There is no appeasing some people. Generally, the reactions and comments for my book reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. However, one negative one stuck in my craw the other night, one in which the commenter asked why I was reviewing a seven year old book, Sigh, Gotta love them trolls. Plus, it gave me some valuable ammunition. I was starting to get a little weary of these reviews, the process of reading and digesting the contents of the book and then trying to put forth a (sort of) objective appraisal of it. Some of these books are truly awful, with little to no redeeming qualities to them. Trust me, you will be reading about some of the bad ones soon, if my library queue is correct. But, occasionally, you come across one that you are expecting absolute bubkiss from, one that seems to be one of those no redeeming value books. Then you read it, and are absolutely refreshed. Booker T. Huffman’s book is one of those rare gems.
I picked up this book about a month ago. Let me rephrase that…I acquired it through my local library about a month ago. The title I read was “From Prison to Promise,” so I was expecting a book heavy on not only Booker’s backstory, but his wrestling career. Then I physically had the book in my hands after a two week waiting period. One of the first things I do when acquiring a book is to see how many pages there are. This one clocked in at 211. Huh. That seemed kind of short for a man who has enjoyed a long, wildly successful career. Then I turned back to the cover, where the truth was revealed in the title itself: “From Prison to Promise: Life BEFORE the Squared Circle.” I was none too enthused when I saw this. I thought I had read every conceivable wrestler’s life story before they entered the ring, and it always was a couple of pages or paragraphs that revealed, simultaneously, everything and nothing. Rare exceptions were there, like Jericho’s first book or Foley’s first book. I was not optimistic about ole’ Booker’s chances. Boy, was I wrong.
Booker Huffman may have the most unique backstory for a wrestler who has had a modicum of success. While this book is light on the wrestling, it is heavy, HEAVY into telling the story of a man who should not even be living, never mind succeeding. The man should have been a street statistic, not a HHH WrestleMania statistic. (Sorry, had to go there)
Booker was born in 1965 in Louisiana to a stable two parent house. That lasted ten months, as the elder Booker Huffman dropped dead at age 59. Off and running, are we not? Booker’s mother, desperate for work to support eight children, decided to relocate the family to Houston Texas in hopes of finding gainful employment. They settled into a small house in the South Park (no, not that one) area of town. Booker was never a stellar student in schools, being that as he grew older, he had no positive male role model. His mother dated, but almost all of her suitors ended up as wackjobs or losers.
At a young age, Booker became attached to his older brother Lane Huffman, who you may be familiar with. Think Slap Jack, sucka. Anyway, looking for any older male role model he could find, Booker adored his older brother and tried to tag alone with him and the older friends, much to their consternation. It all ended up in a situation where Lane and his friends captured a stray cat in a plastic bag, then tossed the cat off an overpass on to a freeway, where it was promptly run over by an 18 wheeler. Dark stuff, no? It only gets darker.
Booker and his family were living, to a degree, in peace and harmony with mom dukes providing all the support a young King Booker needed. Then, shortly after he turned 13, his mother had a freak fall from the family attic. She recovered initially, but began having nagging symptoms from the fall, including numbing of the leg. Turns out she had remaining fluid in her spine, and needed a quick fix surgery to remedy it. Now, I have long made a joke about surgeries, especially pertaining to sports. You always see on, for instance, ESPN’s bottom line that so and so had undergone successful surgery. When do you ever see UN successful surgery? Well, here is such a case. Booker’s mom’s surgery went about as unsuccessful as a procedure could, as she lapsed into a coma and died shortly there after.
This is where the book just starts to warm up. Booker and his young sister were the only two siblings who still needed raising. Everyone else was over 18 and doing their own thing. An Aunt in Louisiana wanted to help raze Booker and his sister, but Booker’s siblings disagreed, wanting to keep the family united, and they held custody. What resulted was Booker and his sister not going to a loving, nurturing home. Anything but. Instead of his siblings giving a damn, they quickly gave up on the two. Booker and his sister lived in the abandoned house where his mother had, more or less, met her untimely death, without any support from anyone. It is truly harrowing stuff to read. No child should be forced to undertake what Booker and his young sister had to endure. Eventually, some stuff got remedied (for lack of a more fluid way of putting it) and Booker and his sister found better places to live. It is still just an unbelievable reading experience as the facts are presented, and that alone makes the book well worth its salt.
While Booker’s young sister continued her education in High School, Booker became jaded. It did not help that the two older sister’s he stayed with were nothing but hustlers, prostitutes and lived with drug dealers and pimps. It was a true street education, and Booker was experiencing Trial by Fire. It should come as no surprise that young Booker T. Huffman soon began running the streets.
Booker was not exactly a “Street God” by any stretch of the imagination. He was a small time weed dealer, big time pot smoker. He never pimped, although he was exposed to that cultural sub genre through his sister’s “boyfriends.” He dropped out of high school after a series of fracases with other students. In short, Booker T was well on his way to being just another street statistic.
And then the madness truly ensued.
Booker, in his heart, is not a malignant man. He had always had a good moral compass. Unfortunately, even the best of moral compasses can become skewed. In young Booker’s case, it came with damning consequences. Booker was working at a local Wendy’s to earn some pocket cash. His essential indifference with the job eventually found him fired after missing a day of work to smoke pot. Booker started hanging with a shady selection of people, and this group conspired to rob his old Wendy’s one night. The plan was a success in practice, and this group went around terrorizing local Houston Wendy’s, as they robbed nearly a dozen. However, with a $5,000 dollar reward for their arrests, a girlfriend of one of Booker’s cohorts turned them in to the local authorities, and Booker found himself behind bars.
Prison was probably the best thing that could have happened to young Booker T. Huffman.
Booker was a pretty big guy at this point, 6’2″, 195 pounds. He sashayed his way through his first few months of a five year bid. He worked laundry. Eventually, that routine became tired, so he decided to get his GED and also compete with the weightlifting team. Booker took to it like a duck to water, anchoring the prison lifting team. He had no big problems in prison, due to his imposing size and demeanor. His descriptions of prison life are colorful and candid, especially to those of us who have experienced the nightmare, and, again, those descriptions alone make the book totally worthwhile.
Booker also relates his indiscretions with women, including siring a child with a woman he had no plans to settle down with or marry. Unfortunately, that woman succumbed to the pressures of the street and the drugs they supply lost souls. While locked up, Booker was informed that his son was about to go through child protective services, as the mother had given up. Book makes no qualms about being a vacant father once his child was born, but prison changed the man. He did not want his son to experience the absentee parenting that had led him down the road that led Booker to Pack 2 (Prison.). Armed with newly found strength, forged from iron and mind, Booker was released on parole after 19 months, and made it a point to walk the straight and narrow. He initially was staying with his sister and her Rastafarian weed dealing boyfriend. Booker wanted out of the street game, but he had a son he desperately wanted to raise. He stole some weed from the Rastafarian, made as much lucre as he could on the streets, and deposited it into a bank account so the people at Child Protective Services could see the man was on steady ground to support is son. Shady? Yes. Admirable? Fuckin A right. Booker soon gained custody of his son, Brandon, and was also dutifully employed in multiple jobs, most notably as a security guard and a storage facility clerk. Both jobs were made possible by his older brother, Lash.
Lash ended up being the man most influential for 25 year old Booker T Huffman. There is actually a quick, funny aside in the book. Booker was doing EVERYTHING in his power to lead a clean life, and brother Lash was helping. However, Lash and his friend, Tony “Ahmed Johnson” Norris were also kind of bounty hunters hired out by the Houston cops. I won’t relay it here, but the whole scenario almost landed poor Booker back in prison.
Then, one day, Lash came to Booker and said “Let’s be rasslers!” They had both watched the mat wars growing up, and both certainly had a look. Funds were raised and they ended up training with “Polish Power” Ivan Putski, a former WWWF legend. Only problem was, Putski was a shit trainer. He facilitated a great training …um…facility, but was totally hands off. Scott Casey basically ran the camp. Booker and Stevie survived the camp, and were soon wrestling on the Houston independent scene. Putski is portrayed as a total cum dumpster here, just a wicked asshole. His promotion folded, and Booker and the newly christened Stevie Ray were on their own. They quickly landed with Joe Pedecino’s Global Wrestling, and were made into a tag team: The Ebony Experience. Friends, this was when I was totally wrestling mad, and still a total mark. But on the GWF shows on ESPN, I used to remark that the Ebony Experience was the future of pro wrestling. I was half right. The book ends (see what I did there?) with Lash getting a call from Sid Vicious. Sid was trying to make an impact with the WCW brass, and wanted to hire Lash and Booker. Imagine that. Sid Vicious: Booking genius. Sid got the soon to be named Harlem Heat the job, and then…then…
Is where the book ends. I have to say, Booker’s book has got to be in my top ten wrestling books of all time. It is refreshing and different, and offers very little in the ways of the squared circle. Whatever. His journey is truly one of a kind, and this book is one of a kind. I could not recommend a book more than this one. It is a quick, really easy read, but with a compelling story. Trust me, this book is well worth the few hours it takes to read it. And congratulations to Booker T for his WWE Hall of Fame induction. Never has an individual so deserved it. SUCKAAAAAA!