At one point it got to be too much. Michael borrowed a nickel-plated .38, fully loaded with hollow-points, and put it to his temple. Click. It misfired; he passed out. When he woke up, he got back to business.
“I never told J.P. about that,” he writes. “I never told anybody about it until right now.”
What finally turned him were the kids. His girlfriend, Nikki Jackson, had one baby when they got together and soon they had two more together, all boys. When he looked into those tiny eyes, all the stress and death and uncertainty began to overwhelm him. Suddenly, he really didn’t want to wind up in a cell or a coffin.
He just stopped. It was over. They lived for months on the cash he kept jammed into a metal trash can in their Silver Spring house. When it finally ran out, he didn’t have a clue what to do next, how to make an honest living. He called his big brother.
At first it was hard to make Prendergast believe how deeply Michael had been in the drug world, so entrenched was the denial of a teetotaling peace activist who had never even tried marijuana. But he dove in again, giving the young family money, helping Michael find work in the cafeteria at Washington Hospital Center.
At first Michael hated a weekly paycheck that added up to less than he made in 10 minutes on the street. But Nikki pressed him to keep on. He grew to take pride in regular work and stayed 11 years at the hospital before getting his commercial driver’s license.
They were married in 2001 and now have five sons. The kids are good students, do sports and theater (Little Mike was a Munchkin in “The Wiz” last year), and Michael and Nikki always show up to cheer. He thinks constantly about making things different from his own youth, the shelters, the Hefty bags, the guns.
“I tell my boys I love them every day,” he says. “I know they are the reason God kept me alive.”
Prendergast has also been exorcising the ghosts of youth. A few years ago, his father died, not long after they had enjoyed a tentative reconciliation. Soon he found himself battling a major depression, the long-delayed impact of childhood trauma and a career enmeshed in endless suffering and frequent danger.
He found redemption in three places: a deepening spirituality, the love of the civil rights lawyer he will marry next month and
. . .
Michael. His brother-turned-drug-dealer-turned-model-dad has taught him a lot about selflessness, he says.
“Through his strength, his heart and his success as a father, he is illuminating a path that I have rejected for years but that I am now thinking about walking myself,” Prendergast writes.
These days, it’s a healthier peace activist who continues his work in the war zones and a happier former drug dealer who lives safe and peaceful in the suburbs.
But they are together now, braced to have their secrets bared to a world that knows little of their darker sides. They stand on their old riverbank, thinking of all the water that has flowed by since two unlikely brothers cast their lots together at a more innocent age.
“We have been through a lot together, haven’t we?” says the one.
“Yes, we have, brother,” says the other. “Yes, we have.”