Mattocks, 34 and a former drug dealer, squints in the sun, chin up, coolly watching a team of suburban high-schoolers trot their expensive fiberglass racing scull down the ramp at Thompson’s Boathouse.
Funny, they don’t look like brothers.
“You remember we was down here one day, and I laid my rod down with the hook in the water and zip, that thing was gone!” Mattocks says with a laugh, his eyes suddenly alight with a sweet memory from a sour childhood. He never made it to any high school, much less one that boasted a rowing team. Before he was kicked out of seventh grade, he used to skip lunch to sell crack cocaine on North Capitol Street.
“Oh, man,” says Prendergast, grasping Mattocks by the biceps. He speaks with quick touches and punching gestures. An athlete at fine high schools, Prendergast attended Georgetown University and went on to a career as a human rights advocate that would make him a companion of presidents and movie stars. But back then, when the rod and reel plunked into the river, “I’m sure I was just horrified I was going to have to buy some other [expletive] thing I had no money for.”
They don’t even look much like friends.
But Michael and J.P., denizens of two very different Washingtons, are at this favorite spot celebrating a relationship that has spanned 25 years and produced a harrowing record of violence, despair and, finally, redemption. After a chance meeting in a homeless shelter in 1984, an aimless 21-year-old activist and a homeless 7-year-old city kid effectively declared each other brothers for life. And then, life happened.
One would spend years, driven by a brutal family estrangement, living through a frantic, corrosive search for social justice that has stretched from the District to Darfur, leaving his psyche and a first marriage in tatters.
The other would find his footing in the mayhem of the crack epidemic that raged through urban Washington in the 1990s, becoming a dealer before he could drive and seeing multiple friends and family members dead on bloody sidewalks.
“I’ve been telling John for years that we ought to write a book,” says Mattocks, who finally renounced “the life” in 1999. He now lives in Gaithersburg with his wife and five sons and drives a shuttle bus between Shady Grove Metro and the King Farm development.
And now they have. Their twin memoir, “
,” written with help from magazine writer Dan Baum, is due out May 17.