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“Cups Up” – George Malvaney’s path to redemption

Jackson native George Malvaney has rubbed elbows with both career politicians and convicted murderers in his lifetime.

In his new tell-all book, “Cups Up,” Malvaney details his life, from dropping out of high school to joining the Navy and the Ku Klux Klan and becoming a paid mercenary, to spending time in prison, getting a college degree and, ultimately, becoming then-governor Haley Barbour’s “right-hand man” during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Malvaney’s done a lot more living than most people, and he said that can be a good and a bad thing.

His story begins in 1977, when he dropped out of high school and joined the Navy. During the summer of 1978, Malvaney was home on leave when he first encountered the KKK.

“I was home on leave, and I actually went to a Klan rally in Tupelo, and that’s where I met the people and ended up joining,” Malvaney said. “It’s hard at this point in time for me to even say why. That was almost 40 years ago this summer, and obviously it was not a rational decision. Not just that, but to then go and form a Klavern aboard a U.S. Naval ship.”

The U.S.S. Concord wasn’t an ideal place to form a Klavern, or Klan unit, and Malvaney admits that. As a result of that poor choice and the conflict it created, he was honorably discharged and sent home in 1979.

While still active in the KKK, he became involved with a Texan named Mike Perdue, who was looking for paid mercenaries to stage a coup on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Malvaney acted as a foot soldier for the operation, procuring ammunition and explosives. At the time, he said he thought they would succeed.

“Yeah, I did think there was a good chance it would succeed. It wasn’t just 10 people from the United States that were in on it to try and overthrow this government,” he said. “The prime minister of the island was in on the conspiracy and the head of their army was in on it, so there were a lot of insiders on the island that were involved also. Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be involved in something like that.”

The night of April 27, 1981, the mercenaries were arrested at a marina near Slidell, La. They were in the back of a van, preparing to board a boat for Dominica and were arrested by an FBI swat team.

By midnight, Malvaney was in Orleans Parish Prison. He was 21 years old.

He pled guilty to conspiracy to invade a foreign country with intent to overthrow the government and was sentenced to four years in federal prison. However, he only spent a year and a half behind bars, mostly in transit from Tallahassee, Fla. to Atlanta to Texas, Oklahoma and finally, Englewood, Colo. He was on parole for the rest of his four-year sentence.

“I finished out my time in Englewood, which, relatively speaking, was not a bad joint to do time in,” he said. “I said the other day in a forum where I was speaking, I became friends with murderers and kidnappers and bank robbers and drug dealers and some of the worst of society. But I got out in October of 1982, and I was firmly committed to that promise I had made.”

The promise, he said, was that he’d leave behind the sordid lifestyle he once lived and come out of prison a better person. He made this promise the first day he was behind bars, and the title of his book comes from that day, as well.

“Cups Up” is a refrain used by guards, a call for the men, many in solitary confinement, to hold out their cups for coffee in the morning. After tasting his first sip of prison coffee, Malvaney said he promised himself once he got out, he’d never be back.

Because he was sentenced under the Federal Youth Corrections Act, his conviction was set aside after six years. By the time his record was expunged, Malvaney had worked his way through college and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1987.

“It’s while I was at Southern that I remembered back to my childhood, and how I had a real affinity for the environment,” Malvaney said. “I used to hang out in the Pearl River swamps and hunt and fish in and around Jackson, and decided I was going to go into the environmental field.”

He worked at the state Department of Environmental Quality for nine years, in the emergency services division. There, he learned how to respond to oil and chemical spills and improper disposal of hazardous waste. However, he said realized he could go further and left the DEQ to work in the emergency response contracting business.

He spent 14 years in the environmental contracting business, during which he worked his way up to being a division manager in Jackson and then to Chief Operating Officer of the company. Then, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the summer of 2010.

“When Deepwater Horizon hit, on day two or three of the spill, Gov. Barbour summoned BP and others involved to brief him about the defensive measures we were taking,” Malvaney said. “I was BP’s primary contractor, so I was in the meeting with Gov. Barbour and was able to answer his questions in a very  transparent and forthright manner.”

That evening, Malvaney and the governor took a tour of the Gulf in a blackhawk helicopter and had a press conference with national and state press. From then on, he said he was a “go-to guy” for Mississippi’s disaster response.

Things were going well, he said, until he received a phone call from Anita Lee, a journalist at the Biloxi Sun Herald.

“So I get a call as I’m walking into a meeting with Gov. Barbour, and it’s Anita Lee at the Sun Herald. She says, ‘We hear you have a colorful past, we’re going to do a story on it and would like you to talk to us,’” Malvaney said. “I did sit down with Anita, but at the time I did not a story written. I was in a position to really help Mississippi at that time, and I was afraid that the story would be a distraction or become a problem.”

The Sun Herald did run the story, and while he said it wasn’t positive, it was fair. Fearful that the life he’d built would be destroyed, Malvaney said he prepared for the worst.

“I thought everything was going to blow up and I’d get a lot of pushback, but it didn’t. There was no blow up, no negativity, it was all positive,” he said. “What I got over and over and over were people saying, ‘How did you go from being a high school dropout that formed a Klan unit on a ship and ended up in prison, to this?’ And I had a standard answer, ‘Well, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you.’”

Each time, someone asked about his story, he said, they’d end the conversation saying he should write a book.

Add a company buyout and three-year non-compete clause, and suddenly, Malvaney found the time to do just that. Taking ownership of his life and his story is something Malvaney said he’s glad he did.

“You hear people say they’ve changed a year or two out of prison or shortly after being a member of some terrible organization, but I had many years of being a good citizen and many great accomplishments to back up those claims,” he said. “Bringing it out and being transparent and open about it, and having 20 or 30 years of proving myself, it’s really come together and helped me do some good things.”

Currently, Malvaney is a co-owner of E3, an environmental emergency response company based in Clinton, Miss. He said he is looking to the future and has several ideas for prison reform.

Malvaney is currently on a book tour, and will be reading at Square Books on Tuesday, May 22. To learn more about George Malvaney and “Cups Up,” visit http://www.–cupsup.net.