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The Rat That Got Away

A Bronx Memoir

Mark Naison

Publication Year: 2009

The Rat That Got Away is an inspiring story of one man's odyssey from the streets of the Bronx to a life as a professional athlete and banker in Europe, but it is also provides a unique vantage point on the history of the Bronx and sheds new light on a neglected period in American urban history. Allen Jones grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx at a time-the 1950s-when that neighborhood was a place of optimism and hope for upwardly mobile Black and Latino families. Brought up in a two-parent household, with many neighborhood mentors, Jones led an almost charmed life as a budding basketball star until his teen years, when his once peaceful neighborhood was torn by job losses, white flight, and a crippling drug epidemic. Drawn into the heroin trade, first as a user, then as a dealer, Jones spent four months on Rikers Island, where he experienced a crisis of conscience and a determination to turn his life around. Sent to a New England prep school upon his release, Jones used his basketball skills and street smartsto forge a life outside the Bronx, first as a college athlete in the South, then as a professional basketball player, radio personality, and banker in Europe. A brilliant storyteller with a gift for dialogue, Jones brings Bronx streets and housing projects to life as places of possibility as well as tragedy, where racism and economic hardship never completely suppressed the resilient spirit of its residents. A book that will change the way people view the South Bronx.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

Before I begin my story, I would like to offer a few words about how I came to write this book. When I passed my 50th birthday, I found myself trying to understand how I had ended up in a safe and secure job 4,000 miles from where I’d grown up. I was doing...

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pp. xi-xvi

The Rat That Got Away is the story of an extraordinary person who has lived an even more extraordinary life. Allen Jones grew up in the Lester Patterson Houses in the Bronx in the 1950s. Brought up in an intact, loving family and encouraged in his basketball career...

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1. Bronx Beginnings

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pp. 1-5

To tell this story right, I have to go back to the very beginning, back to my earliest memory. The year is 1955. I am 5 years old, and I’ve just awakened alone in my bed by the window. The morning light is drifting in, and I shiver a...

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2. Oil and Water: An Unlikely Marriage

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pp. 6-10

When I try to trace the strange and unexpected paths my life has taken, I find myself going back to my parents. They are not with me now in body, but they remain with me in spirit, guiding me in all the mysterious ways that parents do as the Lord...

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3. Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child: Family

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pp. 11-14

When I was growing up in the Patterson Houses, what today would be called child abuse was the almost universally practiced form of discipline among families in the Projects. Any child who was out of line could be smacked upside the head or kicked in the pants...

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4. The Love of God and the Lure of the Streets

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pp. 15-18

When you have a mother and father as different from each other as mine were, it’s not going to be easy figuring out who you are. For most of my life, I’ve been torn between God and the streets, feeling at one and the same time the pull...

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5. The South Bronx by Day and Night

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pp. 19-24

To understand how those streets claimed me, you have to understand the neighborhood I grew up in. The South Bronx, as it is known today, was not always called the South Bronx. That name, along with the stigma it carried, came after the riots...

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6. Lost and Found: Welcome to the ’60s

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pp. 25-30

When you lose your innocence, it rarely happens all at once. For me it was a very gradual process, triggered by events and circumstances I saw around me, as well as by contradictions in my personality. Just as my father’s story was typical...

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7. The Rules of the Game

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pp. 31-36

From here on out, dear reader, we are entering rough territory, both in word and in deed. The streets of the Bronx and Harlem in the early 1960s weren’t polite and were as risky as they were attractive to boys like me. What went on in the street...

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8. The Lessons of Sex

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pp. 37-43

The summer of 1963, just before I turned 13, marked the beginning of my double life. On the face of it, I had everything going for me: a strong family, athletic talent, and a neighborhood with plenty of youth programs and mentors...

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9. Gains and Losses

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pp. 44-48

Even as I was enjoying this new life that I’d never imagined, I was on the wrong road and going nowhere fast. My heart was down, my head had been turned around, and I’d lost the best friend I ever had. I felt I had turned...

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10. 1963 and Me

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pp. 49-52

Nineteen sixty-three has become a permanent part of the memory of every American who is old enough to remember the events of that year. Anyone who is wise to history knows that certain events took place then that changed us, as a nation...

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11. What Women Want

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pp. 53-56

Of all the forces that influenced the formation of my life, none was more powerful than family. I was blessed to have several strong role models in my own household and extended family, and one person whose example shaped my young mind...

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12. The Summer of Unrest: 1964

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pp. 57-62

The summer of 1964 was a not a safe or a peaceful one. To say that the situation was getting deep would be an understatement. In all the big cities of America, black people were taking to the streets. We watched the television...

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13. The Streets Are Alive: Summer of ’65

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pp. 63-69

The summer of 1964 was a significant one for the nation and for black Americans as we set our course for the future, but the summer of 1965 was a significant one for me in leading me further from the protected world of childhood...

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14. Hustle and Heart, on and off Court

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pp. 70-73

With the summer of 1965 behind me, I began my last year at Clark Junior High in an optimistic mood. Life was still good for me in school, even though I was slowly losing control of my personal life. I was in the band and orchestra...

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15. Becoming a Subject to the Bitch Queen Heroin

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pp. 74-78

William Howard Taft High School was the beginning of the end of life as I had known it. When I entered the school in the fall of 1966, I had rarely ventured outside my neighborhood except to play basketball or to go on a field trip...

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16. Welcome to Hell

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pp. 79-82

"James, where the fuck have you taken me?’’ I asked out loud as we walked into a room so foul and filthy I could not believe what my eyes, ears, and nose were telling me. The room smelled as though a hundred people had vomited and then pissed...

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17. Shifting Loyalties

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pp. 83-87

Like many young black men growing up during that time, I was pulled in different directions. My life at home stayed steady and relatively calm. I would do what I had to do to help my mother take care of my little brother...

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18. The Road to The Tombs

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pp. 88-97

In September 1968, I walked for the first time through the doors of Morris High School, the school that I had enrolled in after I failed out of Taft. I had finished my second year at Taft High School the same way I finished my first...

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19. Do the Crime, Do the Time

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pp. 98-105

There are plenty of stories, in prose and in rhyme, that tell of a life of crime. They talk about dealing and paying the price. But the story that follows is all mine. The night I spent in The Tombs was the longest of my life. I was locked inside...

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20. Judgment Day

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pp. 106-113

Slowly but surely, I was getting acclimated to life on Rikers Island. Once again, as on the streets, basketball was my path to acceptance. After my first ball game, I realized that I could take anything they would throw at me on the court...

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21. Free at Last! Free at Last . . .

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pp. 114-121

The ride home from Rikers Island in my father’s car was a blur. I was sucking in everything around me, just like someone needing air. All five of my senses had been starved during my months in jail, and the smells, sights, and sounds...

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22. Cornwall Academy

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pp. 122-127

Cornwall Academy is located off Highway 71 in the town of Great Barrington in western Massachusetts, a long way from New York City in more ways than one. As I boarded the bus at the Port Authority Terminal on 41st Street, my head...

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23. Summer Schooling

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pp. 128-134

After a year of living the life of a prep school boy, I returned to the Bronx in the summer of 1970. Chameleon that I was, it was easy for me to go from one life to the next and make the necessary adjustments. Somehow...

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24. Going to College

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pp. 135-145

Boarding the plane at La Guardia Airport to head off to college was an exciting experience for me. It was the first time I had ever flown, and I knew it would not be my last. My life was taking off in more ways than one. In the airport...

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25. College: Round II

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pp. 146-152

Over the years, I have become convinced that there is no God of Second Chances. The God I’ve been dealing with has given me three, four, five, and more. So I should not have been surprised when just before I left Montreat...

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26. Passage to Europe

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pp. 153-159

As I stood at John F. Kennedy Airport with 21 other would-be pro basketball players hoping for a job, I felt very small. I was the only player from a small college, and except for Rick Hawknose, a guard from North Carolina...

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27. Homecoming

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pp. 160-164

There is nothing like seeing the lights of New York City at night from miles above. As our plane prepared to land at Kennedy Airport, I began to realize just how homesick I was and how good it felt to be coming home...

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28. The Year of the French

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pp. 165-172

When we arrived in France, Connie and I were greeted at the airport by the president of the French team, Philip Kin, and his wife. They were a handsome couple, friendly and yet businesslike in a way that only wealthy...

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29. A New Life in Luxembourg

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pp. 173-177

Connie and I found Luxembourg’s culture to be different from France’s, and we liked it. The food was not prepared in the French style, with its delicate sauces poured over small portions of meat and poultry. Luxembourgers...

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30. Finding My Groove

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pp. 178-182

While all of this was happening in Europe, back home in the Bronx my mother and father were proud that I had found my place in life. They were happy that I was no longer on the streets, especially because conditions...

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31. Standing on Higher Ground

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pp. 183-190

As I continued my life in Europe, many things started changing for the better.My basketball career flourished; I continued playing professionally until I was 38 years old and earned so much respect that I was given the opportunity...

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pp. 191-193

In this book I have tried my best to put down my story in my own words. The words may be rough, but no rougher than the times I lived through. Many people I grew up with have died or are in jail, and many are still struggling...


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E-ISBN-13: 9780823247028
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823231027
Print-ISBN-10: 082323102X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jones, Allen, 1950- -- Childhood and youth.
  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.) -- Biography.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Biography.
  • African American young men -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Public housing -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
  • Drug dealers -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • Preparatory school students -- Massachusetts -- Great Barrington (Town) -- Biography.
  • African American basketball players -- Europe -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Luxembourg -- Biography.
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