By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Murkledove was sentenced to 10 years for attempted murder, possession of a stolen vehicle, and armed robbery.
While in prison, his athleticism saves his sanity and starts him on the road to reform. His prison basketball coach gets him out of solitary and guides his way through the state prison system. Murk makes the cut, travels with the prison basketball team, and eventually becomes a model prisoner. He's released after five years, nine months, three weeks, and two days. The exact length of his stay remains seared in his brain.
The stint in prison clears his head, and the straight life suits him: Jobs as a machinist at Texas Instruments and Ford Motor Co. put money in his pocket. He marries and earns a college degree. Murkledove also makes a name for himself among activists and forms connections in the world of black politics after joining a motorcycle club called the African Bandits. The club members dedicate their time to community work. He lands a job as a recruiter for the Dallas County Community Action Agency and learns the ropes of life in the public sector, being promoted to higher positions within the youth-development program. He eventually gets a pardon from Gov. Preston Smith.
When Dallas decides to embark on an anti-gang program, political friends such as Price, Al Lipscomb, and Dallas County Justice of the Peace Thomas Jones, whom Murk befriended in school, offer his name as a way to include blacks in the effort. The year is 1990, and he's lived a lifetime's worth.
She was an overwhelmed and insecure freshman, with a lot to be worried about. Davis was never a gang member, but her temper and hand-grenade impatience certainly qualified her as "at-risk." The halls of Madison High School were, to her, havens for violence and mayhem. "You know how bad it was then. There was a lot of fighting and people doing whatever they wanted to do," she says. "I always wanted to learn, but how can anyone learn with others messing up our chances? I just wanted to drop out."
Davis told her friends she was through with school. A couple of them told her they were going to talk to someone named Mr. Murkledove, and did she want to come along? She agreed, and found the father figure she lacked since her father died when she was 3.
"They introduced me to Mr. Murkledove, and ever since then, he's been my role model. He told me if I run from my troubles I wouldn't gain a new life, but if I stay in school I could make some progress," she says. "He did all the stuff that my father would have done if he were here."
Davis says the key to Murkledove's reputation was the time he had to invest in kids' problems. "Everybody could go to Mr. Murkledove. No matter what the situation was, you could have killed someone or been dealing drugs, and he's gonna sit down and really listen. He won't just tell you something and kick you out, he'll sit down and map it out," she says. "We had our days when he would tell me things I didn't want to hear."
To Davis' grandmother and namesake, Mattie B. Davis, Murkledove is nothing less than a divine blessing. "I do believe if it weren't for Mr. Murk my grandchild would not have graduated," she says. "He helped her and so many of her friends. He's such a good father figure."
Now Davis is 23, working as a registered nurse and, with the help of her grandmother, raising her two nursery-school-aged children. In late January, she started classes to become a medical assistant.
It's as though Murkledove's life story was made for a cameo in an after-school special. His thug life and redemption may give him the cachet to speak with tough kids, but it's his likableness that wins them. Wilbur Williams, former principal of Pearl C. Anderson Middle School and a 33-year veteran of DISD, saw Murk in action during the first shaky years after the school opened in the early '90s.
"Previously, there was no middle school, so we bused those kids out of the community," Williams says. "When we brought them all back, it was a real challenge for everybody. And Billy held up his end of the bargain...He came by on his own and said, 'What can I do to help?' He was an oasis in the desert."
Rival toughs jockeying over new turf gave school administrators plenty to worry about. The school became a haven for street kids looking for a free meal; they were allowed to eat there with the tacit agreement that the school wouldn't be the scene of any violence or drug-dealing.
"Billy would come by religiously, if not daily, at least once a week," Williams recalled. "He'd meet with kids who were gangbanging. He knew them by name." The style impressed Williams, who, as a former Madison classmate, was well aware of Murkledove's personal history.
"I saw the transformation in him, and I know how he can relate to those kids. They don't want someone talking down to them from an ivory tower. He's been where those kids are, and they can relate to him," he says. "He has a gift, an art for working with young people."