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Camacho soon graduated to bigger toys. "I had a Mercedes, a BMW, a Corvette," he recalls proudly of his "borrowed" fleet. "Only the best. I'd clean 'em, wax 'em, take real good care of 'em. People would come round and say 'Hey! Whose car? Whose car?' I'd say, 'My uncle's. My uncle's.' " He grins.
The first time Camacho was arrested for car theft, in 1979, it was after a 30-block chase that ended when the pursuing officer cornered Camacho inside a building and split open the back of his head with a gun butt. Camacho got three stitches and spent a day on Rikers Island. While on probation, he was arrested again, this time for accompanying a friend on a joy ride in a stolen car. He was sent to Rikers for 3½ months.
"After a light in the prison they put me in solitary confinement," Camacho says. "I had no TV, no radio, no blanket. I was talking to God every day when I was inside, thinking about my mother, my newborn son. I said, 'God, give me another chance. I'll get out, be a champion boxer. Just give me one more chance."
When Camacho went to Rikers Island he was 17. Two years before that, he'd presented his manic self to Flannery at Manhattan High, a school for hard-to-handle children. Flannery became Camacho's first solid paternal figure.
"Patrick's always been a father to me," says Camacho, who would rather go to a party at Flannery's than to one anywhere else. "He's always taken care of me, fed me; he's the one who's always there to advise me. He loves me like a son."
Flannery is an acrobat who has been on the Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas shows, a stunt man who has fallen off a roof and gotten beat up with a baseball bat in Woody Allen movies.
"When Hector came to Manhattan High," says Flannery, 48, "he was an illiterate. He had no idea what letters represented what sounds. He'd never sat still long enough to learn how to read. He has so much energy it's incomprehensible.
"He learned to read and write so fast it would make your eyes roll. He's extremely intelligent. We got second- and third-grade books, and he set the world record in learning how to read. He astounded me. He'd write compositions about boxing and about how he was going to become a champion and buy his mother a new house. He passed the written exam for his driver's license on his first shot, and that's unusual for a ghetto kid.
"His speech was quite unintelligible back then. He pronounced 'Golden Gloves' something like 'cuttin gla.' When he made up his mind to fight in them I did everything I could to discourage him, but when I saw how determined he was, I gave him my boxing shoes and helped him fill out the forms. We lied and said he was 16 when he was really only 15."
Camacho had been training since he was 10, when his stepfather, a boxing trainer, encouraged him to work out at a gymnasium. "I started beating my sparring partners," Camacho says. "That's when I knew I had something."