Did ‘Old School Justice’ Catch Up to Whitey Bulger?

When I heard the news about James “Whitey” Bulger being savagely killed in his new prison in West Virginia, it came as no surprise.  For years he ratted on the New England Mafia to increase his own crime organization’s control of the Boston area.

I grew up in New Jersey and started using cough syrup with codeine and antihistamines when I was about fifteen years old.  By the time I was 17, I was using heroin on a daily basis. Back then there were no police tip lines. But if you were outed as a rat or an informer, you were likely to get what we called a “hot shot.”

Street justice was swift and merciless.  Two off my associates died of a poisoned heroin shot.  The old time junkies would scrape the white powder from the battery cables of a car.  It looked just like junk but it was pure acid. Some people got rat poison mixed with their dose if they turned when the police picked them up.

In West Orange, New Jersey, there was this detective who was pretty notorious.  When he picked people up, he would bring them to the police station, put them in a room, pull the shades down and beat them around the body and slam a telephone book on their heads.

During my first drug bust, when I had just turned 18, I was arrested with a woman named Angie and we were both holding.  They took me into that room and beat me for a while and then I gave them old information that I knew they already had to stop the beating.  They weren’t satisfied and threw me in a holding cell next to Angie.

This wasn’t Angie’s first rodeo and they knew she was a hard case so they didn’t beat her.  I heard her calling to me and asking me if I was all right. I told her that I didn’t give anyone up but myself.  Back then we actually had mattresses in our holding cells and Angie said, “You’re about to smell smoke.”

Then she lit her mattress on fire.

James “Whitey” Bulger was wrapped in a sheet, and beaten by two Mafiosi to the point where he was unrecognizable. One suspect is Fotios “Freddy” Geas who is doing a lifetime bid for murdering a head of the Genovese Mob in 2003. They hailed from West Springfield, Mass., so they were local and had a major grudge against Bulger. 

How could this happen in the prison system?  Well, transferring a high profile rat to another prison and putting him in general population is like signing the death sentence that he never received.

Back in the day, when I did time I was being held in Maximum Security in West Boylston, Massachusetts. We were two to a one man cell.  The new guy slept on the floor on a mattress and the senior cell citizen slept on a bunk. I had two choices where to put my head.  One choice was by the bars of the cell and the other was by the toilet. As unpleasant as that might seem the toilet was the better choice because if your head was by the bars, you could be fair game to anyone who didn’t like you.

Now when I got popped in Massachusetts with 15 pounds of reefer, a little heroin, some hashish, and cocaine (not to mention paraphernalia like scales and hypodermic needles) they threw all the charges at me. I was even charged with harboring a fugitive because my woman back then was wanted in two states.

But it was an honorable crime, as they call it in prison.  I was all over the news, both television and radio. The police said they had arrested a major drug kingpin but I never saw myself like that.  I had a history of arrests for simple possession of heroin, which was why I sold marijuana. I didn’t care for reefer so I didn’t use my profits smoking it up.

Getting back to the honorable crime situation, I didn’t rat anyone out and I knew I was going to do my time.  My first cellmate was transferred when his case came up and a new guy was transferred to my cell. I asked him the same question everyone is asked when they first get locked up:

“What are you in for?”

The new guy told me he was in for receiving stolen goods and I took him at his word.  But in prison, everyone has a story, some true, some not so true. The next day one of my associates on the Maxi-tier came into my cell during open door time, which was about 2 and 1/2 hours every night after supper.

He told me that the guards had tipped them that the guy in my cell was in for rape of a child and the guards gave the leaders of the tier a carton of cigarettes – major currency back then – and told them, “you know what to do with this guy.”  

He asked me if I wanted to take part but I opted out and told them to do what they had to do.

A little while after I left that cell, three guys came in and beat the guy so bad they had to take him to the hospital.  The guards, who we called “screws” back then, took their time coming in to break it up.

When I think about that and the transfer of Whitey Bulger to a new prison, and the decision to place him in general population, I think that they did this on purpose.  Perhaps they saw it as the proper justice finally being administered to a guy who got away with murder because he was a major rat.

It’s an old school form of justice now, but my gut tells me that Whitey was set up.  

Whitey should have known, and probably did know, that he was being transferred to another prison and put in general population so he would be given the death sentence that awaits rats when they break the code.  Like I said before, this was all old school. When I was a young junkie, I knew better than to break the code. No tip lines, and the police were always the enemy back then.

Some things change and some things don’t.

Are things better in today’s world?  I think not. And for old guys like me, it’s still old school.  You don’t have to like it, it’s just the way it was—and in some cases, it’s the way it is.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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