A Legacy in Verse: Ronnie Doe Found Redemption in Poetry, Helping Others

In years past Ronnie Doe said he wasn’t known for his emotional side, or for being in touch with the feelings that come from death, love or religion.

Moreso, he said he was often remembered in Charlestown for the path he went down as a young man that led to crime, and serving time in jail – what he called a very negative legacy. That said, his life story is far from being defined by that old legacy, and these days he has found redemption and recovery through his amazing poetry – a talent he discovered early in life and then honed while in federal prison. In fact, his poetry has led him to create a new legacy in the Town, and his story proved once again that second chances can produce golden results.

“It’s unbelievable to come back to Charlestown after all these years and be a positive member of society,” he said. “I’m maybe not a world-renowned poet, but certainly a Charlestown-renowned poet. It’s a great legacy that I’m proud of.”

And certainly he should be.

It’s about once a week or more that Doe, 59, is asked to write a memorial poem for a loved one that has passed away, typically someone with connections to Charlestown – old or new. Sometimes he writes them without being asked, while other times family members reach out to him in hopes he can pen something to help take away the pain.

And he always comes through – posting them on Facebook, on his worldwide Family Friend Poems page and sometimes in his books.

His books of poetry – filled with hundreds of poems about Charlestown and life in the Town – are now very popular. He first published ‘The Old Charlestown’ about eight years ago, then followed that up with ‘A Townie Treasure.’ Now long ago, he put out a book of recovery poems and stories of local tragedy called ‘Through the Tears of an Addict.’

It was, in fact, addiction and recovery that led Doe to discover his poetry in a serious way.

He said he wrote his first poem in the 1980s when a young girl was hit and killed accidentally by a car on June 17, 1984. It was called ‘Precious Little Sheena Rose,’ and it launched the beginning of his writing – though in secret.

“It affected me and the whole Town,” he said. “It was the first memorial poem I wrote. I was about 24 then. I didn’t do much, but it is when I started working on a regular basis. I was definitely inspired by Charlie McGonagle. He was my teacher and baseball coach. I wanted to write like that…Growing up in Charlestown, though, poetry was kind of something that was for sissies. So, I wrote a lot of songs instead. Songs were a little cooler than poetry I guess back then.”

Doe said he and his siblings, particularly his brother, Butchie Doe, grew up in the Bunker Hill Development and had great times there as children pretending to be Bobby Orr or Carl Yastrzemski. However, during busing, the family moved to Lowell for a time, but hated it so much they moved back to Charlestown – settling on Belmont Street for decades. That said, Doe said he and his brother were always attracted back to the Development. There, they found trouble and went down a wrong path.

“At that point, it was just partying,” he said. “Then in 1984 the cocaine came around and it seemed like the whole Town got addicted together…For me, it took everything away from me – my life, my kids and my family.”

That experience also inspired him to pen the poem about he and his brother, Butchie, and their fall from such fun times playing sports – a poem entitled ‘Yaz and Orr.’

Soon enough, Doe said he found himself on the wrong side of the law, was convicted and sent to do time in federal prison. It was a sobering and lonely existence, he said, but it was one that caused him to pull out a yellow legal pad and work on poems constantly.

“I filled up those yellow legal pads,” he said. “My cellmate looked at some of it and said it was some of the best prison poetry he had ever seen. That poetry got me through the long hours. Guys would have me write love poems for their girlfriends or their wives. Everyone was trying to keep their girlfriends or wives while they were in jail. It was simple stuff…Prison had a lot to do with me sharing my work. You’re there day in and day out in a cell for 19 or 20 hours a day and you have to find a way to occupy the time. I wrote a lot of meaningful things in those hours.”

When he returned to Charlestown after jail, he sobered up and got on a straight path. He credited the Longshoreman’s Union and the Teamster’s for giving him a second chance so that he could earn decent pay and have a reliable job – especially since most people wouldn’t have hired someone coming out of jail. To this day, he works two jobs as a Longshoreman and a Teamster.

Continuing on with his poetry, he joined the Family Friend Poems website and became the moderator of the worldwide poetry forum. That’s when things really started to take off and he began to share his poetry with a large audience – getting great feedback. Soon enough, people from Charlestown-based forums picked up on his Townie poems and his recovery work as well.

Soon enough, he had been invited to read some of his work at the Charlestown Recovery Vigil sponsored by the Charlestown Coalition. He read his first poem eight years ago there, and has participated every year since.

Most every day, he said, he is thinking about a poem, a situation that might be a good poem or something from the past he wants to write about.

“God gives me the words and I just write it down,” he said.

Right now, he is continuing to write and compile more poetry, but his major focus is an autobiography. He has three or four chapters completed, and hopes to tell a first-hand account of the old Charlestown way – a way that he says is now gone forever and isn’t coming back.

More than anything though, Doe said he is inspired to leave a new and different legacy than he did in the past.

“I really want to leave behind a legacy of poetry as opposed to the legacy of yesterday,” he said. “It’s a very forgiving Town. Maybe there are people out there that don’t me for yesterday, but the feedback I get for my work is unbelievable. I want that to be the legacy I leave.”

     Yaz and Orr

By  Ronnie Doe

   My brother was always my best friend

We could play sports and we’d just pretend

I’d hit a homer, a goal he’d score

You see I was Yaz and he was Orr

As we grew up in the project courts

Nothing else mattered except for sports

We never once thought about a girl

As we lived in our fantasy world

In the project court in which we’d play

The next Bobby Orr would always say

“Ronnie, someday when I’m all grown up

I’ll help the B’s win Lord Stanley’s Cup

Score the winning goal in the last game

City of Boston will chant my name

But until that day, I guess once more

You can be Yaz and I can be Orr.”

Butchie and I played hockey for fun

We were never out to hurt someone

But then came drugs, fast money and girls

And playing sports wasn’t in this world

Because as the years went flying by

Butchie’s goal was to be a Wise Guy

With the new meaning of the word “score”

They’d be no more Yaz and no more Orr

I ran into Butchie the other day

I said, “Hey Butch, what do you say?

How ‘bout the Celtics and Larry Bird?”

But I knew he didn’t hear a word

His face was pale, his expression blank

He said, “I’m going to rob a bank.”

“What about me and what about Ma?

Open your eyes, you won’t get too far”

But the madness in my brother’s eyes

Brought out the sadness in my cries

For there was hatred not seen before

Back when I was Yaz and he was Orr

On the sad day Butchie went to jail

I had a vision that seemed so real

I pictured him on a breakaway

I saw him wink and I heard him say

“Ronnie, someday when I’m all grown up

I’ll help the B’s win Lord Stanley’s Cup

Score the winning goal in the last game

City of Boston will chant my name.”

As fate would have it, it was his name

Which truly was Butchie’s claim to fame

But in my heart I wish just once more

I could be Yaz and he could be Orr

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