By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
He heard her. But he didn't listen.
It wasn't that Barry was a bad kid. He didn't want to hurt anybody or anything, even a school. And he certainly didn't want to upset his mother. The Staten family didn't have it so bad compared to some of the others in the neighborhood. They'd moved from Kansas City, Kansas, when Barry was about eight. His father had landed a good job as a mechanic, and they lived in a nice house with enough to eat and decent clothes. And as long as Barry did what he was told, his father was a pretty good guy. Honest and hardworking, he spent his free time with his children, playing baseball, taking them fishing or just telling stories.
After the bomb episode, Barry tried to be good. He started a little business selling packets of flower seeds he'd ordered from the backs of comic books. He was smart enough to figure out that most black people in the neighborhood were poor, but he'd noticed that the Japanese who lived around the old church at 25th and California kept their yards nice and seemed to have plenty of money. So that's where he went.
Barry was doing okay, but it wasn't long before his whole world turned topsy-turvy again. One day at the garage some guy made a racist remark, and Barry's father let him have it with a wrench. When the police came looking for Chester Staten, he was already on his way back to Kansas City.
For reasons Barry never understood, his parents made no effort to bring the family back together. While his dad stayed in Kansas City, his mother went on welfare, and she and Barry and the rest of the family moved into the projects near 25th and Arapahoe. Without his father around, Barry was soon running wild. Things had changed, and he didn't know why. They were suddenly poor, and there was never much to eat. He used to like school, but now he played hooky all the time; for one thing, physical education was the first class of the day, and it was hard to jump up and down with nothing in his belly until hot lunch.
Burning things was about the only thing that seemed to make him feel better...at least for a little while. He still avoided hurting other people, but there wasn't a dumpster in Five Points that was safe. The funny thing was, Barry wasn't the only one doing it. In those days, like inner-city neighborhoods across the country, Five Points was a racial tinderbox just waiting to explode.
Barry's mother didn't know what to do with him. He was getting a reputation as a firebug; no sooner would something start smoking than the authorities would be around looking for her son, whether he'd set the fire or not. He was running with older boys, the kind who were always up to some kind of trouble, and she couldn't stop him.
Finally, she'd had it with her oldest boy, and she called Chester Staten in Kansas City. "Get him out of here in three days," she said, "or I'm puttin' him on the streets."
Two days later Barry's father arrived. He hadn't seen the man in two years, and when he heard his mother repeat the threat about tossing him out, he felt cold. It was like he didn't even have a mother anymore.
He'd been living with his dad and grandfather for about six months when his father went on a trip. His dad told him to stay with grandpa, but Barry's grandfather said he was okay and that Barry should go down to the boys' club. An hour later another kid came running into the gym and said there was a dead man on Barry's porch. Barry ran home, arriving just in time to see his grandfather's body loaded into the coroner's wagon.
Barry sat shivering alone in the house all night. The next morning he called his mother, who brought him back to Denver.
Barry was soon inseparable from his two best friends, Ricky and Tommy. People referred to them as the Three Stooges. The boys had graduated from starting fires to panhandling on the streets of downtown Denver. At the end of the day, they'd pool their money and buy a steak to share at a greasy spoon.
They didn't see anything wrong with hustling to eat. The boys knew that when they got home, there wouldn't be much in the refrigerator. And it wasn't as if the white men in the business suits would go broke over a few lousy quarters. Downtown was only a half-dozen blocks from Five Points, but once the boys crossed Broadway, they might as well have been in another world.
The Three Stooges were hanging out one day in May 1970 when Barry ran into his house to get a drink of water. He noticed his sisters and brother huddled in the living room, crying.
Suddenly he wanted very much to escape; he reached for the door handle just as his mother came up behind him. "Hey," she called softly after Barry, "your dad's dead."