Sleepers, Lorenzo Carcaterra‘s story of childhood rape and torture, has dominated America‘s bestseller list for weeks. It has also whipped up accusations of deceit. The author tells Kathleen Morgan of the memories that keep him awake at night.
hen writer Lorenzo Carcaterra was twelve years old. he and three childhood friends were sent to juvenile reform school outside New York after an innocent prank went tragically wrong. There they were subjected to a brutal regime of rape and torture at the hands of their guards.
Years later. two of the gang met one of their tormentors by chance and shot him. The revenge killing by the men who remained firm friends of Carcaterra. tested the boyhood loyalties forng on the streets of Hell‘s Kitchen in New York. It led to a gripping court case arid the triumph of natural justice over the letter of the law. The price was the career of another of the group — by then a New York prosecutor with the DA's office.
Lorenzo Carcaterra‘s tale. recounted in his book Sleepers. is the stuff of movies. Even before its US publication last spring. the film rights had been sold for $2 million. In production and due for release in autumn 1996. the movie, directed by Barry Levinson is to star some of Hollywood’s best. including Robert De Niro. Dustin Hoffman. Brad Pitt and Kevin Bacon.
As Britain wakes up to the book currently dominating US bestseller lists. Carcaterra is being hounded by a core of New York journalists out to prove his story is literally too good to be true. The writer claims he is being
12 The List 6-19 Oct 1995
Sleepers: the story of friendships that run deeper than blood
followed by reporters desperate to uncover the identity of characters featured in Sleepers — Carcaterra says he has changed names and dates to preserve their anonymity. The whole experience is adding up to another nightmare. although a highly lucrative one.
This is the second time (‘arcaterra has delved into his childhood for the sake of a book. Published in 1993. A Safe l’lur‘e told of how at fourteen. he discovered his father had killed his first wife. The writer says the book earned him enough money to pay his mortgage and the peace of mind he had been craving. "l‘hat book was a very positive experience.‘ he remembers. ‘lt put a peace on all the difficulties [my father] and l had had. During the writing I grew to realise how important he was to me.
‘I thought this second book would also be therapeutic. It had the opposite effect. On three occasions I tried to get out of writing it. It amplified everything — the mental images and the physical problems.‘
Those images of being raped and beaten in the bare cell where he spent almost a year of his young life, continue to haunt Carcaterra. So too do memories of being kept awake by the tortured cries of his three friends. also singled out by a corrupt posse of prison guards. The author relives these scenes in some of Sleepers“ most disturbing passages. They are the only parts of the forthcoming movie he is refusing to be involved with: ‘From what I‘ve read in the scripts. it‘s done very tastefully with shadows.
with only two very brutal scenes. I worry about seeing it. but I have to because my kids will eventually see it.‘
Since signing the movie deal with Propaganda Films. a division of Sony. Carcaterra has been on a roller-coaster of tours and interviews. leaving him little time to contemplate what he has done. ‘There hasn‘t been a chance for it to rest a bit in my mind.‘ he says. He has been forced to communicate furtively with friends and acquaintances in order to protect their identities and says he fears for the safety of one of them — the lawyer who sacrificed his career in the name of childhood loyalty. The man characterised as Michael in the book acted as prosecuting lawyer in his friends‘ court case. while allegedly feeding the defence with information that would seal its outcome. He is reputedly living in rural England. desperate to remain anonymous.
‘Everybody‘s looking for lMichaell.‘ says Carcaterra. ‘We have an elaborate system ol contacting one another and thus far. it‘s worked.‘ He pauses before adding: ‘I don't see the point in bringing him out and all these journalists saying: “This is Urcat.“ and two
The images of being raped and beaten in the bare cell where he spent almost a year of his young life, continue to haunt Carcaterra.
months later him killing himself. That‘s not worth it just to legitimise the story.‘ It took time for Carcaterra to convince the ex-lawyer that the book should be published. ‘At first he was against it. then he wanted it as fiction.‘ he says. ‘lle forewarned me people would say it‘s not true.‘
A television writer and creator of popular
American series Top Cops. Carcaterra says his family has been deeply affected by the book‘s publication. His wife Susan Toepfer. executive editor of People magazine. America‘s equivalent ol‘ Hello, has been forced to view her industry in a different light. His thirteen-year- old daughter and nine-year-old son heard his story when. acting on his therapist‘s advice. (‘arcaterra played them an audio tape of Sleepers on the way to a family vacation. ‘lt meant they didn‘t discover it in a schoolyard.‘ he says. Of the four childhood friends that suffered the nightmare of abuse at reform school. only Carcaterra and Michael survive. The two mobsters saved by Michael‘s actions in court died violent deaths on the streets of New York. Hell‘s Kitchen. the poor, rough neighbourhood in mid-Manhattan where the boys were raised. has been infiltrated by a wealthy class ignorant of the poverty at their doorstep. Carcaterra has long since got out. but trusts those who still know him there to bite their tongues. ‘The people that know aren’t talking and the people that don‘t know are guessing,‘ he says. ‘The press have been down there and have been up against brick walls. It’s a tough old neighbourhood.’
While the American press snaps at his ankles. Carcaterra says he is happy knowing his family. publishers and lawyers believe Sleepers is a true story. Either way, it is a moving and disturbing tale that should be remembered long after the furore dies down.
Sleepers by Lorenzo C arcaterra is published by Century at £15. 99.