By the time young Eric got his introduction to the forces of law and order, in 1976, Winfred Payne had been busting out of state and federal jails for nearly five years. This time, hed bribed his way out of Cook County Jail. Eric Payne doesnt have a youthful memory of his dad that isnt filtered through the foggy plate glass or crusty phone lines of federal prison visiting rooms. When I was young, people asked me about my mom and my dad and I would say my father worked in government, Payne says. He never apologized. In his mind, he did what he needed to do to support his family. He would frequently say that this was his way of sort of participating. (Years later, the elder Payne was still slightly defensive about his career: Wed say we were doing it for the right reasons, but really a lot of the money went to us, he told an interviewer in 2004. But a lot of it went to help the party and help people. ...It helped black folk. Young Eric settled on a couple of things very early. First, he was going to be a lawyer; second, he was never going to jail. Things have always been pretty black and white for me, he says.
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