inmates who are leaving, he got dressed up in his best prison clothes, and got cleaned up as nice as possible and came to breakfast one last time. He looked great, trim, hard, face and eyes glowing, head shaved and shining, clothes pressed and clean. "Man you are ready for the streets now," I said, giving him a hug as he shook all his buddies hands and said his goodbys. "You did the time wise Jerry. You got in shape and are ready for another "ride in the saddle"."
"Well I feel pretty good Rock," he said, obviously excited, and more animated than I ever saw him before. "I'm nervous as hell though."
"You'll be fine Jerr," I said. "Your boys are gonna be proud of you when they see you."
"Now Rocky, I haven't forgotten about what I said," he went on with a twinkle in his eye. "I haven't forgotten fighting again. I'm a gonna be lookin' for a chance to fight again. I'll write you soon as I find something out. You can count on that."
"Don't worry about that Jerr," I said, walking him out the prison "chow hall" door. "Just let us know how life is out there. If you fight, fine. If not, no big deal. You left your mark. Its in the books." "No I'm a gonna give it a shot," he said firmly. "I got it on my mind. I got somethin' to show people.'
I let it go at that, we hugged again, everyone who counted said their farewells, and we sent another good man out into the "world".
"Think we'll ever hear from Jerry again?" asked Emery, the little guy from Alaska, doing life. "Guys usually forget the guys back here once they leave."
"No," I answered. "I got a feeling Jerry will write back when he's got something to say. He's a real one. He'll be busy with his people and all, but when he gets his feet wet, he'll write."
About four or five months went by, and in the monotonous grind of our prison life, I'd think about Jerry here and there, wondering how he was doing. I'd smile to myself, happy he'd be proud in having his boys seeing their old man look so good; The prison sentence hadn't broken him, but only made him stronger.
I hadn't heard from him, but I figured he was having too much fun out there and was busy. I was happy for that, for he did his time as a man and deserved that.
But then about a month or so later, I got a letter at "mail call" from a "Evans" from "Muncie". Well son of a gun, Jerry finally took time to write! The letter felt kind of thick and I was looking forward to reading about what he was doing, what girls he was dating, and how the family was. There might even be some pictures. I went back to my cell with the letter, laid on the bunk and started pulling it out to read. But upon reading the contents I got the surprise of my life and found out about Jerry Evans for real!
Upon going into the materials, I found out it wasn't a letter from Jerry at all, but photos of a boxing match and some newspaper clippings from a Muncie, Indiana paper!
The clippings showed a advertisement of a headline boxing match at some arena hall in Muncie between "Jerry Evans" ex contender for the world championship and some guy named "Bruiser" Tom Tullings, a mean looking guy with a Mohawk haircut, who was billed as a ex kickboxing champion. The photo of Jerry was recent, and he looked pretty good having let his hair grow out. The next clipping told about the results of the match! The match had been shortened to eight rounds and the result had been a draw. It said both boys had landed hard shots, no one had went down, and it was a crowd pleaser. Bruiser Tullings commented after the bout, that although Evans was a much older fighter than he was he, "was tough as nails, and hits like a mule."
Evans was quoted after the match as saying he felt great, was never hurt, and was in fine condition. He said, the match, "wasn't a comeback, but just a final bout for his fans in Muncie."
I looked at the pictures. The "arena" looked like a high school gym, and at the tables surrounding the ring seated a crowd that looked like exactly what they were, working class people from Muncie; But to Jerry, I'll bet it felt like the New York "Garden". The "Bruiser" wasn't exactly Bob Foster, he was a big boned, husky, musclebound guy, with a slight belly. He looked more like a bouncer in a bar than a serious boxer. But Jerry looked great. He had his hair grown and there wasn't a gray one in the bunch. His body was firm and tight, and the fighting action photos showed Jerry had kept his form like we practiced here in prison. I felt pride, almost like a trainer whose pupil had done well. I helped Jerry get there, and I was proud of him. Jerry's guard was up, and his left hook was tight and compact.
Good going, old man, I thought. You did good. The comeback would never be written about like George Foreman's or Sugar Ray Robinson's or Leonard's, but I'd know the real. It was a great comeback all the same, and you proved something to not only your beloved sons, but to all the people that knew you and respected you; Jerry Evans was back and to stay, and he was still a fighter.
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