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The day after Mayor Frank Melton got a reprieve from prison due to a hung jury, he held a brief press conference in City Hall to talk about his plans for the city. Soon afterward, Jackson Free Press editor Donna Ladd approached Melton for a new set of JFP interviews and then sat down with him for nearly three hours in his mayoral office on Thursday. Following is part 1 of that interview.
Melton: I just left the dedication for a new elementary and middle school in South Jackson, at Highway 18 and McDowell. It's going to really be nice there; no residential areas around it; no houses, no businesses around it so kids will have a safe haven. I really like that. They get a good job on the site selection.
Tell me how you feel. When I saw you a month ago for the first time I'd seen you in a while, you looked really pitiful. Nothing personal, but ...
Oh, I know. That is correct.
It was stunning.
Yeah. I had a bunch of fluid built up in my body and I went to Tyler. Well, actually it started over here. I think what I may have to deal with in the future is maybe every month or so, I may have to go in and get the fluid taken out of my body. They've given me medication to do that. And I can tell you that I've been measuring my urine, and last week I had 60 pounds of fluid to come out of my body. I'm just collecting the fluid and I have to make sure it stays out of my body because that's what directly affects my breathing. But I'm doing much better, been going to rehab. The muscle tone is back. That's the thing that bothered me more than anything else was when I began to lose my muscle tone, and that comes with heart failure.
You mean all-over muscle tone.
I mean, down here (reaching under his upper arms) in the gastrocnemius and gracilis muscles. It was getting too flabby like I was 90 years old. The rehab has restored that, and I feel real good about that.
How often do you go to rehab?
Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. at St. Dominic.
Are you doing the things you're supposed to be doing?
Yes, I'm taking my medication. Probably the only negative I have left is making sure I get a balanced couple meals every day. Sometimes I just don't have time to stop and eat. But I'm taking the medication, and I'm going to the rehabilitation.
Did you quit smoking?
I'm working on it. My wife prescribed Centrex, or something, that gets you away from cigarettes. I'm not where I need to be, and I might as well be honest about that.
Well, it's hard.
I've been smoking ever since I was 12.
Is that right?
I was an all-American swimmer, all-state football player, and I used to smoke on the back of the bus.
So what message do you have to young people about smoking?
Don't do it; don't even think about it. It is an addictive situation that they just don't need to get involved with. When I say that, they don't need to smoke anything.
And it probably contributes to your health now, right?
I don't really think so. Most of what I'm dealing with right now is hereditary. My mother died of an aorta fracture in her heart, and my father died of heart disease, so it's hereditary. And I've had one brother to die, my older brother.
Robert died four years ago. He was 58.
I've got heart disease in my family, too. You said your mother and your father?
Yes, 18 months apart. My mother went first. Ellen (his wife) and I were in Washington at an NBC function when she died. I never got a chance to say goodbye to her. My dad was in the VA hospital in Houston. And I think it was the combination of the loss of my mother. They'd been married for almost 50 years.
What were your mom and dad's names?
Marguerite and Herbert Melton.
Do you have other brothers and sisters?
Yep. Just brothers. Rodney who is an engineer in Minneapolis, and James who lives in Houston. No sisters. Four boys.
What are the doctors telling you now about the prognosis?
I think the same thing you probably observed. I'm doing much better, remarkably much better. This has been such a shock for me over the last two years. I've never been in a hospital before in my life. I wasn't even born in a hospital. My father delivered me in Houston because he couldn't get to the hospital. I've gone all of my life, never taken any medication, never had any problems, and all of a sudden you wake up at 57, and you've got all these issues going on.
You weren't sick when I interviewed you three years ago, were you?
No, it hit me really hard after Katrina. I noticed some things after Katrina because I was on my feet for about a month straight with no sleep, over at the coliseum with the people, and I began to see some symptoms then, primarily in climbing stairs and breathing, but i just ignored it. It was raining, and I was in and out of weather and that sort of thing. I just thought it might be a cold or something like that.
So when did you know you were sick, like really sick?
About two years ago when I went to Dr. Alexander at St. Dominic, and they did an assessment.
(FM's beeper going off; he looked at it, then resumed talking.)
Well, Councilman Bluntson. I just left him. He fell out. They've got him stretched out out there.
How's he doing?
Well, I don't know. (Bodyguard John) Whitehead was telling me about it when we were coming up the stairs. He and Mr. (Charles) Tillman and Marshand (Crisler). We were all out there. I could tell the way he was walking, he didn't feel [well]. I'm gone to tell you right now what it is: It's a combination of the potassium and the water pills. If you're not careful, because I've done it two or three times. If you're not careful and keep that in balance, when you change positions, the blood pressure will go real low, and you just fall out. That's happened to me two or three times. When the blood pressure got exceedingly low, and you just go unconscious for, in my case, two or three minutes.
That's really scary.
It is. It is.
Now, can you still swim?
Oh yeah. I swim every morning.
That's your exercise?
How long do you swim for?
Before I got into this situation, I was swimming about a mile a morning, and I'm up to about a quarter of a mile now. So that's 25 laps. And I've been getting a lot of heat about that from my wife and other people. There's nobody there now but (dog) Abby and myself, and I usually take Abby down to the pool with me. Not that she can do anything. Some days she'll get in and swim; some days she'll just run the bank when I'm swimming.
Nobody else is living in the house now?
All the kids graduated last year. I had a whole crew to graduate at one time.
God, that must be different.
It is. I didn't want to commit because of all the things I've having to deal with. I didn't want to go get another group, and all of a sudden not be there for them.
I was wondering.
But I've got two in Tougaloo, two at Jackson State, and one at Xavier.
So nobody stays there with you and Abby? You don't have any help?
No, I've never had help. I've never had anybody to work in my home. This weekend, I will have a family over, though. They live next door to Kenneth Stokes. It's some kids I'm working with. Two of them go to Lanier; the youngest one goes to Galloway. Their mother and the kids will come over and spend the weekend.
You do that very often?
Yeah, I do. But this is a very special family to me. The mother is overcoming an addiction. She's been good for about a year. The ones at Lanier are doing very well. The youngest one I'm closest to is extremely smart, very smart, so I've got him involved in some church programs and after-school programs that absorb a lot of his time. They live next door to Kenny Stokes.
Can you tell me their names?
They all have religious names. I'll just give you their first names. One of them is Judith, the other one is Solomon, the baby's name is Xavier, and the other kid's name is Matthew.
I've never met him. There's never been any discussion about him. When I first met the family, I took the boys to Save-a-Lot to buy some food. We were checking out at the counter, and I was missing a kid. I could not find Judith. I could not find him in the store, and I got very nervous. I didn't know what happened. He was sitting out on the curb crying. [It] took me about 30 minutes to an hour to really get inside of him and find out what was going on. He told me it so embarrassing to have to have someone come and buy food for his family. And I took the position that I respected his pride, that I really admired and respected his pride. But sometimes people want to step up and help kids like him. He's doing very well. He plays football at Lanier.
Back to your health ... what are the doctors saying now?
The information that is in The Clarion-Ledger is not correct. About being in the final stages, that's just not correct. I know that testimony was entered into the court, but I went to Tyler shortly after that with the surgeon who did the actual double-bypass on me, and the cardiologist over there. And then I went to a, what do you call them that deals with ... wasn't internal ... a urologist. I was having trouble urinating. They changed my medication. Just that week I was in Tyler I lost about 12 pounds that was all fluid. I did have to go the emergency room, and they put the IV in. I went on back home after that, and they gave me a bag that goes around my ankle right here and comes up to my genital areas. The thing they gave me is a catheter. It's inserted into my private parts, and if you leave it in there too long it can cause an infection. When I went to court a month ago, they gave me a different one. It was one that had a prophylactic head to it so you didn't have to do any insertions. What they do is take this tube and stick it in you.
But I never used it in court. What I did was took my medicine at night at home, and I would stay up all night every 10 minutes urinating. That way, I wouldn't have to disrupt the court.
You really didn't.
I really didn't. I'd take it at 9, and then until about 5 get all the urine, fluid out, and then I'm OK for a while.
Did it have any other effect on you? Make you feel bad?
No. At first it did, because I was taking like 10 different medicines, and I'd never taken any. As you well know, each medication had its side effects. I know one of them gave me diarrhea for a while, and Ellen straightened that one out by just making me stop taking that one. There was a mix-up early. They gave medicine to help me sleep; then they gave me another medication that would not allow me to sleep. I was taking both of them at the same time. We straightened that out. ... I'm used to it right now. I'm taking two sets of medication twice a day. The biggest one is about 11 or 12 pills a day for stuff you're familiar with like Lipitor, potassium, the urination medication, the water pills. But I'm accustomed to it now.
Then there's one other phase to this that I've kind of kept away from y'all because I was too embarrassed to talk about it. You go through a state of depression when you've been as active as I have been. I did do a lot of laying around in a very deep state of depression. Because here I am a guy who can jump in any swimming pool, climb any set of stairs and all of a sudden I'm limited to 10 pounds. I can't do very much. It was a very kind of helpless feeling. And I know we can't talk about the case at all, but I will tell you this: Judge (Dan) Jordan probably saved my life.
By directing me to go to rehab and directing me to take my medications. It brought me out of my depression because I didn't have a choice at that point.
Do you think you weren't taking it before because of the depression?
I'd take it sometimes, and I wouldn't take it. I'm not a bad patient because I've learned, but here you take a guy 57 years and never been in the hospital. All of a sudden, my wife and the doctors are telling me, "You don't need a defibrillator; we're going to have to go into your heart and do a double-bypass. And I looked at Ellen and (son) Matthew and (daughter) Lauren and thought, "I've never been cut in my life." The rest of it is history. They did a great job. They did not take my heart out. There were some scary moments. The surgeon came into my room with a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. And I thought, "Oh, my God. What's going on here?" At the end of the day, he's never lost a patient, and he's one of the best heart surgeons in the South.
What's his name?
Dr. William Turner. He is excellent. He is excellent.
The surgery was when?
Two years ago.
When you had the scar you showed on WLBT.
It's fascinating the way they do it. I had no stitches. They just glued it back together. And when they put the defibrillator in, which is right here, they just put it in and put the stints in and glued it back together. I've never had a stich or staple put in my body. It's just amazing. ...
The other thing, Donna, one of the things that is kind of ironic about all of this is the best sleep I've ever gotten in my life is when they put me under. And after the double bypass, I slept for a day and a half. And the first thing I remember when I woke up was Ben Allen.
He came to see me. He was in Dallas.
The first thing you saw was Ben Allen's face!?!
I'm sitting there. I was up, walking around. He and I had a great conversation. He came to see me. In Texas.
I'm just seeing Ben Allen's big face up there. (Laughs.)
But I was just glad to see him.
Oh, no, I'm sure. I'm sure I would have been, too. So, right now, if you do what you're supposed to do ...
I'm doing fine. I'm at 154 pounds. Started at 186; went down to 144. And there's some things I've been doing. You'd better not laugh at this, but I just want to tell you the truth. For breakfast and dinner, I've been having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
(Laughs) I have peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast ...
That's been going on for about a month. That's a psychological thing. When I was struggling through college, all I could afford was peanut butter and jelly. After I graduated and got into the world, I couldn't stand it. Now, I'm right back to what happened 20-something years ago. I eat peanut and jelly.
That's not the worst thing you could be eating.
And a little baloney in the middle sometimes.
That does sound like college.
Part IV of the 2009 JFP Interviews with Frank Melton will be posted Tuesday, March 24, 2009. In that section, Melton talks about the young people in his life and the kids he's buried. And he answers the question about who has mistreated him, at least partially. Follow the full interview series on the JFP's Melton Blog. Click here to read Part IPart II and Part III
Copyright 2009: Donna Ladd/Jackson Free Press: All quotes and information above must be expressly attributed to the Jackson Free Press.
It's good that the mayor's health seems to be improving, but there is still a long way to go. Can't wait for part II.
- golden eagle
Go away Frank. Just leave us alone.
A wee bit off the subject, but Melton is being sued by JPD officer.
- golden eagle
Melton lost me at having his gracilis and gastrocnemius muscles located in his upper arms. All of the rest of us have them located in our thighs and calf. Go figure.
Get well Frank. You have invested too much of your time to go out in a bad way.
Thanks Ladd for posting this.
God bless you both!!
- saint H
So, we'll be back in federal trial on May 11. No surprise here. I would have fallen out in the floor had these prosecutors decided NOT to have another trial. They are high-powered civil rights attorneys who take civil-rights violations very seriously. And they know well that the U.S. Constitution is not a tool of public opinion.
Oh, and I suspect that Mr. Melton guaranteed another trial the second he told us last week that he was definitely going to re-fun for mayor. Now, his trial prep will coincide exactly with his run for mayor.
This will be quite the ride. And we'll be there every step of the way, per usual. ;-)
I’m just seeing Ben Allen’s big face up there. (Laughs.)
I'm telling! LOL