Jailbirds in Every Corner

Maybe I just hung out with a bunch of delinquents and n’er do wells, but it seemed to me in the days of yore that many more guys you came across had done time.

An easy majority of Boston men in my life from the time I was little to in my 30s had been in the clink. It seemed to be much more accepted that you had done time.

Maybe it was for something small, maybe it was for something big. Maybe it was for something small and something big.

Stealing cars was the major discipline of the jailbirds I knew.

Others stole tires or hubcaps, which seems to have come into vogue again.

Larcenies from constructions sites, some violent incidents, money laundering, number rackets and occasionally a real bad guy who had killed someone.

There were a lot of people who also should have gone to jail, but somehow didn’t. Some people had friends who worked in the courthouse – maybe an aunt who was a clerk, a magistrate who knew the father or a judge that owed the family from way back. That was just the nature of the beast.

I’ve been pondering this for quite some time, because just about everyone around the neighborhood these days is completely legit – straight as an arrow. People aren’t occupied with figuring out how to get around the rules in the “get them before they get me” attitude, but rather they delight in figuring out how to make more rules to make sure everyone has a smooth situation.

Obviously, the latter is the best way to be in life, but it ain’t the way Boston was.

Many guys spent hours trying to figure out how to cheat and fudge at every turn, maybe getting “a guy” to sell parking stickers, or somehow conjuring a system to beat the tolls. Maybe skimming money or contracts from the T.

Those were the days.

I guess the thing is that for people who were around in those days, the rules were more of a challenge than a set of guidelines. The only way to get ahead of the other guy was not to work harder, but rather to find a way to cheat to get through him.

This attitude still lives on in the way some of us drive motor vehicles.

  • • •   •   •

And that brings me to the intersection of politics and jailbirds.

A thing that used to go hand-in-wing.

Mayor Martin Walsh scored a big victory on Tuesday. It was a clean victory and not one stained too much by indictment talk or chicanery.

Everyone must remember that in the past – and not the distant past, but in a past that some of us were alive to see – a Boston mayor was elected while being indicted twice during the campaign.

He also served his five months of his term while behind bars in the federal pen in Connecticut. He had done some underhanded stuff; he had flagrantly broken the rules.

He got caught; but no one cared. That’s because many of his devoted voters had been in the can, too. They knew it was kind of just a part of life around here, a cost of doing business when trying to figure out how to cheat so as to get ahead of others.

So they welcomed him back from jail and into the old City Hall with a brass band and happy crowds of smiling women and children.

That was James Michael Curley.

And that was only in 1947.

Explains a lot.

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