April 18, 2013

In federal prison, Money Rock makes himself into a new man

The man who no longer wanted to be Money Rock was 26 years old when he landed in Atlanta’s federal prison in 1990.

Part 4 of 6

The story so far: After making it big as a dealer, Belton “Money Rock” Platt decides to quit. But he goes for one more drug deal and ends up in prison.

The man who no longer wanted to be Money Rock was 26 years old when he landed in Atlanta’s federal prison in 1990.

His resume, if he had one, would have read like this: Founded a profitable business. Sold a high-quality product. In one year, expanded market share dramatically while keeping customer satisfaction high. The problem was, everything he’d done was illegal.

But with a 24-year sentence, Belton Lamont Platt vowed to learn skills he could actually boast about on a resume.

He also was determined to remake himself spiritually, to embrace Christianity and live the kind of principled life that was an impossible ambition when he sold cocaine.

From the start of his sentence, Platt spent hours praying and studying the Bible. He found a verse from the book of Jeremiah that gave him the most comfort: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

That passage told him God had a plan and purpose for his life. His end would be greater than his beginning.

In computer classes, he mastered Word Perfect and practiced using spreadsheets. He got a “most improved” award for public speaking, studied real estate investment and attended a class on improving his emotional intelligence. He took English grammar, Spanish and African-American history. He earned a community college diploma in carpentry.

Before long, he had a stack of glowing reviews for his work and volunteer efforts.

“Inmate Platt enjoys helping others,” wrote one teacher, describing Platt’s patience as he taught reading to inmates with learning difficulties. “The positive attitude he projects helps set a productive atmosphere for the class.”

The prison system moved him around over the years. He stayed in cells and dorm rooms and sometimes on a bunk bed in a hallway, as the burgeoning U.S. inmate population filled prisons to overflowing. His days followed a schedule of work, meals, exercise and prisoner counts that rarely varied.

In 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. That was the same year his wife divorced him. In 1996, he requested a pardon from President Bill Clinton. He got back a form letter thanking him for his support.

Visits from family members were special days. He accumulated photographs in a red album – pictures taken when his children visited, a picture of his middle daughter in her prom dress, shots his oldest daughter sent of the new house she bought. But looking at them was painful, a reminder of all he was missing.

After about a dozen years, Platt began writing his autobiography. In his free time, he picked up a yellow legal pad and let the words flow, filling up page after page.

Like St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” Platt’s story included a thorough recounting of his sins. He also described how he saw God working in his life, even when he was moving several kilos of cocaine each week.

Throughout the memoir, he considered his motivations, his habits and, often, his failings.

When he arrived in federal prison, for instance, “I still had some of the street pride in me,” he wrote. “Even though I loved the Lord and served him while at Atlanta I still had an attitude that I feared no one.”

The more he wrote, the more clearly he understood his past.

Romance blooming

He also tithed, using his prison wages to buy toiletries and other necessities for new inmates. Before long, he was preaching.

Platt saw his faith as nondenominational, though many of his beliefs – in prophecies and faith healing, for instance – had Pentecostal roots. He believed God spoke to him regularly.

That’s how he knew the Rev. James List was special.

In 2002, the two met at a Bible class Platt was teaching at Seymour Johnson Federal Prison in Goldsboro. List, 63, was serving time for a Ponzi scheme involving a ministry investment program in Florida. Soon after, Platt heard the voice of God: I have made him a father to you.

List ordained Platt and told his wife, Susan List, he had found the man who would help him launch a new ministry. It wasn’t to be. Five months after meeting Platt, James List died of a heart attack.

What happened next surprised a lot of people, including Platt and Susan List.

They fell in love.

They seemed an unlikely match, even to each other. Susan was 14 years older. She worked as a legal assistant in the Horry County, S.C., prosecutor’s office. And she was white. In all his dalliances, he had never dated a white woman.

But he found himself telephoning Susan, checking to make sure she was doing OK.

Susan never, ever imagined returning to the prison after her husband’s death. But she found herself making the three-hour drive to Seymour Johnson.

Carrie Graves, Platt’s mother, saw romance blooming, despite the couple’s attempts to keep a low profile. “I said, ‘Lord, who do they think they’re fooling?’ ”

The couple married in the prison in April 2003. The player who once juggled a wife and multiple girlfriends says he has been faithful ever since.

He describes Susan as the hero of his story. “She was willing to give up everything,” he says. “And for that I’m forever grateful.”

Says Susan Platt: “I’ve just never had anyone love me and care for me like he does.”

Tragedies at home

Marrying Susan became a bright spot for Platt amid years of loss.

From prison, Platt had tried to counsel his children – especially his sons – not to repeat his mistakes. Some were so young when he was convicted in 1990 that they knew him only from prison visits.

Lamont Platt was 3 when his father went to prison. He grew up in Charlotte hearing about Money Rock’s reputation, though what he heard didn’t match the man he saw in the visiting room. The father he knew played spades and joked with him. The father he knew was God-fearing, sincere, never angry.

As his sons grew into young men, all found trouble. And then came the tragedies.

In 2001, Lamont Davis, the oldest, the one who cried as he watched his father being sentenced, shot and killed a disabled man during a robbery. He was 20. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

In 2002, Demario Pruitt, his third-oldest son, was killed in the parking lot of a convenience store near New Bern. Police say he and three other men were attempting a robbery when the intended victim shot him. Demario was 18.

In 2003, Stephen Platt, grieving for Demario, committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He left a note to his brother: “Brah, wish I was with ya’. Cause this life is hard.” He was 16.

Prison officials escorted Platt to his sons’ funerals. He preached at both.

Afterward, he made an addition to his memoir. He called it “The Other Side of THE GAME.” It is part confession, part caution:

“Instead of staying home with my little boy and being a father to him, I ran the streets and instead of a father I became only a baby maker. That Rolex looked good on my arm, but the price I paid was a little boy’s love. The Mercedes Benz I drove was nice, but what it cost me was two of my sons’ lives. All the women and money were nice, but what they cost me was my home, the love and respect of my wife, and 24 years of my life.”

Burying the past

In 2005, after being transferred to Manchester, Ky., he had another insight about himself.

“I realized,” he says, “that Lamont was some mess, too.”

Lamont Platt was the man who feared no one. Maybe he never picked a fight, but he never walked away from one either.

One morning, during outdoor exercise, he wrote “Lamont Platt” on a piece of paper along with attributes – pride, a quick temper – that he wanted to lay to rest. He dug a hole, then buried the paper.

Lamont, he said, you’ll never live again.

That day, he became Belton Platt.

Saturday: The Rev. Belton Platt returns to Charlotte.

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