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Caron Butler: The Second Chance That Changed A Life
When the Racine police broke down the door and began searching the house, 17-year-old Caron Butler was in bed, home from school and recovering from the flu. His mom was at the store picking up a flu remedy and some soup for her son’s lunch.
Caron already had a record. He’d served nine months in a detention center for drugs and weapons offences a little over a year ago, but he’d been clean ever since. He was reformed, or reforming, and on his way to high school basketball stardom.
But a kid who’s been in juvenile court 15 times before age 15 develops a nose for such things; and this police raid did not smell good. Caron didn’t go downstairs and greet the cops. He dove under the covers and held his breath.
They found him right away, threw the cuffs on him, and put him in the living room while they ransacked the house and the garage. Before long, Det. Richard Geller shouted, “We got it!” He found 15 grams of crack cocaine in the garage. The detective said later they’d been acting on a tip that drug activity was taking place out of that garage.
In spite of his protestations that the crack was not his, that he had no idea where it came from, Caron easily could have been arrested on the spot. Alone in the house with $1,500 worth of crack cocaine, a past that included dealing drugs at 11 years old – there’s little doubt he would be looking at a decade or more in prison.
But instead of being hauled off to jail, tried, sentenced and forgotten about, an unexpected, almost mystical convergence of factors saved young Caron from such a fate. This propitious event, a “second chance” from out of the blue, became a defining moment in the life of young Caron Butler.
First, an essential factor lay with Caron Butler himself.
While he was in the detention center a year earlier, he had discovered he really loved basketball, and that he could actually become a very good player if he really worked at it. And when he was confined to solitary for two weeks for fighting, something truly significant came into play.
“I remember writing my mother letters, so many letters, telling her how much I loved her and if I was to get out, I would never, ever hurt her again,” Caron told Oprah Winfrey on her talk show in 2005. “It was from this moment I knew that I could do anything in life.”
And he had come home from detention, got back into school, played basketball and kept his nose clean, for more than a year.
Second, his mom came in from shopping and was astonished to see her house full of policemen debating what to do with her son. Det. Geller told the Washington Post years later that she pulled him aside and begged: “I promise you, if you give Caron a chance on this, you will never look back. You will never have to worry about him.”
Third, and this is key: In spite of the rigors of his job, Det. Richard Geller still believed in people. And he believed that police work was enhanced by treating people with respect.
“I’m not saying that Caron might not have been involved in something at that point, but in my gut, I was pretty confident the dope wasn’t his. I had done my homework,” Det. Geller said. And he decided right there to let Caron off the hook. “I thought it was the right thing to do – to see him go on the right path.”
But before he left, Caron said, he was given a stern warning by the officers. “They told me, ‘If you get in trouble again, anything to do with narcotics again, you’re taking this case, too,’” Butler told the Post. “I was like, ‘You don’t have to worry about that.’”
Instead of prison, Caron Butler embarked on his extraordinary journey, one that took him from drug- and gang-infested streets and a life of crime and detention centers, to a multimillion dollar career with the National Basketball Association.
From high school, Butler went to Maine Central Institute, where he could catch up with his school work, and play some basketball. How he got there is an amazing story. He asked a local drug dealer he knew, James “J-Fee” Harris, for $5,000 to pay the tuition. Harris said, “Get off these streets,” and gave the money to Caron, no strings attached. Caron went to Maine, and played such good ball he received a basketball scholarship to the University of Connecticut.
As a UConn freshman, he led the Huskies in both scoring and rebounding, and played for the US team that took home gold in the 2001 FIBA World Championship for Young Men. As a sophomore, he averaged 20.3 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, leading the Huskies to both regular season and tournament Big East titles.
After two years of college, Butler declared for the NBA draft, and his NBA career began – Miami Heat for a year, then Los Angeles Lakers, followed by a $50-million, 5-year contract with the Washington Wizards. In February 2010, Caron went to the Dallas Mavericks, but a knee injury this January required surgery, so Caron will likely miss the balance of the season while he recovers.
After his new realizations about life as a kid in Racine, he worked at Burger King, enduring jeers from his gang friends for doing a menial job. Today, Caron owns six of the fast food restaurants, and is studying Business Management at Duke University. He’s also married to the love of his life, and is proudest of being a good father to his three kids. “One of the main things I wanted to do was be the best father I could be because I didn’t have a father,” he said. “I know that void hurt me.”
One of Caron’s greatest pleasures is giving things – warm coats, for example, as well as bicycles and basketballs – by the hundreds sometimes, to kids in schools, detention centers, foster homes and on the streets. One winter he gave 700 coats to kids at a single middle school in his home town of Racine.
“The graveyards and prisons are full of people that wanted a second chance,” Butler told the Washington Post in 2005. “God put his hands on my life. He said ‘I’m going to touch you so that you can touch others.’”
“You try your best to do positives, do the right thing, influence kids not to go down the path you went down. When are people going to learn? You don’t always have to be the same as you once was. That’s why they call it mature. People change. People grow up.”
Here at Novus, our patients share Caron Butler’s desire to transform themselves into the kind of people they know they can be, and take back their lives from substance abuse. And like those who helped Caron when the chips were down, we are incredibly proud and thankful to be able to help them make those changes in their lives.
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