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The Knockout Artist


Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, the striker episode. My name is Glynn Washington. Now, you know that people who get beaten up, they always have to blather on about their story -what about the guy doing the beating?- he's got a story too. Our next guest, amazing dude. When he told Mark Ristich that he had something to tell it turned out that he really meant it. Sensitive listener should know that there is violence and a word that polite company never uses.

MARK RISTICH, BYLINE: When George Garrett was just a little boy, he grew up in Berkeley, California.

GEORGE GARRETT: I lived on 923 Graces(ph) and I lived upstairs in the back and I remember I would be waking up every morning by a rooster. And in my house it was always soul music. My second oldest brother would be in the bathroom flexing. I must've been six years old or something like that. I had this dog whose name was Poochie. OK. And my brothers brought him home and me and him just hooked up. There was like this car junkyard stuff you go wandering through there, you know? Picking up stuff, like creeping into the factories and seeing what they were doing with me and my dog, you know?

RISTICH: What were you supposed to be?

GARRETT: Well, I guess I was supposed to be at school I don't know. But, I mean, you know, it was like grade school.

RISTICH: So people were telling George's mom he's skipping school -the teachers, the neighbors. But there wasn't much she could do about it during the day. You see a full-time job in radiology at the VA hospital.

GARRETT: And the story goes the mother walked in with a Masters degree and they gave her a job as being an assistant. And her job was to train other people who came in there that were white and those people end upcoming her boss. You know, so she was hot she was very angry, you know?.

RISTICH: It doesn't take much to set her off, so when she comes home from work George knows what's coming.

GARRETT: Man my mother would time you do a doorknob and beat me until I was black and blue and it wasn't blisters - they just popped and she'd just keep on on beating you. My mother was very violent. She'd beat you into oblivion, you know. I remember telling people that, I said woman is beating the hell out of mean they would say the kid you just got to do what your mama says. And probably adventurism that had a lot to do with me trying to get away from it.

RISTICH: So one day George was out on the streets, walking the neighborhood in a car pulls up.

GARRETT: I was walking across San Pablo Park. Two white guys give up and stopped me.


GARRETT: Cops, you know. And they asked me how come I wasn't in school and I think it'll is on the way home. Well, you have to come with us.

RISTICH: They take George downtown and they find out he hasn't been going to school in they investigate further and they tell his mother were taking George away from you just like that George Lisa's brothers and sisters and begins a new life in detention.

GARRETT: I became a ward of the state first ended up going to juvenile hall. Then I ended up in this place called Lincoln Hall and then I ended up going to the Youth Authority.

RISTICH: George gets on a bus with bunch of other 10-year-old kids there headed to what your California to a place called Nelles correctional facility.

GARRETT: Yeah, man My first initiation was when they sent us to orientation. I don't know some Mexican guy was in front of me in rank because we would march and I got some altercation. He kicked me dead in my balls and put a right cross across me and I fell to the ground . And they just marched away. I was lying there holding myself Ohhh. That was my initiation...

RISTICH: Welcome.

GARRETT: ...Welcome to the Youth Authority.

RISTICH: How big were you when you came in?

GARRETT: I was in I don't know it wasn't that big. But I noticed that that is how they fought I adapted. You know, I got in a fight with one guy. He was tough, you know. But out of fear. I figured I would have to make more fearful so scared of them.

RISTICH: So what would you do with this guy?

GARRETT: Well, it went after him when he was asleep and beat his ass.

RISTICH: They take George away to the lockup like solitary confinement. But while he's in there, he decides that wasn't enough. He is to teach the guy a real lesson

GARRETT: I got in another fight with him nut this time I knocked them out. That's what I was I was a knockout artist. I would hit you right in your temple and knock you out. The creep would always come up behind him in the temple.

RISTICH: The creep?

GARRETT: There was these guys they would creep up behind you and hit you in the temple and knock you out and you would know who did it. The boxes are always written themselves from that little little place right there that there's no bone there, you see, It'll knock you out.

RISTICH: Notion....

GARRETT: The other one's the throat. Hit them in the throat just like that, you know. The other ones the balls, the balls the road and the hair okay. The temple, yeah. I have amassed these skills here, you know. The first that a thing I realized that I could do well so I'm really proud of that that I could defend myself in here you know. I couldn't defend myself when I lived with my mother with these [Bleep] I stomp them to the ground you know okay. I mean they're all criminals man.

RISTICH: But look -now, look you haven't done anything wrong really.

GARRETT: The only thing you ever really did was talk of school.

RISTICH: You're not really a criminal.


RISTICH: And what are you thinking all through this time when you are moving from place to place?

GARRETT: About to cry man. Yeah.

RISTICH: OK. You want something? Water?

GARRETT: I've got water.

RISTICH: (Laughing.) Oh, George. You're just such a big tough guy to me. You know what I mean?


RISTICH: So that's that you come across.

GARRETT: Less to protect this.

RISTICH: At the age of 13 George is too big for Nelles. Now, he gets sent up to Paso.

GARRETT: Paso to me was prison. It was the prison before you got to prison. You know what I mean? You had these race gangs they wanted to dominate everybody, you know. They were bullies is what they were. They were bullies. You know, I was like an upstart. It was like man who chose you guys to be the leaders of the black nation? I would go like that to them.

RISTICH: And so in retaliation leaders put George on the shine. That's where no one is supposed to talk to you and no one has your back. The only ones that do to talk to him are the brothers in the nation of Islam. And so as he's fighting off guys from the firm one by one by one ...

GARRETT: They were saying to me there's no way you are going to win. I mean you might when the fights for you are not going to win. You know you will get older and then it will be something more deadly. They told me that maybe I should just go to all my time in lockup. And that's what I did. And I got out. I was out of there in less than six months.

RISTICH: You were out of Paso?

GARRETT: I was out of pass a.

RISTICH: Where did you go.

GARRETT: Well, I went home back to Grayson Street.

RISTICH: In Berkeley?

GARRETT: In Berkeley. My parole officer was there and my mother regretted this later on. She says, you know, these people told me he was going to be in jail until he was 21 years old. What the hell am I supposed to do with him? What am I supposed to do with him now? I got her on her ass about that later on. I think she was afraid when I think about it.

RISTICH: You were big now.

GARRETT: I was big now. In hard. I was on 37th and Grove Street. I was going to go see my girlfriend Ruby Smith and this guy was coming up the street. He was macking up the street - not just this is his way of walking. He's big. He's real big. He says, yeah man you remember me. Guys from the youth used to call me Goggie B (ph). I looked at him and I could hardly him. He swung at me. I remember I backed off because I was alarmed. He swung at me again. And I just knock them out. I was really good that, you know? I mean, I could still feel the anger of the force of what did, I mean, this just like automatic. I remember I left him there lying on the pavement - half on the sidewalk half in the street. And I went on over to see my girlfriend. I never said anything to her about it. Every other time I got in a fight I was right in front of Doggie Diners in Richmond. I bought a hot dog and this guy came up and mentioned the guy that I have fought in Oakland, you know? And he was a friend of his, you know, and he was going to back his front. He went to lunge I just knocked him out just like that. That was it. That was it that was in school and, you know, this white boy called me and I knocked him out. And ended up back in the youth thing and end up going to Preston.

RISTICH: For George, Preston was better than Paso. Counselors there actually talk to you.

GARRETT: We are playing where throw the ball at the guy - the dodgeball. You're crazy you know. And this counselor pulled me in and he says to me. You can't carry on being like this man. You can carry on being this angry this violent, you know. I don't even think you're angry, you know? I think you just enjoy the violence, you know? You've got to stop that man. You have got to stop that. You can continue doing that. That got me.

RISTICH: And so finally after six months George's free. Out of the youth authority never to return. Instead he finds a new culture in Berkeley by the University right in the middle of the 1960's.

GARRETT: When I got out of youth authority I kind of couldn't hang out the people you grew up with. So would hang out with people that would accept me were heroin addicts. Yep, heroin addicts students and whatnot on telegraph Avenue. They would give me a place to stay. You know, I can always sleep on the couch. I would hustle books that they couldn't get, you know? Doing stuff I was hanging out with them in a way. I did run into guys that were still in the firm and wanted to get me. So now a lot of these guys were confronting me. I had an intellect. I had to talk to them you know. You still want to come up here and fuck with me? There's 1,000 miles ago man. You still want to come up here and fuck with me? That's kind of how I was off Telegraph Avenue and that was cool I like that you know? I could do all my dirt I could do anything I wanted right? And I just didn't have to be violent. So almost 20 years later I had a nephew who had some trouble in school - trouble with his own mother, you know, he was living in his grandmother's house which is my mother. And you can see them struggling with trying to study my mother walked in is and let me help you.

You know, you can see I could feel even in the kitchen listening in want do that she would say, you know, you're not stupid. Just tell me what says you has to be done next to put me know what is that and I walked into the us and what are you doing? To jumped up and ran out of the room. Later on I said to her, you know, you did that crap with me you can continue doing that sort of stuff. And I think she had to give violent with mere members that I held her arms back - what are you doing. She says I can put my hands on you any time at the mall you got to stop this crap. I am like 40 years old and here you are, you know, 75 - 80 what is wrong with you? You know, out of all the fights I've ever been in some he said anything to me about my mother I would bust them up. And now I'm like 64-year-old I think I understand her far more than what I did then, you know. That we have everything?

RISTICH: I think we do. This at the end of the knockout artist this is what I take.

GARRETT: But I still got that blade and me.

RISTICH: I'm not saying you don't. Are not saying you don't. But you stopped using your fists. Or did you? Who's the last guy you whooped?

GARRETT: The last time was the guys were not construction site and this guy man you know he discriminated he fired me because he wanted to hire some other guy says well, you know, you're lazy you're just a [Bleep] anyway. He took my check and he balled up and threw it in my face. So I found out where he lived one night, I got in my car I drove over to his place a block away and yet a one - story house I remember this I was like - what? - 23. I was fantastic. It was raining, you know. This was around about - what? - 2, 3 in the morning.

I jump up and grab the gutter swung myself on top of the roof. And I'm walking on the roof man. Stomping and walking on the roof, you know. I hear him come down I can see him come out I swung down off the roof and beat his butt and took my belt off and just beat the hell out of him. And that I got my car and drove away. That the last when it was ever in. Ah, I love that. See, the blade is still in me. It's still there. (Laughing) You have no idea sometimes, well, I really got to control that. Over time I have learned to do that. I try to do other things, you know, yeah, yeah. It's taken me years man get that out, man


RIHANNA: (Singing) Wild one, you say you're a rebel and you're just no good. But they might change their mind. You're only misunderstood.

WASHINGTON: Thank you so much, George Garrett, for sharing your story with SNAP. That was produced by Mark Ristich. You have made it through and with most of your teeth. Give yourself a round of applause. Celebrate even more for knowledge there is even more SNAP where this came from Big thanks go to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Thank you to the Public Radio Exchange,, WBEZ Chicago. And this is not the news. No ways is the news. In fact, if the knockout artist took away your sandwich, your dog, your car and your girlfriend, you would still not be as far away from the news as this is. But this is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.