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Sunday, February 17, 2008
Michael Lee on Caron Butler's Youth


Much has been written on All-Star Caron Butler's troubled youth dealing drugs and getting in trouble with the law. The Washington Post's Michael Lee has a fascinating new account, which includes the tale of a police officer who found drugs in Butler's garage -- whose they were remains unclear -- and could have had Butler locked up for a decade or so. But he opted not to arrest Butler, who seemed to have his life on a new and better path. 

Lee writes about a transformation born of incarceration:

One small window, sandwiched between steel bars, lit his room. Butler could peer out and see a basketball court.

"God puts stuff in front of you for a reason," he said. "That was my ticket out."

On the day he was released from Ethan Allen in August 1996, Butler, then 16, promised his mother that he'd never do anything to hurt her again. He also sought out his daughter, Camary, born less than a month after he was incarcerated. For Butler, who barely knows his father, it was another way to make amends.

"One of the main things I wanted to do was be the best father I could be because I didn't have a father," he said. "I know that void hurt me."

Butler's mother moved the family away from trouble, to a new home in midtown on Bluff Avenue. Eight days after Butler arrived there, he was getting a haircut on his porch when Andre King visited and asked him if he wanted to hang out at Hamilton Park. Butler, shackled by an ankle-monitoring device assigned to him after his release, told King that he couldn't leave the porch. Two hours later, Butler said, King was shot and killed.

"If I wasn't on the bracelet, I would've been right there with him," Butler said. "That stuff, it takes a fire out of you, makes you say, 'This is not for me no more.' " Less than two years later, James Barker Jr. also was murdered at Hamilton Park, shot twice in the chest. Butler remembers rushing from his home to find a bloodied Barker removing his jewelry and handing it to his weeping sister before being moved to an ambulance.

A job at Burger King was one of Butler's first steps toward a different life. His friends routinely heckled him for mopping floors and removing french fries from the piping hot grease. "They'd see me with heat bumps, laughing at me," said Butler, who now owns several Burger King franchises. "I said, 'I ain't got to watch my back out here.' I set the example."