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The Great Escape

The Gangster Disciples, who controlled the park, made a strong recruiting pitch, demonstrating how dealing drugs yielded quick money. Butler's uncles and a few cousins were already dealing, so he had no trouble getting started.

"We used to see the big dudes [drug dealers] come through, with their cars shining. We didn't have nothing," said West, who was known as Little Greg. "That's what drove us to it."

Butler made his first drug deal at age 11, pocketing $38. He would hide his gold watch and chains when he got home, and also had a newspaper route that served as a cover. Butler received newspapers at 3:30 each morning, delivered them and then hit the corner of 18th and Howe to sell crack before the sun rose.

"You can take a kid to school all day; he's in school for eight hours, he [doesn't] see the immediate impact," Butler said. "You can stay out [on the corner] for four, five hours and make $1,500."

During his freshman year at Racine Case High School, Butler gave his locker combination to a friend and allowed him to store drugs there. That same day, he noticed four police officers walking the halls. They entered Butler's classroom and arrested him. Along with the drugs, they discovered an unloaded .32-caliber pistol in the locker. Butler also was carrying $1,200 in cash.

Butler, West, Nellom, King and Strong were questioned by police. Had he been convicted of the gun charge alone, Butler would have served a lighter sentence, but he also claimed ownership of the drugs to protect one of his friends. West says now the drugs did not belong to Butler. "He took the case," West said.

Butler's family tried to persuade him to divulge who had put the drugs in his locker so he could avoid jail. "I couldn't see myself doing that," said Butler, who still refuses to provide the name. "I wasn't going to tell on anybody that I was rolling with, so I had to man up.

"I was hustling. I was doing what I was doing, so when I got caught up like that, I had to bite the bullet. When you're out there selling poison, it's going to come back. That's karma, man."

He spent the first two months of an 18-month sentence at the Racine Correctional Institution, an adult facility, before being transferred to the Ethan Allen School for Boys in Wales, Wis., a razor-wire-enclosed campus for youngsters convicted of murder, burglary and selling drugs.

When Butler was relocated to Ethan Allen, his mother followed the prison bus in the family station wagon, weeping for the entire 57-mile ride north. "He was with me ever since birth," Paden said. "To have your child taken away from you, it was devastating. I almost went crazy."

Butler cried as he saw his mother trailing. The family already was reeling from the conviction of his uncle, Carlos Butler, who had been sentenced to 10 months in prison for a gun charge a few months before.

Within his first month at Ethan Allen, Butler got into an altercation with a rival gang member from back home. Punished with 15 days in solitary confinement, he was forced to spend 23 hours a day in a 10-by-12, yellow brick cell, with a steel bed and a two-inch-thick mattress. His food was slid in through a small opening and he was granted an hour outside to clean himself.

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