Boxer Larry Pringle has been waiting patiently for nine years for the day he can climb out of the ring and not still feel as if he is caged up. He longs to able to take a quick shower, slip into his car, drive to the local pizza joint and stay out as late as he pleases, maybe even all night.
But for now, Pringle, 27, must settle for a chauffeured ride back to Lorton Reformatory, a prison in suburban Virginia, where he is an inmate with a dream of being the lightweight champion of the world.
Not quite the way "The Golden Man" had envisioned things when he was an aspiring boxer running "wild and loose" in the streets of Southeast Washington at age 9. Now what he calls home is a dormitory room in the medium-security section, decorated with pictures of famous boxers. His training area is shared by dozens of basketball players, who frequently call him "champ."
All because one day back in August 1975, Pringle "made a large withdrawal from a bank in which I had no account," as he puts it. As the getaway driver, he was sentenced a year later to 15 to 53 years in prison on charges of armed robbery, assault with a dangerous weapon and grand larceny.
"I was going through the adolescent stage when you make the transition to the adult stage," said Pringle, who is unbeaten in four professional fights. "I had a son on the way and I had to finish school. I was in my own group of guys who were doing things I didn't have to do but I was caught up. I liked life in the fast lane."
Before his imprisonment, Pringle had earned AAU Golden Gloves honors with an 80-0-1 amateur record. But prison hasn't dashed his dreams, it only has made him work harder. And boxing is the escape he has needed.
"Boxing has had a great part in helping me," said Pringle. "It shows you how to be patient; you can't learn things overnight. Most guys don't have an outlet, like running track or exercising or going to school."
Pringle trained consistently by running and boxing in his spare time and he ran his amateur record to 95-0-1 by the end of 1982. Two years later, officials at Lorton allowed Pringle to leave the prison for a few hours to fight his first professional bout at the Washington Convention Center.
"We wouldn't let him go out and fight if we didn't think it was good for his program," said William Hedrick, assistant administrator for Lorton's Central Facility. "He's done a lot of things. He's not the typical Lorton inmate."
"I was nervous about the mixture of the crowd," said Pringle, who earned a unanimous four-round decision over Stanley Bryant in his debut June 2, 1984. "The females, the males, different creeds, the professionals that would be there. And reporters getting on you because you are a prisoner. It was mentally harder than physically.
"The people at the ring were looking for the ball and chain. In the weigh-in, they asked to bring in the Lorton guy. I came in looking gentle, manly, clean-cut and well-spoken. They were looking for a stereotype guy, dirty-looking 400-pounder who had just broken out of the cage."
Now, Pringle stands in the Lorton gymnasium, patiently posing for photographs with his golden robe wrapped around his sleek body. The expression on his smooth, soft face changes from serious to smiling and back again. He has a look of contentment and fulfillment.
"There's nothing here for me to grow with anymore," said Pringle, a muscular 5 feet 7 and 132 pounds. "It's time to move on. I'm like a bird who has to leave the nest. I have no worries about leaving here, but I'll have to be patient. It's like in boxing. You don't learn to fight and become a champion overnight. You have to be patient."
At Lorton, Pringle has earned a bachelor's degree in urban studies, an associate's degree in health, education and recreation and a degree in dental technology from the University of the District of Columbia. He works at Lorton's dental lab and polices the main gate at the medium-security section as well as performing dozens of volunteer services.
"There are people on the outside that haven't achieved half of what I have achieved in prison," Pringle says as he flips through a bounded file of personal references and lists of volunteer work he has done. "You just can't lock the mind up when you are in prison."
"He's gotten a lot of support here," Adrienne Poteat, a correctional treatment specialist at Lorton, said. "A lot of people are pleased and proud of him and he's setting an example for others here."
"I'm very special," says Pringle, who was raised as a Baptist but became a Muslim seven years ago and who, like Muhammad Ali, is a member of the American Muslim Movement.
"No one else has left the prison to go out and fight. And earn money. And the more I fight, the less people will see me as a prisoner and the more they'll see me like a regular guy in the community."
With that, Hedrick turns to Pringle and says with a smile, "I just want to have a picture of you lying flat on the canvas." He then turns away and says, "One problem with prisons is that we rarely see the success stories. Someday, I hope we hear good things about Larry Pringle. But mostly, we see the failures. They come right back."
Pringle is seeking to have his sentence reduced. The D.C. Parole Board has supported his request and now the sentencing judge must make the final decision. He could be freed by the end of this year, at which point the unmarried Pringle can again join his son, 10-year-old Larry Jr.
"Going to prison was a blessing in disguise," Pringle said. "It settled me down but it could have been a different alternative like halfway houses, restitution. What it did for me as a blessing in disguise wouldn't have worked for someone else. Getting knocked in the head for one guy works differently than for another.
"The problem isn't dealing with the stigma. At the time I came here, I was young. But I've grown up in prison. The key is that I don't hold any hostility to anyone. I've been in prison working consistently."