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Rolling Pennies in the Dark

A Memoir with a Message

About The Book

A heartbreaking and inspirational memoir of one man’s journey from abject childhood poverty and abuse to a high-level career as a White House writer.

This very personal memoir is both heartbreaking and highly inspirational. In it, Douglas MacKinnon weaves his astounding story as a desperately poor child and his triumphant transition from abject squalor to White House writer who now has the political influence to change the system—especially as it affects children.

With humor, compassion, faith, and brutal honesty, Douglas MacKinnon writes eloquently of the pain of being unloved and neglected, and of his victorious struggle to overcome his past. But this book is more than the story of one man’s personal journey; it is a memoir with a message. Through this message, the author not only inspires readers to move beyond their own difficulties, he also calls both political parties to task for their shameful neglect of tens of millions of Americans. You’ll be riveted to the story, moved to compassion, and inspired to see the world through new eyes.


Rolling Pennies in the Dark

A Stabbing Precedes the Gunfire

It really does hurt to get stabbed.

I had just landed a punch to the side of a rival’s head. As he yelped in pain and fell out of the way, I felt a hand grab me by the right shoulder and spin me completely around. A millisecond after completing the turn, I saw a knife blade arching up toward my midsection. I instinctively turned sideways to shield my stomach and chest. While successfully protecting those vital areas, I was not able to avoid the force of the blade.

The tip of the switchblade, which entered the minuscule muscle of my skinny thirteen-year-old bicep, immediately struck calcium. A white haze of pain filled my eyes, as my lungs sucked in enough oxygen to let out an earsplitting scream.

The reason I got stabbed in the first place was that some of my friends and I were involved in an old-fashioned West Side Story–type gang fight. Back in the day, in my never-dull corner of the Dorchester section of Boston, it was not about what neighborhood you were from but which street you lived on. Some friends and I met up with some territorial individuals from a rival street, and before anyone knew what was happening, it was on.

Since this was circa 1969, and we weren’t yet smart enough to call ourselves a “crew” and carry “nines” or “Mac-10s,” this instant and fierce disagreement was waged with pipes, boards, fists, and the occasional knife. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get hit with a board, pipe, or fist.

I got stabbed. I was the victim of a very violent crime at a very early age. But when I thought about that episode a few months later, I knew that between myself and the older kid who stabbed me—he was sixteen and already a career criminal—I was, by far, the more fortunate. I say that for three reasons.

First, simply and most important, I was able to spin my stomach and chest away from the blade and take the strike in the arm. This particular rival was not trying to frighten me or wound me. He meant to kill me.

Second, about one second after I was stabbed, one of my buddies caved in this guy’s chest with a five-pound cobblestone rock. The collision between rock and human body was not pleasant. While I never got all the details, I think the contact was enough to break a bone or two and send him to Boston City Hospital. A facility that—at least at that time—made medieval practitioners of the dark arts look advanced by comparison. Having been to that alleged center of healing a few times already in my young life, I knew better than to go back—even if blood was pouring out of a large hole in my tiny arm.

Ignorance is sometimes a wonderful thing. Having never been stabbed before, I did not know enough to assign the knife wound the importance it deserved. To me, it was no big deal. Like everything else in my life, I’d just fix it myself.

I just took my shirt off, wrapped it around the dripping hole in my arm, ran the few blocks back to our apartment, went into the bathroom, unwrapped the now blood-soaked shirt, and poured some of my father’s rubbing alcohol directly into the cut.


My sister, who was sitting outside at the time, told me you could hear my scream several streets away. Fortunately, my parents, who were already in a vodka-induced coma in their bedroom, never heard a thing. After screaming from the shock of the alcohol and almost passing out on the bathroom floor from a pain that seemed much worse than the actual stabbing, I pinched the cut closed as tight as I could, put some folded toilet paper over it, and then used a couple of feet of white hockey tape to secure my battlefield bandage in place. While archaic, I still felt it was better than whatever treatment my attacker eventually received in that dungeon of a hospital.

The third reason I felt I was the luckier of the two of us was that not long after this guy was discharged from Boston City and recovered, I was told he was found shot in a local park.

His demise is what my friends and I fought off almost every single day as we trolled the streets and alleys, desperately trying to stay one step ahead of those determined to hurt us.

As I tried to recover from the physical and mental pain of my knife wound, the only things I had going for me at the time were a tremendous chip on my shoulder—which pertained to just about everyone—some inherited natural intelligence, and a PhD in street smarts. I had no intention of giving anyone the satisfaction of seeing me fail.

I was born in a hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts. At the time, Dorchester was an ultratough, blue-collar section of Boston, filled with mostly wonderful, hardworking people; it’s a place I will always be proud to call home.

Dorchester was never the problem. Poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness were the problems; and they were manufactured by two people—and two people only—our “parents,” John Mac Kinnon and Marie Carmel Mac Kinnon. These two individuals were not only full-blown alcoholics, but complete hedonists who saw their three emaciated and damaged children as obstacles to be crushed on their egocentric path to self-destruction.

By the time I was seventeen, our family had moved a total of thirty-four times. For those of you who, like me, are not fond of math, that’s an average of once every six months. None of the moves were voluntary—some, in fact, were quite disturbing and violent.

About The Author

Photograph by Marshall H. Cohen

Douglas MacKinnon served in the White House as a writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and afterwards in a joint command at the Pentagon, where he had a top secret government clearance. He is a regular contributor to several major newspapers. To date, he has published more than 600 columns in every major paper in the country—including Investor’s Business Daily, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, The Baltimore Sun, and The Washington Examiner—and makes frequent appearances on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. He is the author of a memoir, Rolling Pennies in the Dark.

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