PROLOGUE: MARCH 2008
As bad as they wanted me, there was no winning.
—DEMETRIUS “BIG MEECH” FLENORY
The most notorious inmate ever to set foot in the St. Clair County, Michigan, jail is reclined on a ledge just off the hallway that leads to his cell. His hair, unwound hours earlier from the braids he usually wears, is pushed back from his face, falling to his shoulders in kinky waves. He’s saddled with a few extra pounds, but that’s to be expected. He’s been locked up in this suburban facility, an hour north of Detroit and just across the water from Ontario, for three Michigan winters. That’s countless days stuck in a coop where you can’t be let outside, not even to exercise, not even for an hour, unless the thermostat creeps above 40 degrees. Fat chance of breaking 40 in February, or even in March. He’s actually looking forward to prison, hopefully somewhere down South where it’s warm.
Still, he’s not complaining. They’ve been good to him here. He’s polite and well mannered, and that’s earned him certain privileges. When visitors come in from out of town—a guest list that he claims has included rap superstars Akon and Young Jeezy (Snoop Dogg tried to come, but got snowed out)—the deputies go out of their way to accommodate them. To the inmate, preferential treatment is nothing new. On the outside, he was used to getting what he wanted. Jail is no diff erent.
Knee propped up, back pressed against the cement wall, he leans into the glass partition. There’s no chair on his side, and though a guard just announced over the loudspeaker to please refrain from sitting on the ledge, he’s sitting on it anyway. So he has no choice but to look down at me. It’s not a patronizing gesture, but one that brings to mind his unshakable pride, his famed largesse, his ability, even now, to salvage some of the grandeur to which he’d grown accustomed.
I ask about one of his other reputed traits, one that paints him in a less generous light—or, as a federal informant once put it, his street rep as “a vengeful killer who threatens people.” He kind of chuckles and takes pause, as if bemused by the question. “I’ll put it to you like this,” he says, leaning in closer, casual and friendly. “If trouble comes to me, then I’m going to deal with it.”
That kind of stuff — petty stuff , stuff that got blown out of proportion—used to happen all the time, he says. There’d be jealousy over girls, or people thinking their crew is better than his crew, and so forth. “Some guys make a fool of themselves,” he continues. “Then, before they know it, they look up and there’s a bunch of us. We just handle the problem the best way we know how.” Again, he claims, that’s only when people come asking for it. He’d prefer to keep things civil. “I’m more old-school, more family oriented,” he says. “I don’t believe in airing diff erences in public places.”
It’s a reasonable explanation, from a seemingly reasonable man. But it’s not hard to glimpse the darkness behind the facade. He off ers it up every now and then. It slips from behind that transformative smile, peeks around a pair of otherwise warm and engaging eyes. Those eyes narrow when I bring up a murder charge filed against one of his closest crew members. It’s the only violent allegation to hit his inner circle that ever made it to the trial calendar. “That’s ridiculous,” he says, though witnesses say otherwise. “I can’t see him doing something to somebody like that.” He blames the murder rap on an overzealous snitch—one who came forward only after he himself was in trouble, and who claimed to have witnessed the killing but did nothing to stop it. “What was he doing? Sitting there watching? It doesn’t add up.”
As for everything else—the two decades in the game, the fast cars and grinding music, the showering cash and fawning respect, the partying that would make Tony Montana blush—well, that made his current situation worth it. The bummer is that he was good at what he did—too good, he thinks, for things to have gone the way they went. It just didn’t seem like his time. If he’d been busted with a hundred keys or had sold to the DEA, that’d be one thing. That would somehow be more understandable. But that’s not what happened. What happened, he believes, was that he became far too fascinating to those who wanted to see him fail.
By the time the Bentleys were rolled out and the billboards went up and the rappers were invoking his name in top-ten hits, he was past the point of return. His only option was to do it big. And if doing it big meant putting on even more of a show for the feds, so be it. It was a matter of necessity. But what about before? Why go down that path in the first place? Why blow it up the way he did, when blowing it up meant blowing it all away? “If I was going to stick with the illegal stuff, I would have sat in and stayed out of sight,” he says. “But what can you do when you’re expected to go out, when everybody wants to see you?”
In any case, he didn’t really think he’d get caught. He didn’t think there was anything he could get caught for. Now he knows diff erent. Now he knows that no matter how careful he might have been, he overlooked one obvious fact: The very combination that fi rst made him a success—his ability to attract attention and his unwillingness to slow down— was destined to make him a failure. On both sides of the law, he became all but impossible to resist. People wanted to see him, and the government wanted to see him go down. “As bad as they wanted me,” he says, “there was no winning.”
So, in the end, he’s glad he did it the way he did, because at least he had some fun. At least he flexed a little muscle, bore a little infl uence. He claims to have boosted the careers of T.I. and Jeezy in Atlanta and Fabolous in New York, which means they all have him to thank. Not that he’s looking for validation, exactly. Just the recognition that back in the beginning, when no one else was paying much attention, he was the one who helped float them. He was the one who helped elevate some of the biggest names in hip-hop (which, at the time, meant some of the biggest names in music, period). He was the one who helped create the fantasy that they’re still living.
Viewed from his exile on the second floor of the St. Clair County Detention and Intervention Center, the past has grown even more distant than twenty-nine months in lockup would have you believe. “Man,” he says, breaking eye contact for a brief moment, as if he could still glimpse that evaporated dream, “I sure do miss it.”
Excerpted from BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family by Mara Shalhoup.
Copyright © 2010 by Mara Shalhoup.
Published in 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Mara Shalhoup is a decorated journalist and a senior editor with Creative Loafing, the preeminent alternative newsweekly serving the South. She started her writing career as a crime reporter at the Macon Telegraph, and has gone on to earn such honors as a Clarion Award, two nominations for a Livingston Award, and recognition from the Atlanta Press Club as the city’s Journalist of the Year. This is her first book. She lives with her husband in Atlanta.