Chapter One
Meet the Parents
Howard Steven Pruett, aka "Sam," was born on Friday December 13, 1946 in Corpus Christi, Texas. His mother, Christine, wasn't due to give birth until April of 1947, but on that fateful day, a gas line at a nearby gas company exploded, sending earthquake like tremors throughout the city, knocking her off of the stool she was standing on while cleaning in the kitchen. She was rushed to the hospital where she prematurely gave birth to my father. They said he was so tiny that he could fit into a shoe box.
    In the early part of the twentieth century, Sam's family migrated from Oklahoma to Corpus Christi. His grandfather was a successful businessman, acquiring an oilfield equipment business, a trucking business, and various properties all over the Corpus Christi area. Sam's father, Dewey Sr., filed a lawsuit against his own father (reasons unknown) and was awarded a large portion of his assets. Sam entered a world that was financially secure, although he felt anything but safe growing up.
    Sam felt like a fish out of water as a child. His great grandmother, who was rumored to have been a "holier than thou" religious fanatic, referred to him as a demon child and his mother echoed such acrimony every time he did something she considered sin, which was quite often from all accounts. He has often told me that he has been cursed or "snakebit" his entire life. As if to prove this, he points out that each of his names has six letters in it, symbolizing the number of the beast in Christian mythology (Revelations 13:18). In addition, he said being born on Friday the 13th was a portent that he'd have the life he has had. Of course he said all of this facetiously, but I wonder if he once believed it?
    He certainly didn't dispel any notions his mother had about him with his behavior. When he was four years old he was out playing in their chicken coop, trying to catch baby chicks, when a rooster chased him away. Undeterred, he reentered the coop brandishing a hammer and began smashing the chicks' heads in as he caught them. His grandmother saw him doing this and yelled for him to stop, but he just looked at her and continued on until the rooster ran him out of there again. His mother snatched him up and beat him black and blue, reminding him that he was a sinner destined for hell. After his father returned home from work, he gave him more of the same, driving his head through their Sheetrock ceiling.

Dewey Sr. was a World War II veteran and a well respected businessman in his community. At home, however, he was a violent alcoholic prone to physically and mentally abusing his family, with a special interest in his youngest, Sam. When Sam was six years old, he had an old coon dog that came up missing. Sam figured that the dog ran away, leaving him alone with the crazies. A few days passed before a horrible stench began emanating from under their house. His father investigated and located where the dog had crawled under to die.
    Upon locating the source of the foul smell, Dewey Sr. hollered for Sam. "Sam, get your ass over here front and center."
    "Yes, sir?"
    "That dumb dog of yours done went off and got himself bit by a snake and died under my house. Take them clothes off and get your ass under there and get him out. Don't need you getting your clothes dirty and full of fleas, so get 'em off," he ordered.
    With tears in his eyes, Sam reluctantly started removing his clothes. Watching all of this, his older brother Leroy spoke up and said he'd do it, but their father was adamant that it would be Sam. Naked, Sam crept to the body of his dead dog, grabbed  it, then pulled it out. His father immediately yanked him up by the arm and carried him to their pool, then heaved him into the water with a laugh. "That'll wash the fleas off of you, boy!"

Sam was the youngest of five children. He had three brothers - Dewey Jr., Bill, and Leroy - and one sister, Lema. He felt closer to Lema than anyone. When someone would come down hard on him, she'd be there to console him and shower him with love. He thought that it was them against the world. When she married and moved away, he was devastated. In his mind she had abandoned him, and he fostered a deep resentment for her because of it. Later in life he forgave her, but he told me he was still upset at her until the day she died. He never stopped loving her.
    After Lema moved away, Sam began getting into serious trouble. He and a friend stole a truck when they were 10 years old. He stood on the seat steering, while his buddy pushed the gas and break pedals at his orders. The police brought him home to his mother and she told them to take him away because she couldn't control him any longer. He was sent to Reform School, a place he was in and out of until he turned 17, when he "graduated" (as he fondly recalls it) to the penitentiary.

Sam also enjoyed a rapport with Leroy. They weren't as close as he and Lema, but they got along well. He always spoke highly of Leroy, proudly saying that he was the only Pruett to ever finish high school. This inspired me for a time, I even told him that I'd follow in Leroy's footsteps and finish high school to make him proud.
    When Leroy was six years old he was outside playing under their car and fell asleep. His mother had errands to run and she climbed into the car without noticing him. As she pulled out of the driveway, she ran over his head. How it didn't bust is beyond me! They said he was alright at the hospital, but he complained of migraine headaches the rest of his life.
    Just after his 18th birthday, Leroy locked himself in the bathroom with a plastic bag and hose. They found him sitting on the toilet with the bag over his head and the hose inside of it running to the gas heater. His suicide note said that he just couldn't stand it anymore. Whether or not he was alluding to the migraine headaches or something else remains a mystery.
    At the funeral, Sam's mother stared at him with disgust, pointed her finger in his face, and ignorantly blamed him for Leroy's death. She said that Leroy killed himself because Sam couldn't stay out of trouble. Later, his father hugged him and assured him that it wasn't his fault, that his mother was just upset.
    I asked my father if there were other moments when his father expressed his affection. He replied, "When we was kids we'd go driving and us kids would be in the backseat, our folks up front. My brothers and me would get to playing, making a lot of noise, and the old man would say, 'Give me some face!' and they'd shove my face over the seat so he could slap the piss out of me." He said it was funny to him, that he laughed with everyone afterwards. There must've been something between my father and his father. Sam was the only one that cried at his funeral.

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My mother's past is shrouded in obscurity. With the exception of her mother, Allowee, I know little about her side of the family. As a small child, I recall meeting her siblings. We once visited her relatives in Alabama while passing through, but I have little recollection of them. I've attempted to pluck information and anecdotes from her about her past and family history, but I was mostly unsuccessful. My father said her family shunned her when she married him, that they were all "squares" and didn't want anything to do with our kind. Nevertheless, I've managed to gather some information from her.
    Marcia Gail Manstein was born on October 9,1950 in Houston, Texas. Her father, Jimmy, was an alcoholic who physically abused his wife until she couldn't take it any longer and divorced him six months after my mother's birth. As a result, my mom didn't meet her father until she was 12 years old.
    Marcia's mother worked various jobs in order to provide for her and her older sister, Linda. She married a man named Frenchie when my mom was a toddler and he eased her burden with his help. They separated when my mom was eight years old.
    George Kelly entered their world when my mother was nine years old. Her mother married him and moved into his home with her two girls. She still worked odd jobs, but it really wasn't necessary because George had plenty of money from his own endeavors. According to my mother, George was a good man who took care of them. She only encountered trouble with him once when he whipped her with a razor strap. Her mother found out about it, told him that he had better not ever touch her kids again, and that was that.
    George and Allowee had two children together, Lloyd and Marie. My mother said George loved her and Linda, but it was apparent to them that they weren't his children. According to my mother, he gave Lloyd and Marie anything they wanted while she and Linda had to work for what they wanted.
    From all accounts, Marcia was a good kid who rarely got into trouble. I asked her to tell me the worst thing she ever did as a kid. She said that she took one of her mother's rings to school and sold it to another girl for a bag of potato chips. Her mother
found out about it, retrieved the ring, then grounded her.

*****     *****     *****

Before I resume my narrative, a brief excursus on mental function and heredity is required. To say that every infant's mind is a tabula rasa at birth, completely malleable by the environment, without any significant innate programming, is ludicrous. Yes, the environment plays an enormous role in shaping and forming our personalities, but there are other factors that must be considered.
    Think about it for a second. Reflect back to elementary school and consider the kids in your 1st or 2nd grade class. Remember how some kids were fast learners, others slow, and the majority somewhere in the middle? Or how about your own siblings? You grew up in the same household with them. Are you the same? Are you of equal intelligence? Parents with more than one child detect differences in their children from a very early age. Some are introverts, others are extraverts; some excel in math, it's impossible to comprehend to others; some are mechanically inclined, while others need help changing a light bulb. We all have different capacities and we can't all become astrophysicists.
    With the exception of the politically motivated, the scientific community acknowledges a genetic link to mental capacity. Empirical studies by behavioral scientists such as Robert Plomin (DNA markers associated with high versus low IQ: The quantitative trait loci project. Behavior Genetics, 241,107-118), J. Daniels (Molecular genetic studies of cognitive ability, Human Biology), and Thomas Bouchard (his famous twin study at the University of Minnesota) demonstrate this incontrovertibly.
    That mental capacity has a genetic link is apparent in my family. I would surmise that there's some sort of genetic anomaly on the XX chromosomes on the maternal side, that progressively reduces mental capacity with each generation. My grandmother and mother both exhibited difficulty processing information and both had memory problems. For years I attributed this characteristic in my mother to years of drug abuse, but my father says that she often lost her paycheck when he first met her and encountered the same mental challenges back then, before she started getting high. My sister was determined mentally retarded by HISD and qualified to receive a government check (SSI). Her youngest girl (I haven't been around her first three children since they were babies, I have no comment on them) possesses a similar mental capacity and she, too, receives a monthly SSI check and attends special education classes. Undoubtedly, heredity has effected the mental capacity on the maternal side of my family.
    The above wasn't intended to offend or belittle anyone. It's difficult for me to write such things because I love my family very much, but I think it's essential to the story.

*****      *****     ******

Sam was sent to prison in Texas at age 17 for escaping from Reform School and stealing a car. He was released a couple of years later and decided to head out to California to stay with his brother Bill, who was stationed at Edward's Air Force base. While there, Bill advised him to see an Army recruiter he knew about joining the service. He met with the recruiter who informed him that he couldn't formally join the Army because he had been to prison, but he could get him drafted if he passed a physical. He passed it and was drafted. Two weeks later he was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana for basic training.
    While Sam was undergoing basic training, his mother and her new husband, Burt Johnson, moved from Corpus Christi to Houston. Upon completion of basic training, Sam traveled to Houston "on leave" to visit them.
    Around this same time Marcia was 16 years old, in the 10th grade, and working at a fast food restaurant. Sam went in to eat one day, struck up a conversation with her, and eventually built up the nerve to ask her out on a date. Both tell me that they fell in love with each other at first sight and knew that they would always want to be with each other. Her step-father, George, told her that Sam was too old (he was 20), that a soldier was only after one thing, and he forbade her from seeing him. It all went in one ear and out of the other.
    Sam's leave was up shortly after he met my mother. He received orders to report to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for Advanced Artillery Training. Before he left, he told Marcia that he'd be back before she knew it and he promised to call her. She promised to wait for him.
    The day he called, she picked up the phone crying. Alarmed, he asked her if she was okay. She said her mother had beaten her up and that she was tired of living at home. He told her to gather some clothes and personal belongings and he'd meet her at a rendezvous. He went AWOL (Absent With Out Leave).
    After he picked her up, they drove to his sister's house. Sam asked Lema if it was cool for them to stay until they got on their feet and she said it was okay. A couple of weeks later, they were married at the VA hospital in Houston by a retired Army Chaplain.
    About a year later Sam was apprehended. They sent him to a stockade at Fort Hood, Texas to await court-martial. Before he could be court-martialed, his father died and the commanding officer allowed him to go to the funeral.
    He received orders to report back to Fort Hood after his father's funeral. They reprimanded him for going AWOL, then stationed him at Fort Hood. A month later, he was granted a leave to drive to Houston and move my mother into a trailer just off of the base.
    Marcia became pregnant several months later. Dad said she was so small back then that she couldn't carry the baby and had a miscarriage. I've asked them if drugs had anything to do with her losing the baby? My father said they weren't getting high back then, while my mother said she has been getting high since she was seventeen. Both agree that not long after the miscarriage, they were getting high daily.
    Several weeks after Marcia lost the baby, Sam decided to go AWOL again. He said he was depressed about the miscarriage and his father's death; additionally, he wasn't making enough money in the Army to support Marcia and himself, and that was stressing him out. As a result, they loaded up their stuff and drove off into the night.
    A year passed before they caught him again. Once again, he was returned to the stockade at Fort Hood. This time he was afraid that they'd execute him because he went AWOL during the Vietnam war, and, back then, going AWOL during wartime was a capital offense. The military was sympathetic with Sam's plight; they gave him an Honorable Discharge and told him to leave.

As was the case most of their lives, Sam and Marcia were dirt poor in the late 1960's. Both were uneducated (Marcia dropped out of school in the 10th grade; Sam refused to go to school while in Reform School, the highest grade he completed was the 5th) and had to survive on minimum wage. Sam's cousins inherited all of his father's assets and money, and neither of their parents wanted to help them, so they struggled to make ends meet. Life became even more complicated in 1969 when Marcia got pregnant again.
    On November 22, 1969, my mother gave birth to Howard Jr. and everyone called him Steven. Feeling the added pressure to provide for his family, Sam resorted to his old ways: stealing and robbing. When he was arrested and sentenced to prison for burglary in March of 1970, my mother was left alone to take care of Steven.
    Every time Sam went to prison, Marcia endured his absence, did what was necessary to survive, then took him back when he was released. She did see other men while he was inside, but her heart remained with him. He understood. Never once did he say a word about the men she was with while he was in prison. Not in my presence, anyway.
    In the latter part of 1971, while Sam was in prison, Marcia met a man named Cecil Barber at work. He moved in with her and pitched in to help take care of Steven, but he jumped ship as soon as she became pregnant.
    Tammie Ann was born on August 26, 1972. Working odd jobs and receiving a little help from her mother, Marcia held the fort down until Sam was freed in late 1972.
    Both of my parents admit that they were using a lot of drugs during this period. My dad said they smoked marijuana and he'd inject anything he could break down into a syringe. Consequently, the details surrounding this era are vague, although I have been able to ascertain some facts.
    After Sam was released in 1972, he moved my mother and siblings close to Lema and her family, which had rapidly grown. She had 8 children with Wayne Mclain (the same man she married and moved off with when Sam was a boy), 4 boys and 4 girls, before they separated in the early 1970's. When Sam moved his family next to her in 1972, she was passing hot checks to support her family. He teamed up with her until he went back to prison in June of 1974 for burglary. Afterwards, my mother partnered up with Lema, passing hot checks to keep groceries in the house and clothes on the kids’ backs, until they were arrested in late 1974 and sent to prison.
    Steven and Tammie were forced to stay with grandma Kelly, while Lema's children were sent to foster homes all over the place. My mother spent a year in TDC and then lived with her mother until she could get back on her feet. She then moved to the east side of Houston with a man named Mitch.
    Sam was released from prison in 1977. Upon hearing that Lema was living in Corpus Christi, he loaded his family up and headed her way. He found a good job working in a pipe yard where he made enough money for him and his family to live comfortably. From all accounts, life was great for my family during this period.

*****       ******       ******

The following story is one that I've attempted to tell numerous times, but I've butchered it badly each time, so I've decided that the best way to tell it is to transcribe it straight from the source. This account was extracted verbatim from a letter my father sent to me dated March 11, 2003:
    "Okay, we were living in Corpus, had moved down there in the same trailer park with Lema and her bunch. Steven was 7 or 8, Tammie 5 or 6. Ronnie (Lema's son) was locked up in the juvenile shelter, and me and Lema went to his trial. I seen an opening for him to leave and he ran out the front door, me and Lema picked him up down the street. He was sent to Florida, Ft. Myers Beach, to stay with his daddy.
    "Tommy Lynn showed up in this Camero and we decided to go to Houston, get a place to live, come back for your mom, brother and sister, but instead when we got to Houston, we began robbing 7-11s and Stop-n-Gos. We then took off for Florida, found Ronnie and hung out down there for awhile. Our intentions were to go back to Texas to get your mom and them, but while we were sitting at a bus station to come back, Ronnie took a walk and showed up with a brand new Jeep.
    "So we took off, and that's when we started our robbery spree across the USA. Chris and Nancy (Lema's children) were both married and living in Tennessee, so we went thru there. Ronnie and Tommy robbed James Allen's (Nancy's husband) dad's house while I was eating at Nancy' s. James' dad came over saying a neighbor saw Ronnie and Tommy around his place, so I told him if they robbed his house and show up here, I'll make sure to get the stuff back for you. He said, 'it's too late, I already called the police.' So I said fuck it, ran out the door, jumped in the jeep as soon as they showed up, and we took off. Do you know the police stopped us on the way out of that town and asked if we been breaking into houses? We said no, we just moved from Florida, just passing thru. He looked in the jeep, saw all the stolen shit, then told us we could go! I laughed so hard it hurt.
    "Then I decided from there, let's go to Missouri where Bill lived in Kansas City. We couldn't find his place so we just pulled into a taco stand and robbed it, then headed west. Should have headed south, but didn't, we drove from there to Denver. I was amazed at the mountains and we spent a couple of days there. Next we went to Vegas and robbed a couple places, then headed to Los Angeles. We got a motel there, Ronnie goes for a walk, comes back out of breath. He done jacked a drag queen and a whole bunch of his friends were runnin’ after him! We jumped in the jeep and burnt off!
    "We were on our way to Phoenix, really headed back to Texas for your mom, but the jeep broke down 30 miles from Phoenix. We hitched a ride into Phoenix and Ronnie stole us a car, we decided let's go back to Cali, but this time to San Diego, get a place there, then go get your mom and them. Well we pulled in at a roadside park about 10 o'clock at night, I'm asleep in the back seat and Ronnie decides to rob these old women. Well we burn off and headed to Yuma, Arz, almost to the state line, when they stopped us, police behind us and in front of us. They all jumped out and throwed down on us with their pistols and shotguns, locked us up."

Tommy and Ronnie received prison sentences in Arizona for robberies in that state while my father was extradited to Missouri where they convicted him of a robbery and gave him a 10 year sentence in June of 1979.
    What my father failed to mention in his letter was that he left my mother in Corpus Christi while she was pregnant. He and Tommy told her that they were going to play a few games of pool, that they'd be back later that night. She didn't see him again for seven years.