Jake Sawyer’s Story

photo/The Fuge
photo/The Fuge

Jake Sawyer’s Story
The life of the legendary biker, bodybuilder and bad-ass

by Cliff Gallant

Editor’s note: This is the eleventh installment of our serialization of Jake Sawyer’s life story. The twelfth and final chapter will appear next month.

“So, Jake,” I said with a smirk, “when you got out of Lewisburg in 1980, you came back to Portland a changed man, right? Law-abiding all the way?”

“I am well aware, my friend,” Jake replied in a patient, measured tone, “that I have given you every reason to believe my life has been comprised of nothing more than one criminal activity after another, separated by periods of incarceration. But that is not entirely the case, I assure you. Everything I have told you up to this point is true, of course, but it does not present a complete picture of who I am. I’ve always had a slew of activities going on that have been of a much different nature than the ones I’ve told you about. So let’s see if I can think of some very positive, wholesome activities I got involved in after I was released from Lewisburg, just to maybe illustrate that point.”

The Way Ministry softball team with manager Jake Sawyer, far left, in 1983. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer
The Way Ministry softball team with manager Jake Sawyer, far left, in 1983. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer

Maine Church League Softball

“This was around the time that I was asked by a good friend to be the coach of The Way Ministry softball team, and it ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Jake began. “Softball can be a very invigorating and highly competitive game, of course, and the level of competition in the statewide church league was very high. Just because they led their lives according to their religious principles didn’t mean they weren’t one-hundred percent intent on beating another bunch of good guys from another church.

“We had a very wide range of talent and ability on our team, from star athletes to mentally challenged people, and I made very sure that everyone got equal playing time. Some of the other teams kept their less able players sitting on the bench for most of the game, but I put them in from the first inning right on through to the end. I’d put someone with less ability in center field, for instance, and put two of the more talented players in left and right, where they could cover for the center fielder.

“The team spirit and camaraderie that developed lifted us like you wouldn’t believe. Some of the other teams had more overall talent, but we were one for all, all for one, all the way, and we’d usually end up winning by one means or another. What you have to understand is that the mentally challenged people on the team had been routinely excluded from this and that their whole lives, and many of them experienced their first real moment in the sun when they played for The Way Ministry softball team. I can still see the delight in their faces today, and I have no doubt that the memories of our wonderful summer together have stayed with them all of their lives.

“I, of course, had been an outsider my whole life, so I’ve been able to relate very closely to mentally challenged people, or to anyone who has something different about them. When some of the more talented people on the team came up to me after we won the league championship, and said The Way Ministry team had been the best sports experience of their lives, I actually got a little misty-eyed. Little did they know why.”


Maine Tug of War Championships

“As you well know, my friend,” Jake continued, “working out and training others in the fine art of physical fitness has always been a regular part of my life. So here I was, at forty-two years of age, right back at Martin’s Health Club, going at it with as much enthusiasm as ever. Some of my most valued friends to this day are guys I worked out with and trained at Martin’s Health Club, so I don’t want to put them down in any way, but I’ve got to tell you about a little episode that tickles the hell out of me even now.

“It seems that some of those guys — Bruce Chambers, Ronnie Damon, Bob Penny, Skip Robinson, and some other bodybuilders — became very interested in competing in the State of Maine Tug of War Championships that were being held on the sand at Old Orchard Beach. Anyone who’d been to OOB in the summer knows it’s the Atlantic City of Southern Maine, and with all the excitement going on there, those guys really wanted to put on a good show, so they gave a great deal of thought as to who would be on their team. I naturally assumed I would be chosen, but no! They told me they thought I was too light, and that I didn’t have the muscle power in my legs they wanted.

“Ha! They kind of forgot, I guess, that I’d won the runner-up trophy for the East Coast Arm Wrestling Championships some years before, even though I was the lightest guy in the competition. And leg power means a lot more in arm wrestling than people generally realize. But some people have to be shown the same thing over and over until they finally get the point.

“Having been disrespected, snubbed and doubted, I went on a mission from hell to assemble my own tug-of-war team. I rounded up some very rugged individuals, believe me. One of my guys could lift a V8 engine up and place it on a work bench, and another liked to haul lobster traps out of the ocean for hours at a time, without the use of a trap pulley. When you’ve been fighting the Atlantic Ocean as much as he was, you’re not worried about a little tug-of war competition on the sand down at OOB. Our team sponsor was Eight Corners Market, in Scarborough, and we used to practice in the large parking lot behind the store by tying a very strong rope onto the rear end of a jeep and impeding its forward progress when the driver stepped on the gas. The driver said she floored it, and the jeep didn’t move forward an inch!

“Oh, yeah, the pretty little driver was my ever-faithful girlfriend, Lorraine, and she was on our tug-of-war team too. The teams were made up of eight men and three women, and I went out of my way to find the most attractive women I could. Lorraine weighed only about a hundred pounds, so she didn’t add much, power-wise, to the team, but she made up for that by providing a great deal of inspiration, you know?

“My buddies from Martin’s Health Club thought I was boycotting the tug-of-war competition because I was so pissed about being left off their team, so you should have seen their faces when they saw me leading that bunch of brutes down the beach! I got those animals on my team so fired up that they were frothing at the mouth! We won every match we competed in, beating teams who’d traveled to OOB from all over the state, and won the championship.

The Eight Corners Market tug-of-war team, in 1981, with Jake at bottom, center. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer
The Eight Corners Market tug-of-war team, in 1981, with Jake at bottom, center. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer

“We dragged my buddies from Martin’s Health Club about a quarter-mile down the beach! I didn’t want to embarrass them — they hated losing to me so much that they just wouldn’t let go! Oh, how I enjoyed displaying that trophy at Martin’s Health Club!

“But like I said, those guys from the health club have been great friends of mine, and we’ve always given each other a lot of encouragement and support in our various endeavors. A few years after the OOB tug-of-war competition, I started the Stone Street Gym, on the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Stone Street, and the guys who worked out there were one for all, all for one, every day in every way.

“I kind of thought I was beyond the age when I should be out there taking part in strength competitions, but Bob Penny, who later became Mr. Maine, talked me into entering the Maine State Arm Wrestling Championship that was being held at USM, and I won the thing hands down, so to speak — even though I was the oldest guy in the competition! I was forty-six years old at that time, and I put those twenty- and thirty-somethings down like they were babies!

“Of course, it wasn’t just a matter of brute strength. Although I still had a good deal of that, it was more a matter of one-hundred percent friggin’ resolve. Just like when I competed in the East Coast Arm Wrestling Championships ten years before. The other entrants looked at it as a friendly competition, but I looked at it as an all-or-nothing fight to the friggin’ death. When the ref at USM lifted his hand off our fists and yelled ‘Go!’ I instantaneously turned into an enraged beast and their arm was halfway down before they fully realized we’d gotten started.

“Oh, I guess it wasn’t always that easy, you know — I was getting a little older — but I never did happen to get beat, and they did kind of give the trophy to me, so I guess I did quite well, all things considered.”


The Parole Officer

“Geez, Jake,” I said, “that all sounds wholesome compared to the stuff you were doing before you went to Lewisburg. So I guess you had turned over a new leaf, huh?”

“Yeah, right,” Jake snorted in amusement, “and the moon stopped coming up over Casco Bay about that time too.

“Oh, I did try to stay out of trouble, I really did,” he continued, getting serious again. “Going off to one house of correction or another now and then was getting a little old, after all, but I ended up doing some petty shit here and there, and my parole officer became very concerned that he might have to revoke my parole.

“My parole officer was Bill McLaughlin, and we became good friends. Bill was always very fair, and I appreciate all he did for me. What kind of bonded Bill and me was my response to a little offer he made, on behalf of the federal government, soon after my parole from Lewisburg. The feds offered to give me $250,000 cash, and all I had to do was give them some information about three close friends of mine who were on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Bill assured me that there was no way any of the three guys would ever find out about our little arrangement, and he also said the feds told him the information they were after wasn’t terribly important anyway, so I shouldn’t worry too much about coming across with it. Bill almost made it seem as though the FBI people were going out of their way to give me some cash just because they liked me!

“By that time I’d already gotten friendly with Bill and I didn’t want to be too rough with him, so without raising my voice, and in a very level tone, I said, ‘Stick it up your ass, Billy Boy. I wouldn’t be a fuckin’ rat under any circumstances for all the money the federal government’s got.’ Bill’s eyes widened and he looked at me like he couldn’t believe I was turning the offer down. I could tell he was extremely impressed, though, and I could see in his eyes that we were going to be good friends.

Truman Dongo, Tammy Bonneau Walter, and Jake Sawyer, in August 1981. Jake and Dongo were friends until Dongo got heavily involved in the cocaine trade, which ultimately led to his murder in September 1983. photo/courtesy Tammy Bonneau Walter
Truman Dongo, Tammy Bonneau Walter, and Jake Sawyer, in August 1981. Jake and Dongo were friends until Dongo got heavily involved in the cocaine trade, which ultimately led to his murder in September 1983. photo/courtesy Tammy Bonneau Walter

“The next time we met, Bill told me the FBI wasn’t happy at all that I’d turned down their offer, and he said they’d developed a certain skepticism regarding the likelihood that I’d continue to stay out of serious trouble, what with all the rowdy behavior I was engaging in around town. The feds knew they had a time bomb on their hands, and Bill said they were starting to put heavy pressure on him to revoke my parole. But he also told me he had a bright idea that might head them off.

“‘Jake,’ he said, ‘would you ever entertain the thought of being committed to the psychiatric unit of the veterans’ hospital up in Togus for a ninety-day treatment-and-evaluation period, after which time we would reevaluate the need to revoke your parole?’

“Damn! Bill thought I’d be offended by even the suggestion of going to the loony bin, but I loved the idea! I had always enjoyed the company of my fellow loonies, and I ate psychiatrists for breakfast. Bring it on!

“So, before long, there I was in the psych ward at Togus, which was a pleasant forty-or-so-minute drive from Kent’s Hill prep school, where I’d been an honor student and star athlete in what seemed like the not-so-very-distant past. What a long, strange journey I’d been on, my friend.”

“Yep,” I said, not looking up from my notebook.

“The scene in the psych ward was very much to my liking, actually,” Jake continued. “There was always soft music floating out of the ceiling, and I got to like the bright and shiny floors, and the warm sun streaming through the windows. But what I enjoyed most of all was the company of my fellow fruitcakes. Except for when I was with my Hell’s Angels brothers, I had never felt such warmth and all-around goodwill. My new buddies were a lot of fun, too. What I looked forward to most was playing poker for cigarettes, the way Jack Nicholson and the other guys did in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We’d get all medicated up and have a hell of a lot of fun imagining we were winning millions in Las Vegas, and we’d be content as hell until it was time to line up for our meds again.

“The meds were the kick in the ass about the place, though. They had us line up four times a day for ’em, and by the end of the first month I was dragging myself around the place like a friggin’ zombie.

“The shrinks were a real hoot, too. I tee-hee’d my way through my therapy sessions, and couldn’t have been more agreeable to anything they said about me. The meds took the edge off my volatile personality, and the charming self that I had suppressed for so long emerged in a most pleasant way. Everybody loved me. The doctors, the nurses, and all the other zombies thought I was the greatest. They would have elected me King Nut of the whole joint if I was interested. For the first time in my life, though, that kind of thing didn’t mean a thing to me.

“At the end of my ninety days it was determined that my commitment had been a complete success, and I was released to the custody of my parole officer. Bill was overwhelmed by the change in me. ‘Well, Jake,’ Bill said when I walked meekly into his office for our first get-together after my release, ‘from all the reports I’ve had from Togus, you’re a changed man and we can forget about revoking your parole.’

“‘Thank you, Bill,’ I answered. ‘I feel so rested, and all I want to do is live a quiet, happy life from now on.’

“Well, the quiet, happy life idea lasted about as long as the time it took me to get from his office to the nearest toilet I could flush my take-home meds down. Fuck ’em! Society had been trying to subdue me all my life, and the chemical route wasn’t going to work any more than anything else did. The point everyone had been missing is that I wasn’t the fucked-up one, they were. They can have their half-lived lives of quiet desperation, I said to myself as the last of my meds gurgled down the toilet. I’ve lived every minute of my life right straight friggin’ out, going for the goody every minute of every day, and nothing was going to change that in any way — least of all a daily handful of zombie pills. I had survived the onslaught of society once again!

“The next time I reported to my parole officer, I stepped into his office and hollered, ‘Howdy, Bill! How the hell are ya?’ ‘Oh, no,’ he said. He knew damn well I was back to being who I really am, and that it was just a matter of waiting to see what kind of trouble I was going to get into next.

“Actually, though, I managed to stay clean for a considerable length of time after my release from the funny farm. I started a used-car business in a lot out on Washington Avenue, Jake’s Auto Sales, and there were no shenanigans involved in the operation whatsoever. No hot cars, nothing like that. Truthfully, I was quite content during that time period, and I began to relish being an upstanding member of society. Who would’ve thought?”

Flyer promoting the Stone Street Gym with, from left, Al Martin, Jake, Bob Penny and a guy who shall remain unidentified because he "turned out to be a fuckin' rat." The features listed below were not entirely serious. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer
Flyer promoting the Stone Street Gym with, from left, Al Martin, Jake, Bob Penny and a guy who shall remain unidentified because he “turned out to be a fuckin’ rat.” The features listed below were not entirely serious. photo/courtesy Jake Sawyer


The Courtroom Exterminator

“So everything was sailing along just fine, but then one morning I read in the newspaper that a guy named Joey Aceto was going to be testifying that day in federal court against a friend of mine who was on trial for bank robbery. You know, of course, how much I hate rats, so I put on my leather motorcycle jacket and pulled on my boots and was on my Harley cruising down to the Federal Street courthouse to attend the trial. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and hoped it wouldn’t be too much, really, because I absolutely did not want to go back to prison. But way down deep I was seriously itching to do something. I could tell by the way I was dressed and the way I was revving my engine, I guess. It felt like old times.

“Joey Aceto was on the stand testifying when I walked into the courtroom, and there were armed officers of the law stationed about ten feet apart from one another all along the walls, so I knew right away that they were anticipating trouble. All eyes turned toward the door as soon as my boots hit the courtroom floor. Aceto stopped testifying and just sat there staring at me the same way everyone else was. After the judge brought the court back to order by clearing his throat — he didn’t want to acknowledge the effect my arrival had on his courtroom by using his gavel — the officers all gave me their best tough-cop, steely-eyed look, like, Try anything and you’re dog meat.

“I went out of my way to appear peaceful and non-threatening, though. Truthfully, I was still hoping I’d get out of this fairly cheaply. Maybe I’d just yell out that Joey Aceto is a fucking rat that will definitely be exterminated, and leave it at that. They’d probably give me thirty days in the county lock-up for it, but it’d be worth it.

“Rather than take a seat up front, which would have alarmed everybody all to hell, I sat in the middle of the room among the other courtroom observers. My intention was to make it as difficult as possible for me to do anything rash. The presence of innocent bystanders has always been a strong deterrent.

“But not this time. As I sat there listening to Aceto spill his fucking rat guts about the activities of my friend, an uncontrollable rage built up in me, more and more with every word he spoke. Then, ‘ARRRGGG!’ I was on my feet roaring!

“Aceto yelled and stood up, then lost his balance and fell backwards over his chair! After taking care not to jostle anyone sitting in my row, I was out in the aisle headed for Aceto, who was still screaming and scrambling on the floor, trying to get away. Damn! If I hadn’t slowed down for the sake of those innocent bystanders, I would’ve had him!

“About a dozen cops tackled me and clamped cuffs around my wrists, then hauled me away with my toes dragging on the floor. I was laughing my ass off! Damn, cops hate that! I’ve always loved it when it takes a friggin’ army of men to take me down. I was having a grand ol’ time!

“They had closed the heavy mahogany doors of the courtroom after I arrived, and the officers of the law used my head as a battering ram to swing them open. The cops dragged me down the hallway while the eyes of the notable judges and assorted dignitaries pictured on the courthouse walls followed us all the way. Then we went kerplunk, kerplunk down a very hard and long set of wooden stairs, to a holding cell in the basement, into which they tossed me in a most ungentle manner.

“So there I was again, in a friggin’ cell. I should have been bummed out as hell, considering how hard I’d been trying to be good, but the first thing I did was sit on the edge of the cot and start giggling to myself. The whole thing tickled the hell out of me for some reason. Maybe because I had sort of watched myself do it, rather than actually deciding to do it, or something like that, you know what I mean?”

“Sure, I know what you mean, Jake,” I said. “Sure I do.”


Metropolitan Correctional Center

“After I’d been in the holding cell for about forty-five minutes, giggling my ass off the whole time, the same crew of police officers reappeared and told me the judge had expressed a desire to see me again, and would I please accompany them in a civil manner? I complied, because by that time I’d calmed down quite a bit, but when we got to the courtroom I realized I should have made a run for it. After the commotion I’d caused, the judge had been forced to clear the courtroom and cancel court for the entire day, and he was not at all happy with me. I think I’d describe his mood as one of seething fury, now that I think of it.

“He was determined that I was going to pay big-time for what I’d done, so he sentenced me to a one-year term in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, in New York City, which was, and still is, the most secure correctional facility in the country. Just to give you an idea of how secure MCC is, consider that El Chapo, the top boss of the Mexican drug-smuggling cartel, was recently taken there after his extradition to this country, after having escaped from a Mexican prison through a mile-long tunnel his people had dug.

“There’s no way El Chapo, or anyone else, is ever going to escape from MCC, though. You’re in a twelve-story Manhattan skyscraper, and not only is the place extremely secure, it’s also exceedingly confining and utterly lacking in any degree of privacy. You are constantly under strict surveillance, and rarely have even minimal contact with any other inmates. That whole aspect of prison life, the thing that makes it at all bearable — the company of other prisoners — is completely denied you. All in all, MCC is one rotten hell hole. The judge got his revenge on me, alright.

“There were some pretty big fish at MCC when I was there. If anyone is known to have extensive outside connections, MCC is where they are put on ice. It was a common thing to look out the windows and see mafia bosses being shuffled into waiting limousines after being released.

“There was no way out of the place — that was for damn sure — but that didn’t prevent a couple guys from trying. It was a classic prison escape plan, and I witnessed the whole thing. They broke through a window on the ninth floor and tossed out a rope of sorts that they’d made by tying a great number of sheets together, with the intention of shimmying down to the sidewalk. The chances they wouldn’t be detected were almost non-existent, of course, but when you’re that desperate you do desperate things.

“First I saw the string of sheets being lowered out the window, then a skinny guy appeared and threw his leg over the sill. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I watched as he made his way down the side of the building. I kept thinking he was gonna lose his grip on the sheets, because the whole string of them was swinging in a great arc, but he held on for dear life.

“It actually looked like he was gonna make it, and I was cheering like hell for him, but then, out of nowhere, his partner, a fat guy, appeared at the window and threw his leg out, like it was his turn. When he did that, the skinny guy yelled like hell for him to get back in and wait, but the fat guy had obviously lost patience and was going for it. Oh, my word! The fat guy kind of rolled out the window and grabbed onto the sheets, but he wasn’t quite as successful as the skinny guy was. He managed to make it about one floor before the sheets broke loose and he went plummeting down the side of the building, onto a roof about five floors down. The skinny guy hit the roof an instant before the fat guy fell, and then splat, the fat guy landed on top of him.

“Oh, what a disturbing sight that was. I was never so happy to be released from a correctional facility in my life. After the sheets incident, I felt kinda sick to my stomach every time I looked out the window.”

“So, Jake,” I said, “you’d been going pretty straight before the Joey Aceto incident, and you said life had been good. After the tough time at MCC, was there any chance you’d been reformed?”

Reformed, my friend?” Jake asked incredulously. “Why, I have no idea what you’re referring to. Are you asking if I stopped being who I am? Not possible, my friend, not possible.”


A special goodbye

“There is something significant that happened after one of my stints in prison that I haven’t mentioned, and I’d like to talk about it at this time, if you don’t mind. You will remember that the reason I turned myself in to the authorities in Portland when I was hiding out in Ward, Colorado was that the FBI was making things difficult for my mother back home, and I just couldn’t live with that. A short time after I had done my time in Lewisburg and returned to Portland, my mother became ill and I paid a visit to her in the hospital that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“I had no idea how sick she was — because I’d been in denial all the way, I guess — but my heart sank when I walked into her room and saw how weak and downhearted she looked. She was a real trooper, though, like she always had been, and at the end of my visit she brightened up and said, ‘Always keep your sense of humor, Jonathan, because you’re going to need it!’

“That’s what she always used to say to me when I was a kid, so it completely cracked both of us up. As I was leaving her room, I did a little can-can dance for her on my way out the door, and when I looked back she was laughing her head off and happily waving goodbye. It was the last time I saw her. My mother was the love of my life and my best friend, and I miss her every day.”

I just nodded in silence. “Well, my friend,” Jake said after a pause, “there’s something else I was going to tell you about today, but I think we’ll just let it go at that.”

“Of course, Jake. Whatever it is, it can wait until next time.”

“I will tell you that it’s really big,” he exclaimed, back to his usual excited self. “The whole country is going to be talking about it! I don’t know if your publication is going to be able to handle it. I’m serious! I’m going to have Geraldo Rivera’s people knocking at my door, wanting to set up an exclusive interview with him! This is something I’ve been sitting on for a long time, but I’ve decided it’s time to get it out there. Make sure you’ve got some well-sharpened pencils ready the next time we talk, my friend!”

I will, I said to myself. I certainly will.

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