Inner City Miracle: A Memoir

Inner City Miracle: A Memoir

4.6 10
by Greg Mathis, Blair S. Walker
Millions have seen him on his nationwide TV show, dispensing justice in his own charismatic style. But Judge Greg Mathis’s own rise to success has been a trial by fire. In this truly candid memoir, his harrowing life on both sides of the law is revealed for the first time.

It starts in Detroit—but far from the court where Greg would one day preside.


Millions have seen him on his nationwide TV show, dispensing justice in his own charismatic style. But Judge Greg Mathis’s own rise to success has been a trial by fire. In this truly candid memoir, his harrowing life on both sides of the law is revealed for the first time.

It starts in Detroit—but far from the court where Greg would one day preside. Raised in the hell of the Herman Garden Projects, he grows to become a “bad-ass, cool-dressing, do-anything gangsta.” His father gone, his mother juggling two jobs, he falls in with the Errol Flynns—“funkified English gentlemen” in three-piece suits and Borsalino hats, urban Robin Hoods who are truly stylish as they steal from everyone and give to themselves.

Considered bright but incorrigible, Greg is sent to stay in his middle-class cousin’s mixed neighborhood, where he enlists the local white youth in wrongdoing. Even jail can’t keep him from going bad again once he gets out. Then a threat to his beloved mother causes a shaken Greg to make a promise in a prayer to God: save my mother and I will straighten up.

To his and everyone else’s surprise, he keeps his side of the bargain. Inspired by The Autobiography of Malcolm X, working at McDonald’s by day and attending classes by night, Greg pulls himself through high school and college and then law school, using in positive ways the innate intelligence that made him a master at crime. Soon he becomes the youngest judge in Michigan history, a District Court judge and, at last, undaunted by the odds and propelled by his personal story, a sought-after and highly paid TV star.

In its blunt, bold, and sometimes hair-raising honesty, Inner City Miracle is both a cautionary and an inspiring story, one sure to stun all those who come to Judge Mathis’s TV courtroom every day.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Underprivileged black boys desperate to rise above their circumstances can benefit greatly from such institutions as school, the army, government social programs and the judicial system as well as a knowledge of options, according to Mathis, himself a kid criminal and gangland thug growing up in Detroit's devastated projects. His turnaround came in 1977, when he heard Jesse Jackson speak. Mathis was 17 years old, and Jackson's advice struck a chord. "Your heart is in the right place, but to win young people's minds and souls, you've got to have ammunition," Jackson told him privately, after his speech. "A year from now, I want to hear what you've done to improve yourself.... We got a deal?" With the help of his single mother's Seventh Day Adventist discipline, his wife-to-be's book-hitting habits and many mentors, Mathis eventually studied his way into law school, passed the bar, toiled in Michigan politics, was elected a judge and landed a syndicated TV show, Judge Mathis. His membership in multiple social classes has helped him forge his practical insight into human nature into an organized story about a hero's trajectory. Mathis and coauthor Walker poetically render the rhythms of street language, at least to those who don't speak it, and fairly present Mathis's sometimes testosterone-driven male attitude, making this an honest feel-good story. Mathis's parable from the projects explores a world that will be crucially familiar to many and offers a way to reach poor teens who rightly feel misunderstood and underrepresented in the mainstream. Photos not seen by PW. (On sale Oct. 1) Forecast: Advertising in African-American newspapers in major markets, an author tour and probable media plugs by Mathis will target educators and parents, but whether they'll be able to persuade their teens to read it is questionable. Mathis is working on an HBO movie based on his life, which might be a more direct way for him to reach young people. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Starting his life in the inner city of Detroit, Mathis seemed to have little choice but to live the life of a young hoodlum. It was only a matter of time before his actions would catch up with this foul-mouthed, belligerent young man, who thumbed his nose at the law. Time spent in jail proved to be a blessing after he was finally arrested at age seventeen. After a visit from his mother, who brought the news that she had cancer, Mathis promised to turn his life around. To everyone's surprise, he did, working his way from high school dropout to law school graduate and the youngest judge in Michigan. His brutally honest tale is an inspiration to haves and have-nots alike. The strong language peppered throughout merely underscores the severity of the author's situation, and no holds are barred in the candid descriptions of hatred and violence, all of which serve to illustrate the tremendous effort it must have taken to switch from tough gangsta to respected citizen. To have climbed out of such a desperate situation to become a jurist and even achieve some notoriety as Judge Mathis in his daily television show is truly miraculous. More than a memoir, this book is a life story that must be read to be believed. Photos. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P J S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Ballantine, 167p,
— Holly King
Library Journal
Mathis, a former Detroit district court judge, shares stories of his upbringing in a strict household with a mother who worked several jobs to support her four sons. He also reveals that he lived on both sides of the law, eventually escaping to become Michigan's youngest judge ever. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.43(w) x 9.69(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

Dangling from a cold metal railing on the second level of Cobo Hall Auditorium in downtown Detroit, I gaze down on thousands of unsuspecting concertgoers who actually think that a performance by the Average White Band is going to be the night's main event.

I say to myself, "It ain't about no damn band, you fools! If you don't believe it, check this shit out." Grinning, I plummet to the concrete nine feet below, which is fairly difficult to accomplish wearing platform shoes with four-inch clear plastic heels.

The impact sends a jolt crunching through my thin body and I stumble forward a few steps. I'd nearly dropped on the head of a young black male usher who is now frantically sprinting toward an exit. He's probably trying to alert the police, but it's a little late for that. The boldest mass robbery in Detroit's history is under way, and ain't nothin' he or anyone else can do to stop it!

The Errol Flynn gang is in the house and everybody at this concert had better give up some jewelry or a wallet. Either that or get cracked upside the head.

The year is 1977 and I'm in my element--lawlessness, chaos, and bold action.

The same holds true for two hundred or so of my fellow Errol Flynn gang members presently terrorizing the Cobo Hall Auditorium all around me during a brief intermission between musical acts. Some have actually vaulted onto the main stage while frightened and bewildered concertgoers look on.

"Errol Flynn, Errol Flynn!" I gleefully holler at the top of my lungs,
matching the cadence of a handful of my homeboys who've commandeered the microphone onstage and are rhythmically waving their hands as they perform a popular 1970s dance called the Errol Flynn.

Like our movie star namesake, we Flynns fancy ourselves to be suave, swashbuckling, and rakish. And like the matinee idol whose name we carry, if we're trying to bust a move and you get in our way,
we'll go upside your damn head.

Scanning a row full of Average White Band fans to my left, I see what I've really come to Cobo Hall for. As I look down the row,
everyone on it is scowling mightily and shooting me expressions that leave no doubt about their fear and disgust. They have no way of knowing it, but the looks on their faces only heighten my tremendous sense of exhilaration.

I lock eyes with a young, muscular brother who has his hands protectively interlocked around his girlfriend's. His demeanor is defiant,
as though he's feeling his oats and primed to do something heroic and macho.

I instinctually understand that if I break him down and force him to bend to my will, the entire row will meekly follow his lead.

"Your wallet, please," I bellow, giving my victim the hardest, meanest look I can muster. He shoots me a hard look right back, releases his girlfriend's hands and turns in my direction, preparing for battle.
I expected that and slowly pull back the black pinstriped jacket of my double-breasted suit so he can see my ace in the hole--a .38-caliber revolver tucked in my waist.

Then with my eyes I silently dare him to continue his foolhardy challenge. Some concertgoers have already been punched and kicked for resisting, but things can get much, much worse. Reluctantly ceding defeat, my muscular victim sullenly digs into his back pocket,
pulls out a brown leather wallet, and angrily flips it into the concrete aisle near my feet.

As I quickly bend over to retrieve my booty, the air inside Cobo Hall is filled with the noise of frantically chattering voices, the amplified racket from my partners onstage and screams of fear and pain.
The sounds of bedlam and anarchy, sweet music to my ears.

"Thank you, sir. Gimme that watch, too."

The still-warm, expensive-looking silver timepiece is obediently passed down the row. Once the tough guy has been broken, my other victims quietly turn over their wallets, pocketbooks, bracelets, and rings, glaring at me the entire time. Like I could give a damn.

I barely have time to shake down half of another row before I need to make a hurried escape. Running as quickly as I can in my four-inch heels, I become part of a mass exodus of youthful thugs wearing platform-heeled shoes, double-breasted suits, Borsalino hats, wide-framed white glasses with no lens.

Many of us also are toting expensive-looking umbrellas and walking canes, which come in handy when looking dapper or when scything through hordes of frenzied concertgoers.

As soon as I get outside Cobo Hall with the other Errol Flynns I spy black-suited, helmeted riot police standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they anxiously scan the exiting throng for lawbreakers.

They look stupid standing in the middle of the street with the streetlights glinting off their dark helmets. What do they expect me to do--walk up to them and surrender? Slowing down so that I'm moving at the same pace as the escaping concertgoers, I place a look of consternation and fear that matches theirs on my face. A wolf flowing to freedom among the panicked sheep. I gradually ease my way past the cops, who are nervously tapping their gloved hands with thick black billyclubs, looking for heads to lay siege to.

Battling a towering urge to run, I walk briskly down the sidewalk,
each step taking me a little farther away from the scene of our crime.
My crime!

But it's not until all the commotion and noise around Cobo Hall fade into the distance that I slow into a swaggering pimp walk, the stolen rings and watches in my jacket pockets jingling melodiously.
The warm night air feels fantastic, thanks to a slight breeze fanning in off the Detroit River.

Only after I've walked a few yards does it dawn on me that I'm breathing pretty hard, not so much from exertion as from excitement.
Even though the palms of my hands are moist and my stomach feels like a freight train is rumbling through it, I feel ecstatic.

A few blocks ahead a sea of dark Borsolino fedoras is bobbing down the street and I jog to catch up.

The cops were so worried about the safety of the concertgoers that they've left the rest of downtown unguarded, leaving the door open for a frenzied Errol Flynn gang looting spree. Soon store alarms are going off like crazy, punctuated by the brittle sound of storefront windows disintegrating. In no time the sidewalk is littered with glass shards that twinkle like diamonds under the streetlights and crunch underfoot.

Smiling, I saunter into Cousins, one of the premier clothing stores in downtown Detroit, and head straight for a hat rack at the far end of the darkened store. The store is filled with the fantastic odor of leather that emanates from expensive jackets and shoes neatly lined up on display. It's a smell I've always equated with wealth.

The leather looks tantalizing and I shoot an admiring glance as I hurriedly pass, headed toward my primary targets.

I have them in view now--two authentic Borsalino Como felt fur fedoras, painstakingly handcrafted in Alessandra, Italy. Taking off my fake fur Borsalino knockoff, I fling it into a corner, then slip the genuine article onto my Jeri-curled head. As soon as the baby soft felt fur caresses my shoulder-length locks, I immediately understand why Comos are priced at $100 apiece.

Not to mention why they're the favored headgear of the top Detroit pimps and hustlers that I look up to.

With one Borsalino on my head and another in my hand, I bolt out of Cousins and back onto the street, before the pigs start responding to all the jangling store alarms.

Feeling like a kid on Christmas morning, I eagerly make my way back to the 1968 Camaro that my five-man crew and I parked several blocks from Cobo Hall. I can't wait to divvy up the booty we've lifted from the Average White Band crowd and I'm looking forward to seeing how the eleven o'clock news covers our audacious heist.

My boys and I have just ripped off several thousand Detroit concertgoers inside a major auditorium located mere blocks from police headquarters.

Meet the Author

Greg Mathis is a former Detroit District Court judge, who stars in his own nationally syndicated television show. He lives in Detroit, Michigan.

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Inner City Miracle 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 3 days while attending school full time and working full time. I became interested in this book while watching his show. I schedule my life around tuning in to watch his show. He is very funny and inspirational.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very interesting. Normally I don't like reading but when I started reading this book I couldn't wait until I had the next time to read it. I loved it. It was very incouraging to see how his life was and how he turned his life around.I'm only a young teen and my mother likes it too, so I'm sure many others will too!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I became curious to read this after seeing his little bio at the beginning of his show. This book was very detailed and enlightening. It becomes rather slow at times however, it is mainly a book for teens to read to inspire them to never give up. After reading this, now I understand how and why he is so GHETTO and unprofessional in the courtroom. But I like the entertainment and watch it everyday.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Inner City Miracle Judge Greg Mathis Without question, what Judge Mathis has put before us, should be read, studied and used as our own personal guideline and model to continue to overcome adversity, but more importantly use our gift to help inspire others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an inner-city high school teacher, I will definitely be adding this to my classroom library!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Judge Greg Mathis did not have an easy way growing up. Often on his television program he references his many hard times growing up on the rough streets of Detroit. His memoir vividly recreates his teenage antics on the streets of Detroit. The book got a little boring to me when he discussed his foray into politics in the 80's, but nonetheless it was a very good book and I admire Judge Mathis for being so candid and honest with his audience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dear Jugde Mathis my son remind me of you,because when he was 17 years oldI his Mother had to give him tuck Love,so I put him in jail because he was selling drugs and the police knew it, but they was waiting on him to be 18 years old.Thank God he is a Seagant in the U.S.Marines today,because I prayed for him,but he the Lord too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Greg Mathis' story is so full of courage, it should be required reading for those who are determined to turn their life around. Whatever the mistake, this book proves, we all deserve second chances and should not run from mistakes but follow our dreams. I have personally interacted with Greg because of my friendship with his extended family. He is as real as his writing in Inner City Miracle and has not forgotten where he came from. What a refreshing book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This books tells about how Judge Greg Mathis was bad and made a deal with GOD to turn his life around because his mom had cancer and he wanted her to live. And the judge said if he don't get a job and a GED he would be in jail. A inspirational speaker name Jessie Jackson gave a speech and it gave him guidance to college. So then he decided to go to Eastern Michigan Universtiy so he can become something,, I don't want to spoil it so read the book its good...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Judge Mathis is by far a strong, independent individual who would not waiver in the face of adversity. He instead relied on his inner strength and spiritual guidance to reach his objective. This book was well written, not as a self-indulgent biography, but as an inspiring example of determination, hard work, dicipline, courage and most of all faith. I could not put this book down.