Edward Berkin was my attorney, friend and brother. We met almost 40 years ago, after an incident at MCI-Concord that resulted in my return to higher custody at MCI-Walpole. It was a very hot July morning when a group of prisoners sought water prior to a work assignment. We were immediately transported to the segregation unit for participating in a work protest, before being moved to maximum security.
Within a week, I was introduced to Eddie by a Harvard Law student (Anne) and met with the Roxbury Defenders staff to prepare a 1983 civil rights complaint against the Department of Corrections (DOC) entitled King v. Higgins for the violation of DOC policy and our constitutional rights. Eddie worked through many hearings and appeals with a final decision resulting in a settlement providing money to the plaintiff. I received a few dollars for my research effort.
Our bond developed quickly and continued to deepen from one prison to the next. During regular visits and phone calls, we talked about the complexities of the law, community politics and various obstacles along the pathways of life. We introduced family and friends to each other, and our brotherhood strengthened with each new experience. He shared his work at Wounded Knee, and was a member of the team representing the Attica Brothers. I brought him inside for a meditation workshop, to play a little softball with some hitmen, and to attend a few picnics in the big yard.
Eddie and his wife Linda planned a trip abroad in the fall of 1976, and wanted to send me visitors while they were gone. I met Kate and her 2-year-old daughter twice, which evolved into a wonderful friendship. In 1985, Kate and I married during a 48-hour furlough at the Jamaica Plain boathouse. Though the furlough program for lifers was terminated in 1987, my bond with Kate continued to strengthen as we battled against the odds. Linda contacted Kate about Eddie’s illness, and Kate quickly travelled to the prison to relay the information about my dear attorney, friend and brother. I called Linda and Eddie’s house after the visit and talked with Linda for a few moments. Later, I wrote separate cards to Eddie and Linda. He passed on the following evening.
Every prisoner would like to have a lawyer like Eddie. He represented me, either as the main or secondary lawyer, for every major effort I’ve made to obtain my release, or to prevent the prison authorities from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. When each attempt failed, Ed Berkin tried again, determined to break the chains that have bound me in captivity for almost 42 years. The last time we met at this prison, he told me that he was closing down the office and would be working from home. He suggested a few lawyers to contact for additional assistance, since I had already filed a Petition for Commutation of Sentence in October 2012. He never told me he was sick, or that he would die by the end of February and be buried the first day of March. On March 6, the Advisory Board denied the request for a public hearing
This man expressed love and respect in a tremendous way. He was always available to speak on the phone or by email. I knew that I was his number one client, though I imagine others felt special also. Anybody in captivity, whether for an overnight in Station 4 or a life sentence, appreciates having a lawyer on speed dial for representation in judicial proceedings, prison obstacles, and personal matters. We celebrated a few victories, while consoling and inspiring each other during the many setbacks.
Though legal professionals may be unable to recognize his value and example because he never aspired to obtain judgeship or law professor status, I know lifers and long termers who appreciate the legacy of this man for providing hope to many and another opportunity to a few: the chance to admire a sunset without the view of obstructive barbed wire.
There is a special place in my heart and in my prayers for some people: my father, my sister Angel, my brother Al, two professors – Ma Barker and Dante – and the man I shot and killed in October 1971. Eddie is now in the company of some wonderful people. I am reminded of Eddie when I look at my board on the wall, which contains sayings about patience and commitment. On it, there is also a photo of Linda and Muhammad Ali at a book-signing event. Eddie presented me with the photo of Ali and Linda because he knew that Ali was very special to me.
About 20 years ago, Eddie gave me a pair of Rockports, which are very comfortable and popular in here, where folks tend to wear sneakers. I have been wearing the Rockports now more than ever and when I walk out of here one day, it will be in those shoes, with Eddie’s spirit right beside me.
Arnie King killed another human being in October 1971, at the age of 18. The Commonwealth sentenced him to life in prison without parole for the murder. His journey has been transforming, despite the brutality and societal barriers. For further information, visit www.arnoldking.org.