Hand in Glove

7.8.2014

By Chadwick Moore

In the ring with the velveteers, the heavy hitters of New York’s first all-gay boxing class.

Photography by M. Sharkey. Shot on location at Gleason’s Gym, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I always emulated my father,” says Myles Valentine, pulling his shirt down after showing off the 15 stab wounds etched into his ribcage, back, sternum, and face.  

We are having coffee on a drizzly afternoon in downtown Brooklyn. Now 57, Valentine spent much of his early life upriver, doing 21 years of hard time bouncing around New York state’s most notorious maximum security prisons: Clinton, Comstock, Elmira, Auburn, Downstate, Green Haven. He did four straight years in 23-hour lockup at Southport. During that time, learning to box gave purpose to his days.

SLIDESHOW | MEET THE VELVET GLOVES

“In prison, all the best boxers were what we called ‘booty bangers,’ ” Valentine says, a term for inmates who expect sex in return for small acts of kindness, like a boxing lesson or a cookie left on a bed. Valentine wasn’t a banger — he wants to be clear about that. In fact, he says he was sent to solitary confinement for attacking his first trainer in lockup, a guy called Louie Comstock — named after the prison — when Comstock made a pass at him.

“In prison you have two sides, predator and prey, and the thin line between that is the religious converts,” Valentine says. “I was a predator, but I was a nice guy.”

One morning in 1972, at the age of 15, Valentine ran away from his Flatbush, Brooklyn, home, and began sleeping on the subway and living off candy bars. His father was a violent disciplinarian and Valentine had been fighting kids in school — many of whom teased him for being a Jehovah’s Witness — since the first grade.

Around the same time, teenage boys in north-central Brooklyn had popularized street fighting. A slapdash, knuckle-brawling league brought delegates from every neighborhood: Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, the Marcy projects, Farragut, East New York, Bushwick. They sent their five or six best fighters to weekly skirmishes in a park, guys who arrived in their best duds — velour track suits and Kangols — and sparred in leather gloves using a street technique known as the 52, a style involving hand blocks that’s been passed down through generations.

Justin Pitts and Patrick Janelle

Tags: Sports
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