Gold, Alison Leslie. “The Potato Eater: The raw true story of Padric, a gay hustler from the Bronx who spent 1941-1965 in and out of 20 prisons”, TMI Publishing, 2015.
A Life Without Roots
Padric McGarry was born in 1925 as a twin. His mother was just fifteen years old when she gave birth and when Padric was just seven-years-old, he was raped by an older boy. His life did not start off good. He was a good-looking kid and he quickly learned how to use those good looks and his quick wit. Early on he became a hustler and a thief. Most of Padric’s life has been spent in prison. He constantly looked for the love he did not receive at home and that together with having to spend his early life in poverty affected everything he tried to do.
It is important to remember what it was like in the 60s, 70s and even the 80s to those who loved members of the same sex. Padric had no one to emulate—no one to be a role model and he was basically on his own. That he was poor and had many traumas in his life, he gravitated to a life of crime and prostitution. But there is something about Padric that draws us in. Even though he did time in twenty prisons across the country and was not the kind of person I would bring home to meet the family, there is something about him that made me feel good when he did something right and caused me to feel bad about him when he did something wrong. The was the kind of boy that was easy to love even though he really had few, if any, redeeming characteristics. I suppose this is because author Alison Leslie Gold gives us such a compelling picture of Padric.
While in prison, Padric did his time in what was called the “Homo Blocks”. For may criminals going to prison is like going through a revolving door. While there, among other criminals, one does not learn to live a better life outside but how to be a better criminal. If there is one single failure of our prison system this is it—however, there are may more reasons why prison fail in rehabilitation. Looking for affection, Padric found it in those ‘homo blocks” where the older gays welcomed him into their lives.
“The Potato Eater” tells us what it is like to be gay and in prison and it is not a pretty story. Here is Padric who has lived in his life on the margins of society but did so because his home situation forced him to do so. He had no real roots anywhere; he had been deprived of love and a caring family and was basically forced to do what he had to do to stay alive. The author has written thus book based upon interviews with Padric in the 70s and from her notes and letters from him. He did eventually get out of prison and live in a halfway house where he died after two years of living a sober and clean life. We certainly cannot excuse him for his crimes but we can, by reading this, understand what brought him to the life he lived.
We read Padric’s statement on a transcribed tape and we are shocked at the extent of his crimes— the sexual corruption of others, pick pocketing, forgery, safe cracking, boosting. He tells us that Riker’s Island was his junior high school and Sing Sing and Leavenworth were his high schools. The chain gang was his college. Because he was gay and the department of corrections knew this, he did time in segregation, separated from the “real men”.
What I find absolutely fascinating is that we feel for Padric yet I am pretty sure that we would not go out to dinner with him if we had the chance. Because he was a repeat offender, Padric got no breaks regarding prison time. For stealing suitcases, for example, he got three years behind bars. Alison Gold has taken a sordid life and transformed it into a compelling read. Let me just say that when you decide to read this, clear the rest of the day because this is the kind of book that does not let you look away and it will stay with you long after you close the covers. The credit for this goes to the author who has a powerful story to tell and does so in a manner that keeps us reading. I am looking forward to reading more by Gold.