Pete Haywood And Studs Terkel On Forgiveness

Pete Haywood sitting in front of the window and staring out contemplatively in his apartment.

As we reported in “Forced Relocation and Democratic Representation,” public housing residents convicted of certain felonies and misdemeanors within the last ten years are barred from running in the CHA elections being held today.

Lloyd (“Pete”) Haywood, a lifetime resident of Stateway Gardens, has served for the last three years on the Stateway resident council. He is the only male on the council. And he contributes in a variety of ways to the life of the community. For the last four years, he has been a staff member of the Neighborhood Conservation Corps, and in recent months he has worked for the property management company at Stateway. After he filed his petition as a candidate in the election, he was informed by Citizens Information Service, the organization administering the elections, that he had been disqualified from running because a criminal background check disclosed a felony conviction within the last ten years. According to Haywood, he was convicted of burglary nine years ago after police arrested him for looting following the Bulls championship victory. He denied then—and denies today—that he engaged in looting. He received a suspended sentence. The felony conviction remains indelibly on his record.

Studs Terkel interviewed Pete Haywood for his book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith (The New Press, 2001). The interview focuses on a 1986 incident in which Pete was shot and gravely wounded. When I recently told Terkel that Pete had been judged unworthy to represent his neighbors on the resident council, he was incredulous. He described his interview with Pete as “a story of redemption and transcendence” and expressed amazement that Haywood had been disqualified. “Here’s a guy capable of forgiving the man who shot him. And we can’t forgive him.”

We are grateful to Studs Terkel for permission to reprint his account of his visit to Stateway and his conversation with Pete Haywood.


We’re at Stateway Gardens, a public housing project on Chicago’s South Side. In its public squalor, it is incongruously surrounded by private affluence. On one side is the Illinois Institute of Technology, celebrating Mies van der Rohe’s architecture. On another side is Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. Overlooking the whole scene is the new site of the Chicago Police Headquarters.

Jamie Kalven, a freewheeling journalist, is my docent as we enter the shadowy, dimly lit precincts of the project…

We pause near the elevator. It is astonishingly small for a building so densely populated. We greet Pete, who has been expecting us. He indicates the lift: “Here is where I been shot and left for dead.”

We rattle our way upward, toward one of the higher stories. His tiny apartment, in dramatic contrast to all else around and about, is airy, full of light, and painstakingly neat. There are puffy white pillows on the somewhat tattered couch. On the end table is a well-thumbed paperback: John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. On the wall is a picture that immediate catches your eye. It appears to be a cemetery or some sort of memorial park.

“My family, my great-grandmother and my grandmother, yes, they attend church every Sunday. I used to oftentimes go with them.”

He had been a gangbanger. “We called ourselves the Del Vikings.” He has since abandoned that life and is trying to find himself.

THE NIGHT IT HAPPENED, my grandmother gave me a rather large bill to play the lottery. Somehow I ended up spending the money. So I’d been out shooting dice, trying to get her money back, which I won a few dollars doing. Another guy ended up lending me the rest. But I ran into another friend of mine and we went up to his house to drink some whiskey and smoke a bag of reefer. A girlfriend we grew up with, she was drunk. The guys, they was pulling up her blouse and my friend’s mother, she came out on the porch where we was sitting and said, “Would you all walk her home?” And I said to him, “Come on, man, you know your mother’s right…” We, like, carried her home because she was drunk. And upon doing this, the guys from the other end, they’re know as the G. D.’s—[Kalven interjects: “They’re the Gangster Disciples”]—another gang. They were after us. She lived in a building where we had to go through their territory to get her home. I’d never had any problems until this night. It was about three of the guys from the gang. Something had happened earlier that day where they was like shooting out with somebody they said was from the end we were from. We walked her home and got on the elevator and got stuck. So I was trying to get off the elevator and hollering “Help!” for somebody to call the fire department.

The guys who followed us acted like they was helping us off the elevator. It was stuck on a floor. The door came ajar off the track. It was like six or seven people on the elevator. Could they get the fire department? The dude say, “Hold on, we’re going to help y’all get off.” So it was a lady headed into the hallway at that time, and the lady was asking, “What’s wrong, what’s going on?” She said, “I’ll go up and call the fire department.” The guy told her, “Lady, this is none of your business—we’re going to handle this.” I knew then there would be some trouble. So the guy hollered back through the elevator door, “Who all on the motherfucking elevator?”—excuse my cussing. So we’re prying the door open from the inside, the door got about halfway open and a friend of mine, his name is Andre, he was stepping off, the guy shot him. They had guns out already. He shot him in the stomach. We didn’t have anything. It was like a series of shots. Once one person unloaded his gun, it was like the next person, he would step through the door. And the guy shot him in the stomach and he flew back in such a way which I never seen nobody get thrown back like that. And after the guy shot him, he had the gun at my head, between my eyes. And it was this little dude on the elevator with us, another friend of mine named Howard, he tried to grab the gun from the guy…

I was in, I guess, shock. I couldn’t move—I didn’t move because it didn’t seem real. And the gun went off, but it didn’t hit me in the head. I guess the guy who tried to grab it got the guy’s arm to come down and it hit me in the chest, which the other guy, from later stories I heard, thought he shot me in the head. It was like a scramble amongst my friends. We were trying to get to the bottom of the pile, and I was like, “Well, I’ll just lay here as if I’m dead—maybe they’ll stop…” I was shot in the chest and in the hip, but I didn’t know it at the time. I’m just going to lay here. Once one guy would finish unloading, another guy would step up. It was like they took turns. And through all this, I just laid there. And my friends, they said the elevator was dark. But I argue today that the light was on.

[Kalven interjects: “Your friends say there was no light on in the elevator, but you saw light.”]

I don’t know if it was I was dying, but I remember saying, “God, is it ever going to stop?” I wanted to call for my grandmother’s name but I couldn’t because I was trying to play dead, but with my eyes open so I could see whatever was going on. But the elevator was just brightly lit. Once the guys got through shooting, then it got quiet, and the only thing that you would hear was one of my friends, he was screaming, “My eyes, my eyes!” and the other one was moaning, “My stomach…help me.” The girl that we walked down there, I had asked her to stick her head off the elevator to see was anybody in the hallway. And once she did that and I seen that nobody shoot, I ran over her to get off the elevator and go up in the building.

[Kalven: “We came up in that little tiny elevator, exactly the same elevator where they opened fire on seven or eight people.”]

Thanks to God nobody died. Me and Andre, we was the two serious hit. I didn’t know that I had been shot, so my idea was, I was going to anybody’s house, whoever would open their door. We was going to go into their house and weren’t coming out until the police came. And so upon running up the stairs in this building, knocking on doors boom-boom-boom. People: “Who is it?” And I wouldn’t say a name because sometimes people will open the door if you say “me.” [Laughs] “It’s me—open the door. You hear them shooting out here.” But there wasn’t nobody would open the door. We continued to go up the stairs, going through every floor. And my friend seen the police off the porch, we was on the eleventh floor. And my friend hollered down for the police—I guess they radioed to other police, and they came up in the building. But before they came up, I was feeling funny about my back, like if somebody were to hit you in the arm and put a frog in your arm—I was feeling that way on my back. And I was, like, more tired than I would normally be, and I was, like, “I think I’ve been hit.”

So my friend say, “Let me see.” He raised my shirt up and he seen a hole in my back, a big hole in my back. He’s like, “Pete, oh man, you’re gonna die…” OK, so I’m telling myself remain calm, but something was telling me panic, panic! I started getting weak. [Laughs weakly] I couldn’t move now. I was like, Oh my God, I’m fittin’ to die! And I remember the police coming up there: “Put your hands up and lay on the ground.” I was sitting in the stairway against the wall. I remember telling the police, “How you expecting me to lay down on the ground and I’m shot.” The police patted us and everything, they searched around to see did we have any guns. I was sort of mad and I was saying things, you know, “Do you think if I had a gun I’d be the way I am now?” A couple of my other friends were saying things to the police: “Why don’t y’all just get an ambulance?” The hallway was filled up with a lot of people, people looking. And I felt myself going out, unconsciousness, but I didn’t want to, I was trying to fight it. To keep from doing it, I was telling the people to pray for me, even though the people didn’t know me and probably didn’t care about me anyway. I was saying, “Y’all pray for me,” ’cause I didn’t want to die. At that time, that’s when the paramedics got to me. That was a scary feeling—it’s something I can’t explain. Things were beginning to be blurry to me. Last thing I remember seeing at that time was a little girl, about eleven or twelve years old…

I remember looking down into this little girl’s face, down the stair; when I asked everybody to pray for me. Things was beginning to get blurry to me. Last thing I remember seeing at that time was the little girl. I don’t know if she prayed for me. She looked scared.

The paramedics, they worked with me or whatever they did with the little oxygen, and put me on the gurney and carried me down the stairs. Whey they took me past the little girl, I tried to reach for her, to say it’s going to be OK. Once they got me in the ambulance, the paramedics was asking what happened, could I move, and do I feel certain feelings. I was telling them I could feel everything, but I was in so much pain—I was asking could they give me something for pain. They said, “No,” because I had been drinking. I was like, “Y’all goin’ to let me die.” At the time, I had half a pint of whiskey in my back pocket. I said, “Well, if y’all ain’t gonna give me nothing, can I just take a last drink of alcohol.” I thought, if I’m going to die, I might as well die dead drunk. So they’re like, “No, we can’t do that,” and they threw it away. I think I stayed in the ambulance for about twenty minutes or so before they moved.

Letter from CIS denying Pete Haywood from running in CAC/LAC elections.

They took me to Michael Reese [Hospital]. During all that, I remember the doctors asking me, do I want to call my home, and I didn’t want to call my house—I was afraid that might give my grandmother a heart attack. But one of the nurses did contact her, and I asked the nurse to let me speak to her. And I told my grandmother that I was going to be OK and not to worry. And I asked her to pray for me. Then she had got in touch with my father, and my father and my step-mother came to the hospital. I thought I was dying. The doctor was explaining to them that I should have been dead, or I should have been paralyzed, that they don’t know how I’m alive or what’s keeping me alive. But miraculously I came through—with no surgery performed on me…

[Kalven: “Pete, how long after that…was it when you had the opportunity to get revenge on one of the guys who shot you?”]

I stayed away for about two or three weeks. All this had took place in early August, so now it was like around Labor Day weekend in September—1986 or ’87, one of them years…There was a night where me and a group of friends, some of the guys were about age I am now, thirty-six, but they were guys just trying to gangbang still. The guy that thought he shot me in the head but ended up shooting me in the chest, he had happened to be on the stairs, and I was with a guy who seen him. So it was like, “Pete, remember when you got shot? If you seen one of those thugs, what you would do?” And I was trying to be cool. I said, “I don’t know…” The guy said, “Would you kill ’em. Because I don’t like what they did to you and I think we should get them niggers.” I was under the influence of the drink. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do this and that.” So we had caught the guy that shot me one night, and we had trapped him in this playground. So the guy, he gave me his gun, he say, “Pete, you got him, go on and kill this nigger.” And I looked at the dude—the guy kept saying, “Go on and kill that nigger for what he did to y’all,” and I said, “No…” I said, “I like living and I love my life.”

I said I wanted all that to be over with and forgotten about because my God is forgiving and in order for me to be forgave of my sins, I must forgive—that’s my belief. And I told the guys, I said, “No, I don’t wish nothing to happen to this young brother.” I said I just want to leave everything as it is and go on about my life and let him go on about his life. Hopefully that he would change, you know, in himself, after that night. Then the criticism came from the guys that I was with, “Oh, you’re a pussy motherfucker.” I said, “No, I don’t kill nobody ’cause you want me to kill them.” We got into a little argument and I left it at that. And I let the guy go. A few year later, I had got my apartment, my own apartment in this building in which I had started selling drugs. So the guy who shot me—I didn’t know that I had knew his brother. His brother was coming around to my house.

So it was one day, we was up there, me, him, a few other friends, listening to some music and drinking beers, and I don’t know if he had knew about the situation of his brother and me. He had brought his brother up to my house. I didn’t see him when he came to the door. When I looked up and I see that it was him, the same one I caught in the playground and let go, I found myself apologetic—because it had messed up his understanding. You could look at a person and see the fear—he was trembling. I was assuring him that I was true to what I had said in the playground—that I would like everything to be forgotten about, that I forgave what he did and I’m thankful to be alive. He was relieved, even though I don’t think that he fully trusted it at that time, because now he in the house with me and a whole ‘nother group of people that I’m around. And I was letting him know it wasn’t nothing. We sat down and we drunk some beers together and listened to some music. I still see him. We hold conversations, we talk for a few minutes at a time. But he’s a busy person. He’s a car salesman. He goes on about his business now.

There are things that I may not understand, but God, He’s everything to me. My God is forgiving. He’s jealous, too. My God is very jealous. I haven’t served him right, but I continually ask him for the forgiveness of my sins because I know the things I do is wrong, and then I don’t know things that I’m doing at that time. I ask God for forgiveness.